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. 

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

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MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs


LOS ANGELES -- Justin Turner hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

The red-bearded slugger connected on the 29th anniversary of the Dodgers' last game-ending postseason homer: Kirk Gibson's famous pinch-hit drive to beat Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener.

"One of my earliest baseball memories, I was 4 years old at my grandma's house watching that game in `88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer," a smiling Turner said. "So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist pump around the bases, but we'll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully."

Turner drove in every run for Los Angeles, going the other way for a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. A fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey reached over a railing to catch the ball on the fly.

Turner's second homer of the postseason ended another dramatic night for the Dodgers, who remained unbeaten in these playoffs and moved within two wins of their first World Series appearance since 1988.

"It's very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game," manager Dave Roberts said. "Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. He's been at his best in October, batting .377 with 22 RBIs in the postseason.

"We've been doing it all year long," Turner said. "We're never out of a game. As long as we have outs left, we're going to keep fighting."

Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan in a Chase Utley jersey in the center-field bleachers caught the ball in his glove.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games and went on to its first World Series championship since 1908, while the Dodgers have been absent from the Fall Classic since 1988.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the victory with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen's impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

After a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers' five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs' star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner evened it moments later by poking a single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers' improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season's NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers' revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger's double to the gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season's NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out but also was stranded.

Up next
Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago's playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team's wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired