Game notes

Phillies-Padres 5 things: Mark Leiter Jr. back on the bump as a starter

Phillies-Padres 5 things: Mark Leiter Jr. back on the bump as a starter

Phillies (43-73) at Padres (52-66)
10:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped their series opener Monday night in San Diego despite a decent outing from Jerad Eickhoff.

Fortunately, there were positive signs from their offense, and tonight they'll be putting one of their better arms of late on the hill.

1. Homerin' Hoskins
What was best? The silent treatment after Rhys Hoskins' first major-league blast, the fact that he added a second homer later on or his family's celebration of the two shots?

The answer is all three. After starting his career with the Phils 0 for 12, Hoskins notched his first hit Sunday and sent two baseballs into the stands Monday night — the first at 402 feet and the second at 400 — becoming the first Phillie to hit two homers in a game this quickly since Don Money in 1969. It was only a matter of time until the 24-year-old slugged a home run, especially given that he was leading the International League with 29 before his promotion last week.

So what does Hoskins have planned for his encore performance? The Phillies hope Hoskins provide consistent offense like Nick Williams has delivered since he arrived from Lehigh Valley. 

Hoskins was slashing .284/.385/.581 at Triple A, and if he can come somewhat close to those numbers with the big club, the Phils could see their offense begin to take another step forward.

Tonight Hoskins will face Padres righty Dinelson Lamet, who has been particularly good against right-handed batters. Right-handed hitters are hitting just .147 against Lamet, who is allowing a .276 average from lefties.

2. Leit it up
The last couple of appearances couldn't have gone much better for Mark Leiter Jr. Over the span of two lengthy relief appearances in the last 10 days, Leiter has tossed 9 1/3 innings, allowing just one earned run on six hits with a whopping 16 strikeouts.

This all comes after a rough month-and-a-half for the 26-year-old. Following his first major-league win at Arizona on June 23, when he went six shutout innings, Leiter watched his ERA balloon from 3.60 to 4.86 in just four outings with the Phillies and has been up and down between Philly and Lehigh Valley.

If Leiter can now carry his consistency over from the bullpen, there's a legit chance that he could stick in the rotation for the remainder of the season. Certainly, Eickhoff and Aaron Nola aren't going anywhere, but it's not clear when Vince Velazquez will be back on the hill, and neither Nick Pivetta or Zach Elfin has been very good.

Leiter won't blow you away with speed, but his deception and control have been incredibly good as of late, and none of these Padres have ever faced him before, meaning he'll likely have the upper hand early on Tuesday night. The son of an 11-year MLB pitcher now has his chance to show that he deserves to stick around for a while.

3. Top of the shop
Of the Phils' 11 hits Monday night, seven came from the first four guys in the Phillies' order. Hoskins, Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera each had a pair plus one from Cesar Hernandez. Add in Williams (who hit sixth), and that's not a bad group to move forward with.

The question now becomes whether the Phillies can find some top-to-bottom offense. They still rank second-to-last in the majors in runs scored (the only team behind them is San Diego) and they are third-to-last in homers (San Francisco, the team they'll play next, is last).

It's not necessarily a matter of whether the Phils are actually winning games right now, but you're talking about guys (including Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr) that are all 27 years old or younger and under team control for at least another season.

While the pitching remains a major uncertainty, the Phils need to hope that this group of guys, or at least a few of them, can become their offensive core. 

4. So much for a relief
Let's just be blunt about it: Ricardo Pinto was downright bad Monday night. He needed 45 pitches to get through two innings, surrendered five runs on just four hits, gave up two walks and a solo homer to Cory Spangenberg.

On the bright side, the rest of the Phils' bullpen will be available tonight. Still, no one among that group has a sub-3.00 ERA and is there anyone that you actually trust?

It's hard to imagine Leiter going too deep into tonight's contest, meaning that someone is going to have to finish the game off and potentially hold a lead. It may not be a problem now, but you can only hope that some guys emerge going forward.

5. This and that
• Hoskins isn't the only Phillie to hit a pair of home runs in the game which he hit his first homer. Scott Rolen did it back on Aug. 21, 1996 — but that was also his 21st major-league game.

• Leiter's best outings this year all have come against the NL West, oddly enough. His first win came at Arizona, his nine-strikeout performance was in Colorado and he's shut out both San Francisco and the Dodgers in relief appearances.

Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Nick Williams, Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola look to keep rolling

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USA Today Images/CSN

Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Nick Williams, Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola look to keep rolling

Phillies (32-61) vs. Brewers (52-46)
7:05 p.m. on NBC10; Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies are back at Citizens Bank Park this weekend to begin a season-long 10-game homestand. First up are the Milwaukee Brewers, who the Phils just faced last weekend at Miller Park coming out of the All-Star break.

1. A rare series win
The Phils took two of three in Miami earlier this week for their first win in a three-game series since June 2-4 vs. the Giants.

It was only the second series win of at least three games for the Phillies since they swept the Braves April 21-23 to improve to 9-9.

So from that Braves series in April through the Marlins series this week, the Phillies went 1-18-1 in series lasting at least three games.

The Phils' back-to-back wins in Miami were a result of actual, real-life offense. They scored 15 runs on 33 hits Tuesday and Wednesday.

2. The Nick Williams effect
This feels like the first time all season the Phillies' three- and four-hitters are locked in simultaneously.

Nick Williams is hitting .316 with a .963 OPS through 16 games with four doubles, two triples, three home runs and 12 RBIs. His 11 RBIs since the All-Star break lead the majors.

Over his last four games, Williams is 8 for 18 with six extra-base hits and 10 of those RBIs.

He continues to drive the ball with authority to the opposite field. He's shown an ability to let the ball get deep and still make solid contact on pitches on the outside corner.

The next step for Williams will be handling velocity on the inner portion of the plate and perhaps up in the zone. If he can do that and show some pull power, the adjustment for pitchers won't be so simple.

3. Don't forget about Franco
Maikel Franco, whose recent success led manager Pete Mackanin to move him back to the cleanup spot, has gone 11 for 25 (.440) with four doubles, a homer, seven RBIs, three walks and one strikeout since the All-Star break.

But Franco's run goes a bit further back. Over his last 32 games and 141 plate appearances, he's hit .276/.340/.528 with 11 doubles, seven homers, 22 RBIs and more walks (13) than strikeouts (12).

As a result, Franco's batting average (.233) is the highest it's been since April 12. His OPS (.698) is the highest it's been since May 4.

In Miami, we saw Franco consistently square up the baseball — line drives up the middle, down the third-base line and over the leftfielder's head. Most importantly, these line drives came on pitches that were not right down the middle and in Franco's swing path. He's been able to reach pitches on the outside corner, which for so much of this season have given him trouble and caused wild swings.

Franco still has plenty of time to change the story of his 2017 season. He may still end up with a sub-.250 batting average and an OBP right around .300, but he's also on pace for 31 doubles, 24 homers and 91 RBIs. He finished 2016 with 23 doubles, 25 homers and 88 RBIs.

4. Brewers skidding
Milwaukee holds a narrow one-game lead over the Cubs in the NL Central after losing five straight games, including a four-game sweep this week at the hands of the Pirates.

The Brewers have spent 64 of the season's 108 days in first place and held their biggest lead (5½ games) as recently as July 15.

Milwaukee's losing streak began last Sunday when Jeremy Hellickson and the Phillies beat them, 5-2. The Brew Crew then dropped four straight to the Pirates with each game decided by one or two runs.

Since homering and driving in four runs against the Phillies in the first game of the second half, Ryan Braun is 4 for 16, all singles. He's also dealing with calf and wrist issues.

We all know how much Braun loves this ballpark, though, so don't be surprised if he plays through the pain this weekend. In 29 career games at CBP, Braun has hit .383 with 10 homers, 29 RBIs and by far his highest OPS (1.150) at any venue.

5. This and that
• Don't overlook the importance of Cesar Hernandez's return to the Phillies' lineup. In Miami, he reached base in 6 of 16 plate appearances and saw 66 pitches, an average of 4.13 per plate appearance.

To put that average in perspective, Brett Gardner leads all leadoff hitters this season with 4.24 pitches per plate appearances, followed by George Springer at 4.08. Hernandez is eighth at 3.95.

• Aaron Nola, pitching like an ace lately, gets the start tonight for the Phillies. He has a 1.78 ERA and .186 opponents' batting average over his last five starts with 41 strikeouts in 35⅓ innings. All five were quality starts, including last Saturday when he allowed two runs in six innings with seven K's in Milwaukee.

Nola is 6-6 with a 3.54 ERA on the year.

