Phillies

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Bats need to stay hot vs. Charlie Morton, MLB's best offense

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Bats need to stay hot vs. Charlie Morton, MLB's best offense

Phillies (34-63) vs. Astros (66-33)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After a 13-4 shellacking by the AL-best Astros last night, the Phillies look to rebound in Game 2 tonight.

Here are five things to watch:

1. Well that was ugly ...
Monday night’s loss was ugly. Words don’t do it justice. So take a look at this tweet instead.

That local hero may need to grow a third hand for tonight’s game, because it doesn’t get any easier for the Phillies tonight. 

It’s Nick Pivetta’s turn to try and cool the Astros’ unstoppable offense. The Phillies may catch a break with All-Star outfielder George Springer — hitting .311 with 27 homers on the year — left Monday’s game in the third inning with a sore quad muscle and may sit out tonight. Superstar shortstop Carlos Correa remains on the DL. But Jose Altuve is hitting .507 — yes that’s a five — in July, so Pivetta has his work cut out for him.

Pivetta flashed his big-league potential with two dominant starts at the beginning of July, but he has come back down to earth in his last two outings, highlighted by a five-inning start in Milwaukee where he gave up nine runs. The rookie’s success came with his high number of fly ball outs. Pivetta was able to get hitters to pop up on weak fly balls and keep them off balance. In his first two July starts, Pivetta had a 25 to 8 fly ball to ground ball ratio, while giving up just four runs in that span. Over his last two starts, he has given up 12 runs while inducing just 17 fly balls and 17 groundouts. Fortunately for Pivetta, the Astros have the sixth-most fly outs in MLB this year.

2. But, there is hope 
There is hope for the Phillies, though. Before last night’s debacle, the team was on a bit of a hot streak. The Phillies are 4-2 in their last six games, while averaging 5.7 runs since the All-Star break. That’s tied for the seventh-most runs scored in all of MLB during that span. That’s quite an improvement from 29th before the All-Star break. Last night’s loss ended a seven-game streak of at least five runs scored for the Phillies. Something they haven’t done in a single season since 2005.

The Phillies will need to keep up the hot bats to keep up with the Astros tonight.

3. Morton returns
And to do that, the Phillies will have to hit against former Phillies’ great Charlie Morton. Don’t remember the salt man? That’s probably because he only pitched in four games for the Phils in 2016 before tearing his left hamstring in April and missed the remainder of the season. 

Now he’s with the Astros, and has excelled in the back end of the rotation. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old is 7-4 with a 4.18 ERA. However, he is averaging three walks allowed per start, something the Phillies’ should look to capitalize on if Morton struggled with his command early.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: 
Odubel Herrera has really turned his season around as of late. Herrera is back to his All-Star 2016 form, hitting .524 over the last week with four doubles and seven runs scored. Perhaps most noticeable is Herrera's newfound plate discipline. No longer flailing wildly at pitches in the dirt, Herrera has worked five walks in his last 21 at-bats. 

Astros: It's impossible not to mention Altuve here. His insane month of July (.507/.554/1.314) has made him the AL MVP favorite. Standing at just 5-foot-6, Altuve can do it all, including hit for power (15 home runs in 2017). 

5. This and that
• Charlie Morton's 4.18 ERA would be second-best among Phils' starters. Aaron Nola leads the rotation with a 3.38 ERA.

• Maikel Franco's recent hot streak has helped revive the Phillies' offense. Franco is hitting .300 since the All-Star break with as many walks (5) as strikeouts.

• The Astros have a 17-game cushion in the AL West. The Phillies are 25 games back of the Nationals in the NL East.

Mets continue to make life miserable for wasteful Phillies

Mets continue to make life miserable for wasteful Phillies

BOX SCORE

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — It matters not the venue, the New York Mets have made life tough on the Phillies everywhere this season.

The Phillies lost another game and another series to the Mets on Sunday night. Starter Nick Pivetta did not pitch well and the offense was insufficient as the Phils absorbed an 8-2 loss in the Little League Classic at historic Bowman Field (see first take).

The loss was the Phils' third in four days to the Mets. The Phils lost the five-game series and are just 5-8 against the Mets, who are 15 games under .500, this season.

The two teams play six more times in September.

"I think there's something to be said for division rivals," Rhys Hoskins said. "For whatever reason, it seems like they get up to play us. That's what happens when you are at the top of the division."

Actually, the Phils (68-56) are not at the top of the division. They had a chance to move into first place in the NL East with a win Sunday night as Atlanta lost its fourth game in a row earlier in the day. But the Phillies could not capitalize and they trail Atlanta by a half-game. That has been a theme for several weeks. The Phils were in first place from July 6 to Aug. 10 and had several chances to put space between themselves and the Braves, but never could build a lead of more than 2½ games.

Hoskins admitted that was frustrating.

"At the same time, though, we know that we haven't played as well as we can and we're still a half-game out of first place," he said. "So it's hard to be too frustrated. It could be worse. We could not be in striking distance. So, yeah, frustrating, but I think at the same time you can find some positive in being a half-game out."

Manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged that his team has squandered chances to advance.

"We understand we've had some missed opportunities to take some steps forward here," he said. "So at this very moment, I'm not thinking about how fortunate we are. I do feel like we're in a good spot in the standings. But I'm thinking about the fact that we need to take the day off, regroup, and get ready to play the Nationals. We will be prepared for that series."

