Phillies

Phillies-D-backs 5 things: Timely test for Nick Pivetta

Phillies-D-backs 5 things: Timely test for Nick Pivetta

Phillies (24-50) at Diamondbacks (48-28)
3:40 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Looking for a split in their four-game, wraparound series with the Diamondbacks, the Phillies send out Nick Pivetta, their hottest starting pitcher.

1. Pivetta on a roll
Pivetta's struck out 19 batters in 13 innings his last two starts, nine Red Sox then 10 Cardinals, both at home.

He pounded the strike zone in both starts better than he had before, trusting his 95 mph-plus fastball and potentially plus breaking ball and improving his sequencing. Against the Red Sox, Pivetta tested a good lineup with upper-90s heat and missed bats. Against the Cardinals, he froze hitters and got them to swing over the top of two-strike breaking balls.

He's induced 15 swinging strikes in each of the last two starts.

Pivetta joined Jerad Eickhoff (2015) as the only Phillies rookie pitchers since Dick Ruthven in 1973 to strike out nine or more in consecutive starts.

This is a bigger challenge. He's facing one of the NL's best lineups in its ideal setting. The D-backs are 28-10 at home and have their ace going.

2. Greinke settling in at Chase
Greinke has fared much better in his second season in the desert. He signed that enormous contract prior to 2016 — six years, $206.5 million — and disappointed in Year 1, going 13-7 with a 4.37 ERA and his lowest strikeout rate in seven seasons.

He enters this start 8-4 with a 3.14 ERA. He's struck out 103 in 97⅓ innings and walked just 19. His opponents have hit .228, including .206 at home. Safe to say he's adjusted to Chase Field.

The Phillies faced Greinke twice last July. He held them to three hits and a run (an Odubel Herrera homer) over eight innings in the first start and exited in the second inning of the other with an oblique strain.

Greinke is always a difficult matchup. Four-seam fastball (90 to 92 mph), slider, changeup, curve, two-seamer and the occasional sloooow curveball in the upper-60s. 

His slider's held hitters to a .168 batting average in 1,845 at-bats over the last decade.

Current Phils are 12 for 58 (.207) off Greinke with just Herrera's homer, two walks and 15 strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 1 for 12 with 7 K's.

3. Walk-off observers
The Phillies are going to be an opponent featured often in the highlight tapes of other teams in 2017. 

They've been on the losing end of a major-league high eight walk-offs after Sunday's 2-1 loss. It was their MLB-worst 19th loss in a one-run game. The Phils also have the most extra-inning losses with eight. They had just six walk-off losses all of last season.

This is what happens when a comparative lack of talent meets a lack of timely hits meets a lack of first-pitch strikes meets a lack of luck and breaks meets a lack of gopher ball avoidance.

4. At least there's Altherr
Aaron Altherr refuses to let a few bad days turn into a slump. He's no longer in that .330 or even .310 range, but he's settled in between .280 and .290 the last month and if he can do that with power, speed and good defense … that's a valuable player.

Altherr had a three-hit day Sunday with his second triple, to go along with 15 doubles, 12 homers and 39 RBIs. 

He's hitting .284/.352/.524 on the season. His .876 OPS is 40th in baseball. No, doesn't sound like much. But here are the some of the players behind him: Mookie Betts, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Upton, Adam Duvall, Xander Bogaerts, Jose Abreu, Starlin Castro, Matt Carpenter, Andrew McCutchen, Eric Hosmer, on and on.

Altherr is a longshot to make the NL All-Star team but he's the most worthy Phillie after Pat Neshek.

5. This and that
• Edubray Ramos is 0-7 after taking the loss Sunday. Over the last 17 seasons, the only Phillies reliever to lose more games in a season was Brad Lidge (8) during his horrific 2009.

• How many NL players would you take over Paul Goldschmidt the next three to five seasons? Obvious guys like Corey Seager and Bryce Harper. After that? For me, it'd be between Nolan Arenado, Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman. 

• Cameron Perkins has gotten his at-bats — all but one out of the leadoff spot — but hasn't yet done much with them, going 2 for 22 with no walks and eight strikeouts.

• Here's today's lineup that will face Greinke:

1. Daniel Nava, LF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Andres Blanco, 2B
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Nick Pivetta, P

Trades, a pennant race and maybe a big award await Phillies in 2nd half

Trades, a pennant race and maybe a big award await Phillies in 2nd half

Are you ready for a pennant race, Phillies fans?

Of course, you are.

It has been too long.

The Phillies get back to work Friday night and for the first time since 2011 find themselves in legitimate position to make a run at a postseason berth. They lead the National League East by a half-game over the Atlanta Braves and 5½ over the Washington Nationals.

As the players return to town for a weekend series against the San Diego Padres, let’s look ahead at a few of the important storylines that will unfold as the pennant race begins.

The Manny hangover

Fans are disappointed that the team did not land slugging infielder Manny Machado in a trade. The front office has to be disappointed. But the disappointment cannot seep into the clubhouse. This mostly young Phillies team has displayed resilience and toughness all season and that must continue as the intensity of the games increases.

Machado is still a great long-term fit for this team at shortstop for a while, then over to third base and ultimately at first base as he finishes a long contract. The Phillies had two windows to get him. One has closed. But one remains open as Machado will test the free-agent market in the offseason. The Phils were reluctant to empty their prospect vault for him, but you know they will write a big check this winter.

