Phillies-Astros 5 things: Bats need to stay hot vs. Charlie Morton, MLB's best offense

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Bats need to stay hot vs. Charlie Morton, MLB's best offense

Phillies (34-63) vs. Astros (66-33)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

After a 13-4 shellacking by the AL-best Astros last night, the Phillies look to rebound in Game 2 tonight.

Here are five things to watch:

1. Well that was ugly ...
Monday night’s loss was ugly. Words don’t do it justice. So take a look at this tweet instead.

That local hero may need to grow a third hand for tonight’s game, because it doesn’t get any easier for the Phillies tonight. 

It’s Nick Pivetta’s turn to try and cool the Astros’ unstoppable offense. The Phillies may catch a break with All-Star outfielder George Springer — hitting .311 with 27 homers on the year — left Monday’s game in the third inning with a sore quad muscle and may sit out tonight. Superstar shortstop Carlos Correa remains on the DL. But Jose Altuve is hitting .507 — yes that’s a five — in July, so Pivetta has his work cut out for him.

Pivetta flashed his big-league potential with two dominant starts at the beginning of July, but he has come back down to earth in his last two outings, highlighted by a five-inning start in Milwaukee where he gave up nine runs. The rookie’s success came with his high number of fly ball outs. Pivetta was able to get hitters to pop up on weak fly balls and keep them off balance. In his first two July starts, Pivetta had a 25 to 8 fly ball to ground ball ratio, while giving up just four runs in that span. Over his last two starts, he has given up 12 runs while inducing just 17 fly balls and 17 groundouts. Fortunately for Pivetta, the Astros have the sixth-most fly outs in MLB this year.

2. But, there is hope 
There is hope for the Phillies, though. Before last night’s debacle, the team was on a bit of a hot streak. The Phillies are 4-2 in their last six games, while averaging 5.7 runs since the All-Star break. That’s tied for the seventh-most runs scored in all of MLB during that span. That’s quite an improvement from 29th before the All-Star break. Last night’s loss ended a seven-game streak of at least five runs scored for the Phillies. Something they haven’t done in a single season since 2005.

The Phillies will need to keep up the hot bats to keep up with the Astros tonight.

3. Morton returns
And to do that, the Phillies will have to hit against former Phillies’ great Charlie Morton. Don’t remember the salt man? That’s probably because he only pitched in four games for the Phils in 2016 before tearing his left hamstring in April and missed the remainder of the season. 

Now he’s with the Astros, and has excelled in the back end of the rotation. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old is 7-4 with a 4.18 ERA. However, he is averaging three walks allowed per start, something the Phillies’ should look to capitalize on if Morton struggled with his command early.

4. Players to watch
Odubel Herrera has really turned his season around as of late. Herrera is back to his All-Star 2016 form, hitting .524 over the last week with four doubles and seven runs scored. Perhaps most noticeable is Herrera's newfound plate discipline. No longer flailing wildly at pitches in the dirt, Herrera has worked five walks in his last 21 at-bats. 

Astros: It's impossible not to mention Altuve here. His insane month of July (.507/.554/1.314) has made him the AL MVP favorite. Standing at just 5-foot-6, Altuve can do it all, including hit for power (15 home runs in 2017). 

5. This and that
• Charlie Morton's 4.18 ERA would be second-best among Phils' starters. Aaron Nola leads the rotation with a 3.38 ERA.

• Maikel Franco's recent hot streak has helped revive the Phillies' offense. Franco is hitting .300 since the All-Star break with as many walks (5) as strikeouts.

• The Astros have a 17-game cushion in the AL West. The Phillies are 25 games back of the Nationals in the NL East.

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

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Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

BRADENTON, Fla. — Less than a week before opening day, there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the Phillies.

About the only thing known for sure is that Aaron Nola will start Thursday in Atlanta. The right-hander made his final spring tune-up Friday afternoon against the Pirates.

Some of the questions that need to be answered before the Phillies pack up and leave Florida on Tuesday include:

• When will Jake Arrieta join the rotation? Will it be April 2, 3 or 4 in New York? Will it be during the team’s first homestand, possibly April 7? Arrieta threw 31 pitches in his first spring start Thursday. A bullpen session over the weekend and his next start, likely 50 or so pitches on Tuesday, will offer team officials a better idea on when he’ll be ready.

• Who else will be in the rotation? Nothing has been announced, but Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta appear to be locks with Nola and eventually Arrieta. Zach Eflin could be the fifth starter, if the Phils use one the first time through the rotation. He could also piggyback with Arrieta in New York if the Phils wanted to get Arrieta going that early. Ben Lively and Drew Hutchison remain candidates to make the club as the fifth starter, should the Phils use one during the first 10 days of the season.

• Who's in the bullpen? Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan are locks. That likely leaves three openings. One spot will likely go to a lefty, Hoby Milner or Zac Curtis. Right-handers Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano seem to be vying for one spot and the final one could go to Lively or Hutchison. They are both stretched out and could provide the bullpen length that injured Mark Leiter Jr. would have.

• How about bullpen roles? Manager Gabe Kapler is not one to speak in absolutes. He is loath to define roles in his bullpen or batting order. He’s keeping options open and could assign roles on a nightly basis based on matchups and research that the team’s growing analytics department digs up. Neris went 20 for 20 in save chances while giving up just three runs in 19⅔ innings after June 27 last season. Logic would dictate that he'd be the closer. But will he be every night? Will Kapler use him in a matchup situation in the seventh inning some night? Time will tell. Same for batting order construction.

• Who will be on the bench? Infielder/outfielder Pedro Florimon has played well and looks like a lock. That leaves one or two openings, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. Veterans Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales were both granted their release. That leaves Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn, both 40-man roster guys, as the two lead candidates. There might be room for both, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. It also would not be shocking to see the team send Quinn to Triple A to get more playing time. The Phils appear to be leaning toward carrying Andrew Knapp as their second catcher over Cameron Rupp, who has a minor-league option remaining.

Rhys Hoskins' home run over-under is pretty low

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Rhys Hoskins' home run over-under is pretty low

If you're a believer in Rhys Hoskins, there is some money to be made.

Gambling site Bovada released a slew of player prop bets for the 2018 MLB season and Hoskins was the lone Phillie represented.

Hoskins' over-under totals are 28.5 home runs and 90.5 RBIs.

It's safe to assume more will bet the home run over than the under. Hoskins hit 18 homers in just 50 games and 212 plate appearances last season. That's a full-season pace of 56 home runs.

Now, that doesn't mean Hoskins is going to hit 50 this season, or even 40. The league now knows about him. Pitchers will have more of a game plan than they did when Hoskins was cranking jacks at an insane rate last August and September.

It's worth noting that Hoskins did slow down in the season's final two weeks, hitting just .135 with no homers and nine RBIs in his last 16 games.

But based on his raw power and the unique ability to work deep counts and draw walks, Hoskins will get himself into many hitter-friendly counts this season and throughout his career. He's a safe bet for 25-plus homers, and if I was forced to make picks I'd go over for both homers and RBIs. 

Hoskins will have plenty of RBI opportunities with guys like Carlos Santana, Odubel Herrera, J.P. Crawford and eventually Scott Kingery batting before him.