Jose Altuve

Phillies prove no match for AL-best Astros in series opener

Phillies prove no match for AL-best Astros in series opener

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A lot has changed since the Houston Astros last came to Philadelphia in 2014. Back then the Astros were a rebuilding team on their way to a 92-loss season after reaching triple-digit losses the previous three seasons.

Now, the Astros' rebuild is complete and they have the best record (66-33) in the American League and the second best in the majors after the Los Angeles Dodgers (68-31).

The Astros have a powerhouse offense that ranks first in the majors in runs (594), hits (1,105), doubles (222), homers (165), batting average (.293) and OPS (.863).

Those numbers burned the eyes of Phillies manager Pete Mackanin when he got a look at them before Monday's game.

"When I look at their stat sheet and look at all their numbers, I really don't want to look at it," he said. "But once again, good pitching will stop good hitting, so if we can get good outings from some of our pitchers, we have a chance."

The Phillies did not get a good outing from their starting pitcher, nor did they get good work from the bullpen, as they lost Monday's series opener, 13-4 (see Instant Replay).

The Astros pounded out 18 hits and eight of them were for extra bases.

And they did all that damage without star shortstop Carlos Correa (.320/20/67). He is on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb. Also, All-Star George Springer (.311/27/66) left the game in the third inning with a sore quad muscle.

So it could have been worse if the Astros had played with a full deck.

"We’ve been playing pretty well recently and these kinds of games happen," said Mackanin, whose club is 5-5 after the All-Star break. "Unfortunately, this was one of those games.

"Houston is as good a team as we've seen. They have nine guys with double-digit home runs. They are a real aggressive team, one of the best, if not the best, that we’ve seen. They have aggressive hitters. You can't make mistakes against them. Early in the count, they hack at those mistakes. They don’t strike out a lot.

"It was noticeable that they go up there ready to hit every pitch. They're not taking to get a look at the pitcher. If you make a mistake over the plate, they look to hurt you, to do damage."

The Phillies trailed 12-1 in the seventh inning before rookie Nick Williams tripled home three runs. Williams has three triples and 18 RBIs in 72 at-bats with the big club.

Cesar Hernandez had three hits and Odubel Herrera added a pair to raise his July batting average to .364 (24 for 66).

"Other than that, there weren't a lot of bright spots," Mackanin said.

Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, pitching against his former team, worked into the fourth inning, but had his outing cut short by a one-hour, 52-minute rain delay. Velasquez might not have pitched deep into the game even in good weather conditions. He struggled with location and did not use his secondary pitches effectively. He gave up a pair of home runs (to Brian McCann and Alex Bregman) in the second inning, both on fastballs.

Mackanin was rather blunt when asked how he thought Velasquez pitched.

"He gave up six hits, two home runs, in three innings," Mackanin said. "His velocity was OK, but if you don't locate against a team like this, you're going to get hurt."

Velasquez walked three. One of those walks turned into a run.

"They were hunting fastballs," Velasquez said. "Maybe if I utilized my secondary pitches more I would have slowed their bats down and protected my fastball better. They hammer mistakes.

"I probably could have done a better job if I executed. Correa was out of the lineup. If he was in there he probably would have done some damage, too. This team is hot. They're in first place for a reason. They're very selective. They are in the zone. They're locked in."

Ricardo Pinto picked up Velasquez when the game resumed in the top of the fourth inning. He was tagged for seven hits and six runs in 1 1/3 inning. Three of the runs were unearned. 

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Vince Velasquez faces his relentless former team

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Vince Velasquez faces his relentless former team

Phillies (34-62) vs. Astros (65-33)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies bring two straight series wins into what's sure to be a challenging three-game set this week at Citizens Bank Park against the AL-best Houston Astros.

At 65-33, Houston is on pace for 107 wins. The Astros' franchise record for wins in a season is 102 back in 1998 when they were promptly beaten in four games in the first round of the playoffs.

This Astros team is built to go much deeper into October.

1. Unstoppable offense
All the Astros do is score.

They lost MVP candidate Carlos Correa last week to a thumb injury that will keep him out about two months, but the lineup hasn't really missed a beat. The Astros scored 23 runs in their weekend series win in Baltimore.

The Astros have scored six runs or more 51 times this season. That's nine more occurrences than any team in baseball and 13 more than any team in the American League.

It helps a little bit playing the Astros in a National League stadium and ridding them of the DH, but Houston has a relentless lineup that just keeps coming and coming and coming.

Jose Altuve is hitting .358 with a .988 OPS, 28 doubles, 15 homers and 21 steals. He could end up as the AL MVP.

