Phillies

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Win or lose, tonight important for Aaron Nola

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Win or lose, tonight important for Aaron Nola

Phillies (34-64) vs. Astros (67-33)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After being dominated by the AL-best Houston Astros on two consecutive nights, the Phillies attempt to avoid a sweep with their best pitcher on the mound.

1. Unstoppable offense
As Nick Pivetta was cruising through the first five innings last night, retiring 14 of the first 15 batters he faced, you just knew the Astros' offense wouldn't be dormant for long.

Sure enough, they put up a four-spot in the sixth and the game was over.

Last night's game was the 64th time the Astros have scored five runs or more this season. The league average is 45. The Phillies have done it just 34 times, fewest in the majors.

The Astros won easily despite missing Carlos Correa, George Springer and losing Alex Bregman early to an injury. There's a ton to like about this team, and being there to watch them on the field pregame the last two days, it sticks out how loose this team is. They should be — they're winning game after game after game and blowing out their opponents.

2. Nola time
Last night was a confidence-builder for Pivetta even though he allowed five runs because it showed him and the Phillies that when his slider is working and his fastball command is there, he can silence the best of offenses. 

Likewise, a successful start tonight from Aaron Nola would be huge, whether the Phillies win or lose.

Nola over his last six starts has gone 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA and .190 opponents' batting average. He's struck out 50 and walked 13 in 42⅓ innings. 

Nola dominated the Brewers his last time out — seven innings, one run, nine strikeouts — by utilizing all four of his pitches. He threw 31 two-seam fastballs, 27 four-seam fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs. He'll need a similar mix tonight because this Astros team hunts fastballs early in the count and is ready to pounce on any pitch that catches too much of the middle of the plate.

Nola typically pounds the strike zone, but tonight he might be wise to begin a few more at-bats than usual with a get-me-over breaking ball.

An at-bat that stuck out last night was Evan Gattis' in the sixth inning. He came up with two men on and one out, and Pivetta threw two 96 mph fastballs by him in a 3-1 count to strike him out. Both fastballs were in very hittable zones, but because Pivetta had Gattis thinking up there about all the sliders he saw earlier in the game, Gattis couldn't catch up to the heat.

That's really the only way you can keep a team like this off balance.

3. Franco back in his shell
It looked like maybe, finally, Maikel Franco was turning a corner right after the All-Star break, but alas. 

Franco is 0 for 16 with seven strikeouts over his last four games and just like that, he's back to hitting .224/.282.390.

Franco's batting averages by month this year: .213, .218, .224, .241.

His on-base percentages: .273, .274, .284, .299.

He has a .296 OBP the last two seasons, which a middle-of-the-order hitter cannot get away with unless he's hitting 40 home runs.

At a certain point, you have to accept that Franco is who he is. And with how wild and inconsistent his approach is, secondary factors like lineup protection don't really mean a ton.

4. Herrera to sit?
Pete Mackanin double-switched Odubel Herrera out of last night's game after a few questionable moments. Herrera bat-flipped a deep flyout, then later didn't run out a dropped third strike. Neither was completely out of the norm for Herrera, but Mackanin doesn't want to let every one of these events go so he pulled him.

"It's not a secret. It's talked about," catcher Cameron Rupp said (see story). "If you guys are seeing it, we are seeing it. It is what it is. We can say it to him, Pete has said it to him. It's no secret and when you don't do it, you put Pete in that position to do what he did.

"Pete is the manager and what he asks us to do, we're supposed to do. It's a team thing and one guy can't just not follow the rules. It's not the first time. It has happened before and that's something we don't want to see. We want him in the game. He's a good player. Pete doesn't ask a whole lot of us. He asks us to play the game hard and play the game the right way."

Herrera has been the Phillies' best hitter the last two months, batting .331 since June 3 with a majors-leading 20 doubles. But as Mackanin said last night, Herrera, too, is in a developmental phase. It's just the development is more mental than physical.

5. This and that
• Two perfect innings last night from Luis Garcia ran his scoreless innings streak up to 19⅓. Over that time, his opponents have hit .108. Garcia might get a shot at the closer's job in spring training 2018.

• Jose Altuve went 1 for 4 with a double and a run scored last night. How locked in is he? It was only the fourth time in his last 16 games he didn't have multiple hits. Altuve is hitting exactly .500 (47 for 94) since June 27.

• Earlier this week, Mackanin indicated Aaron Altherr could come off the disabled list today. We shall see. When Altherr does return, the Phillies will have some decisions to make in the outfield unless they end up trading Howie Kendrick before Monday's deadline.

