Phillies-Red Sox 5 things: Hey, they hit Chris Sale last season ...

Phillies-Red Sox 5 things: Hey, they hit Chris Sale last season ...

Phillies (21-44) vs. Red Sox (37-28)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

After losing a pair of one-run games in extra innings in Boston, the Phillies were out of it from the jump Wednesday night. The Red Sox scored five early runs and never trailed in a 7-3 win.

Now comes the fourth and final meeting of the season with the Red Sox, and it's by far the toughest matchup yet.

1. K's for Sale
Red Sox ace lefty Chris Sale makes his second career start at Citizens Bank Park. This is usually the case for the Phillies, but runs will be tough to come by tonight.

Sale is having a dominant first year in Boston. He's 8-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 13 starts and he's struck out a major-league-leading 126 in 91 innings. 

From April 10 through May 19, Sale struck out 10-plus batters in eight straight starts. He's missed fewer bats lately but still struck out 31 over 25⅓ innings in his last four outings.

Sale is on pace for 314 K's, which would be the most in a season since 2002, when Randy Johnson struck out 334 and Curt Schilling whiffed 316. In fact, since 2002, the only pitcher to reach 300 in a season was Clayton Kershaw (301) in 2015.

Despite the mid-90s velocity, the ridiculous slider, the funky delivery and intimidation factor, Sale is not invincible. He's allowed three runs or more in each of his last four starts and gave up six runs two weeks ago in Chicago.

The Phillies hit him last season on one of his more erratic nights. Sale allowed six runs to the Phils in four innings on seven hits and three hit batsmen. Tommy Joseph went 2 for 2 with a double, a homer and three RBIs.

2. Altherr's sustainability
When Aaron Altherr was en fuego the first two weeks of May, we knew it wouldn't last forever. And he did hit a cold streak during which his swing elongated back to what it was before this season.

But he's settled back in, and even after coming back to Earth, Altherr has been a solid bat for the Phillies. 

He homered for the second straight game Wednesday, giving him 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. He's hitting .286/.360/.550

Asked Wednesday if he thinks Altherr can settle in to be a .290-ish hitter long-term, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he does because of the adjustments Altherr has shown in 2017. 

If Mackanin is right, Altherr is going to be a very valuable player for years. Any team could use a .290-hitting outfielder with power, speed and above-average defensive instincts. Altherr is playing his way toward an All-Star nod.

3. Not a good matchup for Pivetta
We've seen a mid-90s fastball and a decent slider from Nick Pivetta in his six starts with the Phillies but he has a long, long way to go to earn a permanent rotation spot.

In 29⅓ innings, Pivetta has struck out 27 but walked 16. He's thrown first-pitch strikes to just 47.0 percent of his opponents, well below the MLB average of 60.3 percent. He has the lowest first-pitch strike rate of any NL starting pitcher with at least 20 innings.

The Red Sox are not the team a pitcher struggling with control wants to face. They have power, plate selection and the right type of aggressiveness. Most of these hitters will spit on Pivetta's first pitch if it's a bit off the plate but will be prepared to attack if he tries to just get one over.

The Phillies have yet to receive more than five innings from Pivetta, who has allowed 18 extra-base hits already.

4. Best of Betts
Imagine getting to watch Mookie Betts on a nightly basis. The guy has everything — he hits for average, hits for power, plays maybe the best right field defense in baseball and has game-breaking speed.

The Phillies have gotten an up-close look this week at his myriad of skills. Even though he went 0 for 6 on Tuesday, Betts is 8 for 16 with four doubles and two homers in the three games against the Phillies.

This is the kind of player you build a franchise around. The Phillies don't have anyone like Betts in their system. Granted, few teams do. But there's an enormous difference between the Phillies' young talent and the Red Sox. Guys like Betts and Xander Bogaerts completely transform a team. There's a difference between rebuilding your way to 85 wins and rebuilding your way to a championship. Some luck is involved in landing players like that, but Betts was a fifth-round pick back in 2011. Every team had multiple chances to grab him.

As Phillies fans continue to clamor for their prospects to be called up, it's worth mentioning that Bogaerts debuted at 20 and Betts at 21. 

5. This and that
• Maikel Franco followed his 6-for-9 run at Fenway by going 0 for 4 last night. 

• Cameron Rupp's last 17 games: 6 for 57 (.105) with a .164 on-base percentage. In 61 plate appearances, he has one extra-base hit, four walks and 22 strikeouts. He came up representing the tying run with two outs in the eighth inning last night and struck out. That's the kind of big spot in which the Phillies just haven't been able to produce this season.

• In Joseph, Freddy Galvis, Odubel Herrera, Franco and Rupp, the Phillies have five regulars with on-base percentages between .276 and .316. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have seven starters with OBPs of .345 or higher.

Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola vs. Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve and Mike Trout. Welcome to the All-Star Game.

Nola made his ASG debut Tuesday night in D.C., pitching the top of the fifth inning with the National League trailing 2-1.

He opened the frame by striking out Royals catcher Salvador Perez on a low-and-away curveball well off the plate.

Next up was Betts, the AL MVP favorite. On a 3-2 count, Nola struck Betts out swinging on a high-and-tight 96 mph fastball.

The next batter, 2017 AL MVP Altuve, singled to right-center on the first pitch. 