• Veteran right-hander Matt Garza (4-4, 3.84) starts for the Brewers. Garza is having a rebound season after two straight dismal years in Milwaukee. He's no longer much of a strikeout threat with just one start all season with more than five K's. But even without missing many bats, Garza has been able to get key outs — his opponents have hit .167 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

Union-Revolution 5 things: Back to MLS grind after Open Cup exit

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CSN

Union-Revolution 5 things: Back to MLS grind after Open Cup exit

Union vs. New England Revolution
5 p.m. on FS1

Fresh off a gut-wrenching end to their 2017 U.S. Open Cup, the Union (5-7-4) return to MLS play to host a team in the Revolution (5-7-5) they could end up battling for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.

Here are five things to know:

1. Bruised but not beaten
Recovering from games four days apart is always a difficult task; recovering from a grueling 120-minute knockout game that ended with a brutal shootout loss to the nemesis New York Red Bulls is even tougher.

But although head coach Jim Curtin said he felt like he and the players “let down the fans,” he’s confident that they’ll be up for a quick turnaround.

“We will have some fresh legs,” Curtin said. “With the competitive roster, we have guys we plug in and don’t really miss a beat. That’s a strong thing to have. We’re a real balanced team and it’s a group I’m confident will be fresh. … Even the 120-minute guys are feeling pretty strong and ready to turn it around and go again.”

Indeed, four regular starters — goalkeeper Andre Blake, defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Ray Gaddis, and midfielder Ilsinho — didn’t play at all vs. the Red Bulls on Wednesday and another (Chris Pontius) only played 15 minutes.

And as for the guys who went the full 120 minutes, Curtin is feeling good about their effort and recovery, specifically pointing to attacking midfielder Roland Alberg.

“It was his best game in a Philadelphia Union uniform,” the Union coach said.

2. Gold Cup absences
There’s good news and bad news on the international absence front.

The bad news? The Union will be without captain Alejandro Bedoya, who’s currently with the U.S. national team leading up to start of the Gold Cup next weekend. And the Union are 5-1 in the last six games Bedoya has started.

The good news is Blake, who was dealing with a minor rib injury, is set to make one final start in Philly before joining Jamaica for the CONCACAF tournament. And he’s coming off a monster performance in the Union’s 1-0 win over D.C. United last weekend.

The Revs, meanwhile, will be without striker Juan Agudelo (U.S.) and midfielders Kelyn Rowe (U.S.) and Gershon Koffie (Ghana). All three were part of Saturday’s U.S.-Ghana friendly, though only Rowe got into the game, earning his first USMNT cap.

3. All eyes on Jones
With Bedoya gone and Warren Creavalle hurt, 20-year-old midfielder Derrick Jones has a big opportunity in front of him as a starter for Sunday’s game — and potentially a few more after that.

In Jones’ last start, he was shown a red card that led to a 2-0 loss to the Red Bulls on June 18. But he said he’s learned from that experience and is eager to temporarily take the spot of a player like Bedoya.

“I look up to him every day in training, on the field, in games,” Jones said of the Union captain. “He tells me to play my game, keep doing what I’m doing.”

Curtin said the first half of the season has gone well for Jones, who began the year of a starter before transitioning to a reserve role. But he expects more from the promising young homegrown.

“This is a big time for him now with Ale being out for these next two games,” the Union coach said. “He’ll have his hands full. But his fearlessness is what [sporting director Earnie Stewart] and I love in him and it’s what we see every day in training. We know he’ll be up to the challenge.”

4. Players to watch
Revolution: New England is missing some key players with Diego Fagundez suspended and others injured on top of the Agudelo, Rowe and Koffie international absences. But in striker Kei Kamara, the Revs still have a marquee veteran striker who can turn a game on its head.

Union: This could be an important game for Ilsinho, who’s dealing with a calf issue but figures to start at the No. 10 attacking midfield role. And he may need to have a big game to keep that spot, considering Alberg is coming off such a good game and Adam Najem — an up-and-comer at the No. 10 spot — had an “excellent” performance vs. the Red Bulls four days ago, according to Curtin.

5. This and that
• In their Open Cup game Wednesday, the Union finished with 27 shots but only scored once, leading Curtin to have the players work on finishing during practice this week.

• Maurice Edu, who hasn’t played an MLS game since Sept. 20, 2015, participated in training this week but still has no timetable to return.

• The Revs have yet to win on the road this season, going 0-6-3 in nine matches.

• The Union are 2-0-1 in their last three meetings with the Revs, outscoring them 8-1.

• With seven assists, Revs midfielder Lee Nguyen is tied for third in the league.