Phillies (42-71) vs. Mets (52-61)
7:05 p.m. on NBC 10; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App
When it comes to facing the Mets, the Phillies can't seem to catch a break. A 3-0 lead? Evaporated. A late comeback? Not enough. Even a rookie shortstop got in on it as the Mets grabbed a 7-6 win Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.
If there's a pitcher the Phils would want to face the rival Metropolitans, it's Aaron Nola, who comes into Saturday hot as can be. He'll take on Steven Matz in a matchup of two starters going opposite directions.
Here are five things to know for Saturday night's game:
1. Nola continues to roll
We're running out of words to properly describe Nola, who has had inarguably the best nine-game stretch of his career coming into tonight's game.
In 61 1/3 innings, he's allowed just 47 hits and 17 walks, struck out 70 batters and given up just 12 runs, good for a 1.76 ERA. He's held opponents to a .207/.262/.317 batting line while throwing filthy curveballs backed up with a devilish two-seamer. This is the Aaron Nola the Phillies thought they would get in the 2014 draft.
In those nine starts, he's gone at least six innings every time while allowing no more than two runs. He had nine starts prior to this run (which began June 22 vs. the Cardinals) and he failed to reach those milestones in all but three games.
For the season, Nola has brought his ERA down to 3.12. According to Baseball Reference, Nola has produced 3.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) this season after being worth 0.0 WAR last year. That's right: He was at replacement level, no better than the average call-up from Triple A. Now he's pitching like a front-end starter.
Nola won his only start vs. the Mets this year, lasting just five innings while allowing four runs. A three-run homer by Neil Walker was the big blow. Four Mets have two hits in five or fewer ABs against Nola: Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Rene Rivera and Asdrubal Cabrera. Only Conforto and Walker have home runs off the righty.
2. Floor Matz
If you're going to sum up Matz's season in one word, it would be: troubling. The 26-year-old left-hander hasn't lived up to the promise of his first two seasons this year. He comes into tonight with a 5.77 ERA in 57 2/3 innings across 11 starts.
He's allowed 11.2 hits per inning, a career worst, while his strikeouts per nine innings have fallen from 8.8 to 6.7, an ominous sign.
Contrast that with his first two seasons, when he had a 3.16 ERA over 168 innings while striking out 163 batters and allowing only 183 baserunners. He's not an overpowering pitcher, but that doesn't make 2017 any less worrisome.
His struggles are perhaps under the radar with higher profile starters (Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey) going down with injuries, but they are nonetheless very real.
A lot of it could be due to injuries. He ended last season with shoulder tightness followed by surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. This came six years after he underwent Tommy John surgery before he made his professional debut. He missed the first two months of this season with a flexor tendon strain.
The lefty works off a 94-mph sinker (down one mph from last season) while mixing in a high-70s curveball and mid-80s changeup. His change has been his most effective pitch this season while his curveball has fooled hitters a little less in 2017.
A surprising note: He's never faced the Phillies despite making 39 starts as an NL East pitcher. He's faced each of the other division opponents at least four times.
3. Hammer and a nail
The Mets' and Phillies' relationship over the last three years can be characterized as similar to that of a hammer and a nail. In other words, it's been a little one-sided.
With Friday's 7-6 defeat, the Phils are 3-8 against New York this season while being outscored, 61-47. This comes after going 12-26 against them the last two seasons. Part of it is surely bad luck/timing (a lot of games last September when the Phillies' pitching staff cratered with injuries and Jeanmar Gomez's struggles came to a head). Yet the matchup has also shown a clear difference between two franchises.
The Phillies certainly would have expected to close the gap some this season, and there is still that opportunity over the last 1 1/2 months. They have eight more games left this season, including six next month.
The Mets won't be gunning for the postseason this year and will have less incentive to go for wins. They'll instead be looking towards development and will thus be playing their younger players (the Phils are all too familiar now with Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith).
Now 29 games under .500, how the Phillies perform in the division over the last 1 1/2 months will go a long way toward defining how successful their second half will be. They've struggled with teams not named the Braves this season and respectable showings against the Mets, Marlins and Nationals will be key to going out of 2017 on a high note.
4. Players to watch:
Phillies: Facing Matz, Rhys Hoskins will battle against a LHP for the first time in MLB. He actually had a little bit of a reverse platoon split this season in Triple A but hit lefties better at every other level in the minors.
Mets: Cespedes hit another homer against Phillies pitching Friday, giving him 13 in 35 games vs. the Phils in his career. Nine of those homers have come at CBP, where he hits .274/.342/.740 in 82 plate appearances.
5. This and that
• After pitching with a relatively fast pace through his first two seasons, Nola has been slower on the mound in 2017, taking 25.8 seconds between pitches. That's 2.1 seconds more than his career average.
• Matz has allowed 29 home runs in his career and 27 of those have come against right-handed batters.
• Through 34 games, Nick Williams is batting .295/.336/.519 in 129 plate appearances. With his next two at-bats, he'll have exceeded the rookie limit.