• The Phillies face a hot pitcher tonight in Mike Fiers (7-4, 3.59). Fiers has struck out 20 in 14 innings his last two starts and helped to solidify the back of Houston's rotation. Carlos Gomez was the headliner of the trade two summers ago with Milwaukee, but it's Fiers who has had the most staying power with Houston.

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Let the record show that on a snowy Friday afternoon 10 days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies ramped up their rebuild.

Dramatically.

What other conclusion can be drawn after the club went out and signed Carlos Santana, one of the best offensive players on the free-agent market? With the signing, confirmed by multiple baseball sources, general manager Matt Klentak has attached a new level of importance to the 2018 season.

Just a couple of days ago at the winter meetings in Orlando, Klentak spoke of how 2018 was going to be a time to "find out" more about the team's young core of players. Who would continue to take a step forward? Who would fall by the wayside?

But now that Santana is here, 2018 doesn't feel like it's just a find-out season. It feels like a season in which the Phillies can continue to find out about players — separate the studs from the duds — and also start nibbling around that second National League wild-card spot.

Sure, a lot has to go right for that to happen.

And one of the things that has to go right is Klentak has to land a starting pitcher to slot in around Aaron Nola and the rest of the staff, which has the look of a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters — until someone steps forward.

Santana's deal is for three years and $60 million, according to sources. Three years is a nice get — i.e., it's not cripplingly long — for a 32-year-old (in April) who hits for power, produces runs and does what Klentak likes best: controls the strike zone. (You could say that Klentak added two players who control the strike zone to his lineup Friday as the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego for strike-throwing pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos cleared the way for J.P. Crawford to be the regular shortstop.)

The Phillies need to do everything within reason to make sure that the first of Santana's three seasons with the club isn't about simply inching the rebuild forward. The Nationals are the class of the NL East, but the rest of the division ranges from ordinary to awful. The Phils, with an improved offense and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), can play with the Braves and Mets and clean up on the Marlins, the jewelry store that became a pawnshop, in agent Scott Boras' words.

It's just up to Klentak to get more starting pitching, and he's on the case. He admitted that at the winter meetings. He is particularly fond of young starters with years of control remaining on their contracts. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer fit this description. It takes talent to get pitchers like that. The Phillies have enough depth of prospects to get one of these guys and their reserves of expendable talent just grew with the Santana signing.

Santana, a switch-hitter who has averaged 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .810 OPS in eight seasons, is going to be the team's primary first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is going to be the primary leftfielder. That means the Phillies suddenly have a young outfielder that they could deal. Maybe they try to capitalize on Nick Williams' strong half-season in the majors and package him for an arm. Or maybe it's Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr.

However it plays out, you can be sure that Klentak will be creative. You can rule nothing out with this guy. The other day, we poo-pooed the Phillies signing Jake Arrieta, who is looking for a long-term deal approaching $200 million. But if Arrieta lingers out there until February and is looking for a two-year landing spot, hey, maybe.

We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved? Hernandez is still a trade chip, but he doesn't need to be cashed in until July and by that time Scott Kingery should be here.

There are a lot of ways this thing can go. And with the signing of Carlos Santana — which won't become official until he passes a physical next week — the Phillies have guaranteed that the remainder of this offseason will be a busy one.

It has to be.

The stakes have changed for 2018. The rebuild is still in place, but it has been ramped up. Matt Klentak has improved the bullpen and the offense. Now he has to attack that starting pitching and he has the trade weapons to do it.

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

The Phillies' busy Friday continued with a pricey free-agent signing.

The Phils have agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with former Cleveland Indian Carlos Santana, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury.

It is by far the most expensive contract the Phillies have given out under the Matt Klentak-Andy MacPhail regime.

They had the money. When the offseason began, the only player the Phillies had signed to a multi-million dollar deal was Odubel Herrera.

Santana, 31, has always been a high-walk power hitter. From 2011 through 2017, he walked between 88 and 113 times each season, all while maintaining relatively low strikeout totals for a man with such power and plate selection.

In 2016, Santana set a career high with 34 home runs. Last season, he hit .259/.363/.455 with 37 doubles, 23 homers and 79 RBIs.

This addition provides the Phillies with much-needed pop to protect Rhys Hoskins and also gives the Phils added versatility. Santana is a switch-hitter who came up as a catcher, but he hasn't caught since 2014. The last three seasons, he has played primarily first base. In his eight seasons, Santana has also started 26 games at third base and seven in right field.

The move likely means Hoskins will play left field, and it could facilitate another Phillies trade of an outfielder such as Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera.