Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Homer-prone Pivetta takes on Coors Field

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Homer-prone Pivetta takes on Coors Field

Phillies (39-68) at Rockies (63-47)
8:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

After winning five straight, including a four-game sweep of the Braves, the Phillies are off to a horrid start to August, losing four out West. They had a 3-2 lead in the series opener in Colorado, but the bullpen squandered the one-run advantage for the second straight night, losing, 4-3, to the Rockies (see story).

In the second game of the three-game set, the Phils turn to Nick Pivetta against Jon Gray at Coors Field for the late night start.

Here are five things to know for Saturday night's game:

1. Western woes
In a season in which there has been very little reason for optimism, there was a brief period of positivity as the Phillies swept away the Braves and took their fifth straight victory. In fact, they had started the second half 10-6 and were actually above .500 (13-12) in July.

But their trip out West has been more of the first-half struggles that leave the Phillies with the worst record in baseball. In four games, they've managed to score just eight runs while their opponents average 5.75 per game. 

It'd be different if all four games came in Colorado, but the first three were in Anaheim, which is home to the lackluster Angels offense. Aaron Nola gave them a quality start on Tuesday, but the bullpen gave up five runs in two innings. Jake Thompson fell victim to a seven-run third on Wednesday.

And then the bullpen has reared its ugly head in the last two games. This can't be entirely unexpected post-trade deadline. The Phillies traded their best reliever away and also dealt Joaquin Benoit, who wasn't highly effective in Philly but was at least an average reliever while pitching in high-leverage assignments. The drop-off from him to a younger reliever who hasn't seen late-inning duty before can be steep. 

Of course, it would help the bullpen if the Phillies' offense can pick up where it left off in July. The Phillies posted the eighth-highest OPS in baseball last month. The Rockies were third in OPS and second in batting average, so the Phillies' pitching staff has its work cut out for it if the offense is silent the next two days.

2. Pivetta and the long ball
In Pivetta's last two outings, he's allowed six runs (no home runs) on 11 baserunners in 12 innings while striking out 12. The strikeout numbers are impressive, as is his .209/.239/.349 averages against, particularly when five of the runs came against baseball's best offense. 

But a 4.50 ERA over two starts isn't noteworthy, except it is a far way from his 6.82 ERA over his previous six starts, in which he allowed 25 runs in 33 innings. While he struck out over a batter an inning in that stretch, he gave up a whopping 11 home runs.

No pitcher is going to survive surrendering three homers per nine innings, which makes his homerless last two starts so encouraging. His strikeout numbers have been impressive, over a K per inning, and the 24-year-old has been able to blow away hitters at times with his four-seam fastball. 

He'll have to play off that fastball at Coors Field. In the altitude, pitchers often have issues with their offspeed stuff, which could make a pitcher like Pivetta — who throws his four-seamer over two-thirds of the time — a solid choice for the assignment. Still, with the Rockies' offense and the adjustment to the environment, Pivetta will have a tough task on Saturday regardless of how well-tuned his fastball is.

3. A budding ace?
Outside of a couple Ubaldo Jimenez seasons, the Rockies have had plenty of trouble trying to pin down a No. 1 starter. With Gray in his second full season, Colorado hopes it has that starter who can master Coors Field and the National League in one fell swoop. 

In his first full big-league season, Gray struck out 185 in 168 innings while pitching to a 4.61 ERA. He was better at home, going 7-2 with a 4.30 ERA in 14 starts.

This season got off to a rocky start for the former No. 3 overall selection as he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in just his third start, prompting him to miss more than two months. Improbably, the Rockies' pitching staff was able to hold things together without Gray and fellow starter Chad Bettis, who has missed the entire season undergoing treatment for cancer. 

Gray has had mixed results in his return, including one particularly ugly start against the Mets in which he allowed eight runs in just two innings. Beyond that, he's been able to elicit whiffs while walking slightly fewer batters than last season. 

The 25-year-old righty has actually been more effective at home than on the road this season, sporting a 3.71 ERA at home while being shelled to the tune of a 6.67 mark on the road. Lefties have batted .327 against him this year, so the Phillies will likely load up their lineup with LHBs to combat him.

Gray's stuff is elite, sporting an upper-90s fastball and a slider that sits around 90 mph. He'll also throw a low-80s curveball, but he's primarily a fastball-slider pitcher.

The Phillies saw him twice last season, tagging him for nine runs in 10 2/3 innings. Freddy Galvis went 2 for 4 with a walk while Cesar Hernandez tripled in four at-bats. Current Phils hit .219/.324/.281 against Gray.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: For the second straight night, Nick Williams picked up three hits on Friday. In that two-game span, he's 6 for 8 with three doubles and a home run.

Rockies: Often overlooked playing in Colorado, Nolan Arenado has won four consecutive Gold Gloves at third base and leads the National League in RBIs for the third straight year. In 2015 and '16, he also led the NL in home runs and total bases. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies have lost four of five to the Rockies this year. They've been outscored 28-10 in the five contests, a season after beating Colorado five times in seven tries.

• With Friday's loss, the Phillies dropped to 14-28 in one-run games. They hadn't lost 28 one-run games since 2013 when they went 28-28 in such contests.

• Rockies closer Greg Holland saved his 34th game on Friday in his 35th opportunity. The former Kansas City Royal missed the whole 2016 season with Tommy John surgery. 

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.


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 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.