Phillies

Phillies take down Noah Syndergaard for 'special' series win over Mets

Phillies take down Noah Syndergaard for 'special' series win over Mets

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NEW YORK -- Noah Syndergaard came out firing Thursday night. The right-hander with the electric arm and the power forward's body struck out the Phillies' first three hitters on 14 pitches to open the game. Thirteen of those pitches were strikes. Three of them reached triple digits on the radar gun and five of them came up just a mile per hour short at 99.

A penny for your thoughts at that point, Pete Mackanin.

"It looked like he might be having one of his best nights," the Phillies manager said.

Syndergaard actually had a pretty good night. But the Phillies, as a team, had a better night and they managed to escape Citi Field with a 6-4 victory and just their third winning series against the Mets in the last 18 (see Instant Replay). The Phils' last series win over the Mets came in early April of last season.

"It sure is nice to win a series here against the Mets," Mackanin said. "It's always nice to win a series. But against these guys, it was special, as much as they've beat us up over the last year."

Syndergaard pitched seven innings and did not walk a batter while striking out 10. For the season, he has 30 strikeouts and no walks in 26 innings over four starts.

But the Phils, with the help of the Mets' sloppy defense, managed to get some baserunners and some big hits against Syndergaard. He gave up five runs, two of which were unearned.

Aaron Nola struggled to protect an early 5-1 lead but never relinquished it, and the bullpen was outstanding in locking down the win.

Lefty Joely Rodriguez got six huge outs to protect a one-run lead and Mackanin surprised folks by using Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning and Hector Neris in the ninth to close it out. 

Last week, Mackanin installed Benoit as closer after Jeanmar Gomez lost the job. Mackanin used the qualifier "for now," when announcing that Benoit would close. The "now" did not last too long. Benoit blew a save in Washington over the weekend and now Neris is getting a look. He has the stuff -- a power fastball, a good splitter and more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings last season -- to do the job.

"I think [Benoit] looks more comfortable [in a setup role]," Mackanin said. "Over in Washington, I didn't see that good changeup. He spiked a couple of changeups and didn't have command of it. Tonight, he threw some great ones. So that was great to see. In general, we have two guys I feel comfortable with. I'll probably use Neris again. But it's nice to have somebody that when one guy's not available, the other guy is."

The Phillies' starting lineup included two guys -- Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph -- who entered the game hitting under .160. Syndergaard did not figure to be the best guy to get right against, but baseball is a funny game. Franco extended his career-long slump to 0 for 22 in the second inning but came back in the fourth with an RBI double -- a liner over the left fielder's head on a 97-mph fastball -- against Syndergaard in the third inning. In the eighth, Franco homered to left against Fernando Salas.

Meanwhile, Joseph had three hits, including an RBI double down the right-field line on a 100-mph heater in the second inning to score the Phillies' first run.

The Phils scored three in the second and two in the third against Syndergaard. In both innings, the Mets made costly errors. Andrew Knapp started at catcher in place of Cameron Rupp and had an RBI double in the second inning.

"It's a tough chore," Mackanin said of facing Syndergaard. "We made him work. We scored early on him. It was great to see. He's a bulldog. He was still throwing 98 in the seventh inning. We just took advantage of some mistakes he made. I give the guys a lot of credit for battling him and not being intimidated.

"You never know what to expect. That's what's so unique about baseball."

Nola was not crisp. He had a ton of trouble putting hitters away with two strikes. He walked Syndergaard with two outs in the second inning after being up in the count, 0-2, and that came back to haunt him when Rene Rivera delivered an RBI single. In the third inning, Nola gave up a three-run homer to Neil Walker on an 0-2 curveball. That made it a 5-4 game.

"I had terrible two-strike pitches, especially 0-2," Nola said.

Nola lasted just five innings. He gave up seven hits and walked four as he ran a high pitch count. He got the win thanks to his mates' timely hitting and good bullpen work.

For the season, Nola has made three starts and given up 20 hits and eight earned runs in 16 innings. He has walked six and struck out 15.

Phillies learning how to win and Andrew Knapp has interesting reason why

Phillies learning how to win and Andrew Knapp has interesting reason why

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The Phillies have the look of a team learning how to win.