That three-game series begins Tuesday night and though the Nationals have struggled and are a game under .500 and seven games back in the division, they still have big talent and are dangerous.

Here's how the pitching will go in that series:

Tuesday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-9, 4.13) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (8-12, 4.13)

Wednesday night — RHP Zach Eflin (9-4, 3.70) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-7, 3.90)

Thursday afternoon — RHP Aaron Nola (14-3, 2.24) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (16-5, 2.11)

Sunday night's pitching matchup didn't have the juice that Nola vs. Scherzer will, but the Mets were pleased with the outcome. Lefty Jason Vargas held the Phils to two runs over 5⅓ innings. He gave up just three hits over the first five innings. Hoskins singled with one out in the sixth and Carlos Santana followed with a two-run homer for the Phillies' only runs.

"He mixed well," Hoskins said. "He kept us off balance. That's kind of the pitcher that he is. He executed tonight. Sometimes you run into that. I wish I had more. He just kept the ball off the barrel."

Vargas got off to a poor start this season and entered with an ERA over 8.00.

"I thought Vargas pitched great," Kapler said. "Look, he has a track record of success in Major League Baseball. So despite the fact he hasn't had the same level of success this year, he's still a dangerous pitcher. He's very crafty. He used his changeup off the plate and expanded our zone just a little bit. That's why you saw us put some balls in play to the left side that we don't normally put in play. He made some good pitches. He was a quality starter for the Mets tonight."

Pivetta pitched well in his previous three starts, allowing just three runs in 18 innings. The success did not carry over into this one. He was tagged for five singles and four runs in the second inning. He was charged with two more runs in the fourth inning, one coming after a leadoff walk.

"Nick missed with his location quite a bit," Kapler said. "I think that's why he struggled to go deep into the game for us."

Third baseman Maikel Franco got a night off from the starting lineup. Asdrubal Cabrera started at third base and Scott Kingery at shortstop. Late in the game, Kapler inserted Justin Bour at first base and moved Santana to third base. Could that happen again down the stretch as Kapler looks for runs?

"It's not something we plan on doing regularly," Kapler said. "But in a situation where we're down five runs and we have to find some offense and we might be able to get Bour two at-bats in a game like we were able to do tonight, you probably have to take that shot. Santana has played third base successfully in the past. He takes ground balls there throughout the season. He prepares himself mentally for that opportunity. We'll use it when we need to."

More on the Phillies

Phillies finish a unique day with another ugly loss to Mets in Little League Classic

Phillies finish a unique day with another ugly loss to Mets in Little League Classic

BOX SCORE

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Phillies wasted a chance to move into first place in the National League East on Sunday night. The Phils lost to the New York Mets, 8-2, in the Little League Classic at historic Bowman Field.

The Atlanta Braves lost their fourth straight game earlier in the day, leaving the door open for the Phillies to grab the top spot in the division. The Phils, however, flopped in the nationally televised game. Starter Nick Pivetta did not pitch well and the offense was insufficient as the Phils fell to 68-56. They are a half-game behind Atlanta.

The Mets, 15 games under .500, might be also-rans in the division, but they play the Phillies tough. They took three of five games in the series that was lengthened by a doubleheader on Thursday. The Mets, with the help of a 24-4 shellacking in the first game, outscored the Phils, 43-20, in the series.

For the season, the Phillies are 5-8 against the Mets. The two teams meet six times in September.

Mets lefty Jason Vargas held the Phils to two runs over 5⅓ innings. He gave up just three hits over the first five innings. Rhys Hoskins singled with one out in the sixth and Carlos Santana followed with a two-run homer for the Phillies' only two runs.

Pivetta pitched well in his previous three starts, allowing just three runs in 18 innings. The success did not carry over into this one. He was tagged for five singles and four runs in the second inning. He was charged with two more runs in the fourth inning, one coming after a leadoff walk.

Herrera dropped in order

Odubel Herrera, who has been the team's primary No. 3 hitter this season, batted eighth in manager Gabe Kapler's lineup. Herrera had not batted that low since 2015, his rookie season, but the move was justified as he entered the game hitting just .229 with a .640 OPS since July 1.

"The thought process behind that is kind of interesting," Kapler said. "Maikel Franco we had bat eighth when he was struggling a little bit. And one of the things it naturally forces you to do is become a tiny bit more patient, see the ball a little bit longer and understand that the pitcher is hitting behind you, so you have to be hunting a pitch to drive and only a pitch to drive. It just might be something that kick-starts him a little bit. We feel very confident that it's not an indication that he can't hit in our three-hole. He's done it for a long time. We know there is a very good chance that he'll be back in the three-hole at some point, and this is just a temporary move to see if we can put Odubel in a good position to succeed."

Herrera had a single in four at-bats.

Up next

The Phillies are off on Monday. They open a three-game series in Washington on Tuesday night. Here are the pitching matchups:

Tuesday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-9, 4.13) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (8-12, 4.13)

Wednesday night — RHP Zach Eflin (9-4, 3.70) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-7, 3.90)

Thursday afternoon — RHP Aaron Nola (14-3, 2.24) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (16-5, 2.11)

More on the Phillies