George Springer is their dynamic leadoff hitter who's hit .311 with a .978 OPS, 27 homers and 66 RBIs. He's already scored 82 runs and is on pace for 136, which would be the most for any player since Curtis Granderson in 2011.

Lefty Josh Reddick typically bats second or third to split up the right-handed hitters and he's been solid all year as well, hitting .301 with an .835 OPS.

Then there's utility man Marwin Gonzalez, who's hitting .320 with 18 homers and a .994 OPS.

And there's first baseman Yuli Gurriel, hitting .294 with 27 doubles, 13 homers and an .815 OPS.

Up and down the lineup, everyone has met or exceeded expectations. Even players like Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, who don't play every day, have been much better than league average at their positions.

It's going to be the toughest test of the season for the Phillies' pitching staff because this a deeper, more explosive lineup than the Nationals or Dodgers. There's no safe haven for a pitcher to catch his breath.

2. Velasquez draws his old team
Vince Velasquez faces the Astros for the first time since being traded to the Phillies in December 2015. (Ken Giles could also make his first appearance against the Phillies.)

Velasquez (2-5, 5.14) is coming off an impressive start in his return from the DL last week. In Miami last Tuesday, he allowed just two runs (one earned) on four hits over six innings.

It was the most efficient outing of the season for Velasquez, who needed 79 pitches to complete six innings. The Marlins put balls in play early in at-bats as opposed to fouling pitches off and running deep counts.

Tonight could be a different story. On top of being much better than the Marlins, the Astros are also a much more patient lineup that swings and misses less. Five different Astros starters have an on-base percentage of .345 or higher, and then you have someone like Nori Aoki, who barely ever strikes out.

Velasquez used his time off to clear his head after an uneven first half. He's been using his fastball up in the zone a lot lately and it's worked because he has enough velocity to blow it by hitters when it's at shoulder-level or above. It can be a dangerous game, though, because if Velasquez misses even slightly lower in the zone, he's inviting loud contact.

3. Deeper Phils lineup
The Phillies have scored five runs or more in seven straight games, their longest single-season streak since 2005.

How have they done it? There's not one reason — in fact, there are at least five.

Nick Williams' bat in the middle of the lineup has been the biggest factor. He came up on June 30 and has hit .309 with four homers, four doubles, two triples and 15 RBIs in 19 games.

Since June 3, Odubel Herrera has hit .331 with a major-league-leading 19 doubles.

Over his last 35 games, Maikel Franco has as many walks (15) as strikeouts.

And the icing on the cake has been the returns of Cesar Hernandez and Howie Kendrick to the top of the Phillies' lineup.

Hernandez has reached base in all six games and 12 of 30 times total (.400 OBP) since coming back from the DL.

Kendrick hit in all three games over the weekend to raise his season slash line to .353/.403/.471. He's missed 60 games but been extremely productive when he's played.

The Phillies haven't previously had more than half the lineup hitting at the same time. When you add in Tommy Joseph's power, Andrew Knapp's plate selection and Freddy Galvis' ability to hit one out in any given plate appearance, you have the makings of a better lineup.

The Phillies still own the majors' worst record, but there are actually four teams — the Blue Jays, Reds, Giants and Padres — with worse run differentials.

4. More than a funny name
The Phillies face 29-year-old Astros right-hander Brad Peacock, who is having a career year. In 22 appearances (10 starts), Peacock is 8-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he's struck out a whopping 93 batters in 68⅔ innings.

He's also allowed just one home run in those 68⅔ innings.

Peacock has used five different pitches this season but goes mostly fastball-slider-sinker with his heater ranging from 93 to 96 mph. He also has a changeup and curveball.

His opponents have hit just .156 against the fastball this season and haven't hit better than .225 against any of his pitches. He's simply dominated for this first-place team and could legitimately start one of their first three playoff games, especially if Lance McCullers Jr. continues to struggle.

The Phillies have seen Peacock twice, in 2014 and 2011. In the most recent start, he allowed eight runs and put 11 men on base in just five innings. He was a much different pitcher then.

5. This and that
• Luis Garcia's save Sunday afternoon was his first since 2015. Garcia has pitched a career-high 17⅔ scoreless innings, allowing seven hits and striking out 17 over that span. If Hector Neris falters one more time in the ninth inning, the closer's job could temporarily go to Garcia.

• The Phillies have the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors since June 26 at 2.19.

• Giles has a 3.28 ERA this season with 21 saves in 23 attempts. He's struck out a career-low 10.3 batters per nine innings. In parts of two seasons with Houston, his ERA is 3.82 compared to 1.56 with the Phillies.