And that brought up Trout, who had homered in his previous at-bat against Jacob deGrom. 

Trout had no such luck against Nola, popping up to first base in foul territory on the third pitch he saw.

Nola threw 15 pitches, 10 strikes. 

This was a pretty cool moment for Nola, facing arguably the three best hitters in baseball and retiring two of them. Looked like he belonged.

He made some new friends, too. Here's Nola planning an offseason sleepover with Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin.

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Phillies' other trade options if they can't land Manny Machado

Phillies' other trade options if they can't land Manny Machado

There's no player on the trade market who could replicate for the Phillies the impact Manny Machado would make in August and September. 

There's definitely no player who would invigorate the fan base as much.

But if the Dodgers do end up beating the Phillies' offer for the best available player, the Phils will still look to make other upgrades.

That could involve acquiring a solid, non-star player for the left side of the infield, in addition to pitching help.

If the Phils can't add huge run production to their lineup, their focus could shift to players who'd assist in run prevention.

Here are some names to keep in mind:

Royals super-utilityman Whit Merrifield

There has been reported interest from the Phillies in Merrifield, and the two organizations have already scouted each other because of the earlier interest in Mike Moustakas.

Merrifield can play all over the diamond — first, second, third and all three outfield spots. If Maikel Franco is going well, you could play him in the outfield. If Franco is slumping, he could play third base. But acquiring Merrifield would be just as much about the future as this year.

Merrifield doesn't have nearly the raw power of a Machado or a Moustakas, but he's a proven .290-.300 hitter with gap power, speed and defensive versatility. He led the AL in steals (34) last season and has the third-most doubles (30) in the majors this season.

He would not be cheap to acquire. Merrifield is making $570,000 this season and will be inexpensive again in 2019 before his arbitration years begin. All told, Merrifield is under club control through the end of 2022. These are his prime years and he'll be underpaid for them relative to his performance.

Merrifield is not the same caliber player as Machado, but the cost in trade could end up being similar because Machado is a two-month rental and Merrifield comes with 4½ years of team control. That is a major, major difference that might offset the gap in talent between the two players.

Twins 3B/SS/2B Eduardo Escobar

Another name connected to the Phillies. Escobar, 29, is having a career year, hitting .271/.327/.507 for the Twins with a majors-leading 35 doubles, 14 homers and 57 RBI. 

He's been one of the most clutch players in baseball this season, hitting .367 with a 1.112 OPS with runners in scoring position. That's not exactly a sustainable long-term skill, but it's worth mentioning.

The switch-hitting Escobar would be a rental. He's a free agent at season's end. Thus, it would be cheaper to acquire him than Merrifield.

Top-tier relievers

If the Phils don't get Machado, they could instead land a combination of a bat and a bullpen piece to try to match his overall value.

Zach Britton. Jeurys Familia. Brad Hand. Raisel Iglesias. Felipe Vazquez.

Britton would be the cheapest option because he's a free agent after the season. We've known the Phillies have interest in him, and they could still pursue him even if Machado heads out West.

Britton's velocity has returned. He's back to throwing that power sinker in the mid-to-high 90s. His left-handedness would give the Phillies the matchup reliever they need, along with an experienced ninth-inning option that could allow Seranthony Dominguez to be used in a high-leverage role earlier in the game.

If you can't make a move that allows you to comfortably outscore your opponents moving forward, shortening the game is another way to remain in contention.

Baseball has changed. Having upper-echelon relievers in October is more meaningful now than ever before.

Blue Jays pieces

Jim Salisbury reported Monday that as the Phillies await an answer from the Orioles, they're also interested in Blue Jays lefty and former Phillie J.A. Happ.

Acquiring Happ would give the Phils a left-handed starting pitcher, which they haven't had since September 2016. That move could then allow them to move a Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta to the bullpen. Both are high-velocity, strikeout pitchers and both could thrive in a bullpen role. Their velocity and K-rates may even increase.

Imagine the Phillies being up 3-2 with two outs in the sixth inning and their starter at 105 pitches. A combination of Pat Neshek and Velasquez or Pivetta could get you all the way to the ninth. It would also give the Phillies a look at one of those young starting pitchers in that different role to gauge whether it makes the most sense for them long term.

Happ isn't the only Blue Jay to monitor, though. Yangervis Solarte has power and can play every infield position. He also has fair-market club options beyond this year — $5.5 million next season, $8 million the following season.

Curtis Granderson could help, too, as the missing power bat off the bench. Granderson was 0 for 13 heading into the All-Star break, but from June 7 to July 7, he hit .319/.373/.623 with six doubles and five homers.

No, he's not some big-time difference-maker in 2018, but Granderson is a markedly better and more dangerous hitter than the Phillies currently have on the bench.

It's not nearly as sexy of a trade, but acquiring a package of Happ, Granderson and Solarte could improve the Phillies in four different areas: rotation, bullpen, infield and bench.

Josh Donaldson, a much bigger name and more impactful power bat when healthy, is also worth keeping in the back of your mind. Donaldson has been out with a calf injury since Memorial Day but has resumed running and doing baseball activities and could be back by the end of the month. 

He's a free agent after the season as well. The contract status combined with all the time missed over the last two seasons will decrease the price tag. 

But if he's healthy and ready to go, this is a former MVP who hit .282/.377/.524 over the last five seasons with an average of 33 homers and 98 RBI.

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