The rotation is thriving, the bullpen is getting better each game despite missing its two highest-priced arms, and the offense is alternating between putting up crooked numbers and doing just enough.

Friday's 2-1 win over the Pirates involved all three of those early-season themes: strong starting pitching, a bullpen that did its job, and timely hitting (see first take)

The Phillies are now 5-1 in one-run games, the best mark in the National League and second best in all of baseball, behind only the can't-lose Red Sox.

"I think it is an indication that a young team is coming together, that a young team believes in themselves when the game's on the line," manager Gabe Kapler said of the one-run wins.

"We've talked a lot in the clubhouse and in the dugout about how important it is for good teams to win one-run games. A couple things we talk about: one-run games and having big innings. We've done both of those things this season."

They sure have. On top of leading the NL in one-run wins, the Phillies also have 10 different innings this season with at least four runs. Entering Friday night, the entire rest of the National League had 56, which averages out to four per team.

Success or failure in one-run games is volatile and unpredictable. Teams that thrive one season sputter the next and vice versa.

But catcher Andrew Knapp had an interesting take on the early success in one-run games. The way he sees it, these habits were developed by this Phillies' core in the minor leagues. Remember, Double A Reading dominated when this core was there, and then Triple A Lehigh Valley did the same once the wave of promotions began.

"This group has won a lot of those games, even in the minor leagues. Playing together, we know how to win in a tough spot and stay in a game late," Knapp said. "For us, this is kind of something we've always done, but now we're doing it at the big-league level."

Two other fun Phillies stats to come out of Friday night:

• They've opened the season 7-1 at home for the first time since 1981.

• They've allowed one or no runs seven times now in just 19 games. Last season, it took exactly 80 games for them do it seven times.

Everything is going right for Phillies' rotation

Everything is going right for Phillies' rotation

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Knock on wood, spill some salt over your shoulder, enact whichever good-luck superstition you have. Because right now, everything is going right for the Phillies' starting rotation.

Through three starts, Ben Lively had experienced the worst results of the group, but he pitched very well Friday night and is showing some interesting signs in his second big-league season.

Lively allowed just one run to the Pirates over six innings, lowering the Phillies rotation's ERA to 2.67 since April 1. In just 19 games this season, the Phils have allowed one or no runs seven times already. Last season, it took 41 games just for them to do it once.

The Phils needed every bit of that run prevention in Friday's 2-1 win. Lively, Adam Morgan, Luis Garcia and Hector Neris shut the Pirates down, and Odubel Herrera tripled in Cesar Hernandez in the bottom of the eighth to untie the game and make the Phillies 12-7. 

They could have given Neris more breathing room, but with runners on the corners and one out in the eighth, both Rhys Hoskins and Herrera were caught stealing on the same play.

Lively has 21 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings, a big surprise given his lack of whiffs in the minors and his rate of 5.3 strikeouts per nine in the majors last season.

As for the rest of the rotation:

• Aaron Nola, who owns the lowest hard-hit contact rate in all of baseball (17.7 percent) looks like one of the best dozen starting pitchers in either league. He also seems poised to reach an even higher level in his fourth season.

• Jake Arrieta showed Cy Young stuff Thursday against the Pirates (see story), and through three starts he's 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA and .180 opponents' batting average. That early-season concern over his lack of swings and misses? Arrieta generated 14 swinging strikes against the Bucs with 10 just against his sinker — the most against his sinker in 56 starts.

• Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, the two wild cards entering the season, have combined for a 1.98 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with 38 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings the last three cycles through the rotation.

"Wild card" is the operative term, because if that duo continues to pitch like this, the Phils will have a legit shot at one.

The strikeouts, the weak contact ... we're not dealing with smoke and mirrors here. We're seeing what happens when aces like Arrieta and Nola meet expectations and young guys like Pivetta and Velasquez execute with more consistency. If Lively can just give the Phils quality starts, look out.

And aside from Arrieta, the rest of the Phillies' rotation will earn just under $2.25 million this season combined. That may be the most important number of all.