Phillies (21-44) vs. Red Sox (37-28)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com 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.