Machado might end up loving Los Angeles and look to stay there. But, for now, he looks like just a short-term fit with the Dodgers, who lost shortstop Corey Seager to injury and are desperate to win a World Series with a ripe core. Machado is from Miami. He has told friends that he wants to play on the East Coast with a team that has spring training in Florida. He has “a thing” for the Yankees so they will be a team to watch. But the Phillies fill a lot of his criteria, too, and winning the division, or at least making the postseason, will help make Philadelphia attractive to Machado. The money will be huge wherever the guy goes. He wants to win and though he’s focused on winning with the Dodgers, he’s watching what happens the rest of season in other potential destinations.

What's plan B?

In pursuing Machado, the Phillies were trying to upgrade their offense. Yes, the team sees pitches, grinds out at-bats and walks, but the overall offense is below average. The team batting average is just .236 and the slugging percentage .390, both in the bottom third in the majors. The lack of offense hurt the Phils on their recent 11-game road trip. They surely could have finished better than 6-5 if they hadn’t averaged under three runs over the final 10 games and been shut out twice.

Improving the offense is a must. Shortstop might be the spot to do it as the pursuit of Machado confirmed. Minnesota’s Eduardo Escobar has been mentioned as a trade target and that would make sense. Landing a shortstop could improve the bench as Scott Kingery could be used in the super-utility role that was envisioned for him at the start of the season.

Message to Maikel

Maikel Franco sat. He was dropped to eighth in the batting order and that can be humiliating for a player no matter how much importance is placed on the spot in a carefully constructed lineup.

Whether the message was intentional or not, Franco seems to have gotten it. He is in the midst of his most productive stretch of the season, hitting .352 with a 1.106 OPS in 22 games since sitting out on June 22 in favor of utility man Jesmuel Valentin. Now, the possibility exists that Franco has, at least for now, played himself out of trade-bait status. If he continues to produce, he could be better than any of the third basemen on the trade market that are viewed as upgrades.

It’s still difficult to see Franco being part of this front office’s long-term plan, but in the short term he might be the best option.

Other ways to improve

Unable to improve the offense with the addition of Machado, the Phils could look for an overall upgrade by improving their run prevention. Bullpen is clearly an area the team would like to address with the addition of a top arm. The team pursued Zach Britton, the Orioles’ lefty closer, in a Machado package and will stay on him. Brad Hand was on the Phils’ radar before he was dealt to Cleveland. Pittsburgh’s Felipe Vazquez, another lefty, and Mets closer Jeurys Familia could also help shorten games.

Yet another way to help the bullpen would be to acquire Toronto’s J.A. Happ in a trade. That could conceivably turn Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta into a power-armed bullpen piece.

The importance of Jake

With an average age of 26 years and 7 months, the Phillies are the youngest team in the majors. They have arrived in a pennant race a year before most expected, but that does not mitigate the need to capitalize on that unexpected position. All of this makes it imperative that Jake Arrieta continue to produce quality starts. He has allowed just four earned runs over 19 innings in his last three starts and the Phils have won all three.

Arrieta is 32. He has pitched in pennant races and won a World Series and a Cy Young Award. Aaron Nola has emerged as the ace of the Phillies’ staff, but Arrieta’s experience and presence will be vital in the second half. Pennant races have a different intensity that much of this team has never felt. Arrieta’s been-there-done-that experience will be valuable. Carlos Santana’s, too.

From the day he arrived, Arrieta has said he wants to lead and is comfortable doing that. Fittingly, he gets the ball Friday night and the game will be a tone-setter.

Awards race

The Phillies will give Nola a few extra days of rest coming out of the All-Star break — he won’t face the Padres this weekend — and that is smart given his importance to the team’s postseason chances. When he was drafted No. 7 overall out of LSU in 2014, Nola was projected to be a quick-riser who could eventually be a quality mid-rotation starter. He has become so much more and has a legitimate chance to become the Phillies’ first Cy Young Award winner since Roy Halladay in 2010. With 2½ months to go, Nola is right there in the conversation with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, who has won the last two NL Cy Young Awards.

Nola is tied for the NL lead with 12 wins and is second in ERA (2.30), innings (129), quality starts (16) and pitchers WAR (5.9). He has allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings (0.42). He is third in opponent batting average (.199) and WHIP (0.98) and fourth in strikeouts (131).

Seranthony Dominguez, Gabe Kapler’s favorite bullpen kill shot, is on his way to garnering a serious look for NL Rookie of the Year, and Kapler himself is in position to get votes for NL Manager of the Year. The Phils won just 66 games last season. They are on pace for 90 under the first-year manager.

More on the Phillies

The making of 'World Champions: The Story of the '08 Phillies'

ap-brad-lidge-carlos-ruiz.jpg
AP Images

The making of 'World Champions: The Story of the '08 Phillies'

On this special edition of At The Yard, Jim Salisbury chats with Sean Kane and Brian Brennan, the makers of "World Champions: The Story of the '08 Phillies." They discuss how the documentary was put together, deciding which parts to keep and take out and their overall memories from that magical season.

1:30 - How did this documentary get started?
4:00 - Difficult decisions made producing the documentary.
7:30 - Favorite interviews conducted.
14:00 - Chase Utley's parade speech.
20:00 - Importance of the 2007 season leading up to 2008.
26:00 - Final out of the World Series.
30:30 - Favorite stories.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19