Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Homer-prone Pivetta takes on Coors Field

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Homer-prone Pivetta takes on Coors Field

Phillies (39-68) at Rockies (63-47)
8:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

After winning five straight, including a four-game sweep of the Braves, the Phillies are off to a horrid start to August, losing four out West. They had a 3-2 lead in the series opener in Colorado, but the bullpen squandered the one-run advantage for the second straight night, losing, 4-3, to the Rockies (see story).

In the second game of the three-game set, the Phils turn to Nick Pivetta against Jon Gray at Coors Field for the late night start.

Here are five things to know for Saturday night's game:

1. Western woes
In a season in which there has been very little reason for optimism, there was a brief period of positivity as the Phillies swept away the Braves and took their fifth straight victory. In fact, they had started the second half 10-6 and were actually above .500 (13-12) in July.

But their trip out West has been more of the first-half struggles that leave the Phillies with the worst record in baseball. In four games, they've managed to score just eight runs while their opponents average 5.75 per game. 

It'd be different if all four games came in Colorado, but the first three were in Anaheim, which is home to the lackluster Angels offense. Aaron Nola gave them a quality start on Tuesday, but the bullpen gave up five runs in two innings. Jake Thompson fell victim to a seven-run third on Wednesday.

And then the bullpen has reared its ugly head in the last two games. This can't be entirely unexpected post-trade deadline. The Phillies traded their best reliever away and also dealt Joaquin Benoit, who wasn't highly effective in Philly but was at least an average reliever while pitching in high-leverage assignments. The drop-off from him to a younger reliever who hasn't seen late-inning duty before can be steep. 

Of course, it would help the bullpen if the Phillies' offense can pick up where it left off in July. The Phillies posted the eighth-highest OPS in baseball last month. The Rockies were third in OPS and second in batting average, so the Phillies' pitching staff has its work cut out for it if the offense is silent the next two days.

2. Pivetta and the long ball
In Pivetta's last two outings, he's allowed six runs (no home runs) on 11 baserunners in 12 innings while striking out 12. The strikeout numbers are impressive, as is his .209/.239/.349 averages against, particularly when five of the runs came against baseball's best offense. 

But a 4.50 ERA over two starts isn't noteworthy, except it is a far way from his 6.82 ERA over his previous six starts, in which he allowed 25 runs in 33 innings. While he struck out over a batter an inning in that stretch, he gave up a whopping 11 home runs.

No pitcher is going to survive surrendering three homers per nine innings, which makes his homerless last two starts so encouraging. His strikeout numbers have been impressive, over a K per inning, and the 24-year-old has been able to blow away hitters at times with his four-seam fastball. 

He'll have to play off that fastball at Coors Field. In the altitude, pitchers often have issues with their offspeed stuff, which could make a pitcher like Pivetta — who throws his four-seamer over two-thirds of the time — a solid choice for the assignment. Still, with the Rockies' offense and the adjustment to the environment, Pivetta will have a tough task on Saturday regardless of how well-tuned his fastball is.

3. A budding ace?
Outside of a couple Ubaldo Jimenez seasons, the Rockies have had plenty of trouble trying to pin down a No. 1 starter. With Gray in his second full season, Colorado hopes it has that starter who can master Coors Field and the National League in one fell swoop. 

In his first full big-league season, Gray struck out 185 in 168 innings while pitching to a 4.61 ERA. He was better at home, going 7-2 with a 4.30 ERA in 14 starts.

This season got off to a rocky start for the former No. 3 overall selection as he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in just his third start, prompting him to miss more than two months. Improbably, the Rockies' pitching staff was able to hold things together without Gray and fellow starter Chad Bettis, who has missed the entire season undergoing treatment for cancer. 

Gray has had mixed results in his return, including one particularly ugly start against the Mets in which he allowed eight runs in just two innings. Beyond that, he's been able to elicit whiffs while walking slightly fewer batters than last season. 

The 25-year-old righty has actually been more effective at home than on the road this season, sporting a 3.71 ERA at home while being shelled to the tune of a 6.67 mark on the road. Lefties have batted .327 against him this year, so the Phillies will likely load up their lineup with LHBs to combat him.

Gray's stuff is elite, sporting an upper-90s fastball and a slider that sits around 90 mph. He'll also throw a low-80s curveball, but he's primarily a fastball-slider pitcher.

The Phillies saw him twice last season, tagging him for nine runs in 10 2/3 innings. Freddy Galvis went 2 for 4 with a walk while Cesar Hernandez tripled in four at-bats. Current Phils hit .219/.324/.281 against Gray.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: For the second straight night, Nick Williams picked up three hits on Friday. In that two-game span, he's 6 for 8 with three doubles and a home run.

Rockies: Often overlooked playing in Colorado, Nolan Arenado has won four consecutive Gold Gloves at third base and leads the National League in RBIs for the third straight year. In 2015 and '16, he also led the NL in home runs and total bases. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies have lost four of five to the Rockies this year. They've been outscored 28-10 in the five contests, a season after beating Colorado five times in seven tries.

• With Friday's loss, the Phillies dropped to 14-28 in one-run games. They hadn't lost 28 one-run games since 2013 when they went 28-28 in such contests.

• Rockies closer Greg Holland saved his 34th game on Friday in his 35th opportunity. The former Kansas City Royal missed the whole 2016 season with Tommy John surgery. 

Surprising how many NL teams let Justin Bour slip to Phillies

AP Images

Surprising how many NL teams let Justin Bour slip to Phillies

The Justin Bour-Matt Stairs comparison has been a popular one in the days since the Phillies surprisingly acquired Bour from the Marlins. Big, burly, power-hitting, left-handed first basemen.

But in several other ways, this move was different. 

• Bour is 10 years younger than Stairs was when the Phils traded for him in 2008. 

• Bour was acquired the second week of August; Stairs was acquired at the end of August. Stairs had just 19 regular-season plate appearances with the Phils in 2008. Bour should be able to double that pretty easily.

• Stairs was under contract for the following season. Bour is under contract the next two seasons after this one.

That last point was why it was so surprising that various NL teams let Bour slide through the waiver order and make it to the Phillies. 

A refresher: Once August hits, in order to trade a player, a team must first place him on waivers. The waiver queue is based on the inverse order of the standings in that player's league. So when Bour is placed on waivers, the worst team in the NL gets first dibs. If he passed through every NL team unclaimed, the worst AL team would get next crack at him and so on. (More on August trade rules here.)

It would have been one thing if Bour was a rental. In that case, he would have made sense only for contenders.

But Bour isn't a rental. He was awarded a $3.4 million salary this season, his first of arbitration eligibility. He's under team control each of the next two seasons and figures to make an estimated $14 million in 2019 and 2020 combined.

That's not a ton of money for a starting-caliber first baseman who has an .821 OPS since 2015 with 31 homers per 162 games.

Where were the Mets? Where were the Rockies? The Pirates?

The Mets have no offense. At first base, they've been playing Wilmer Flores, who is not the long-term answer. Prospect Dom Smith has hit .193 in 257 big-league plate appearances and has also had a poor season at Triple A. 

If you're the Mets, a team that acts as a small-market club with little money to spend, why not take a flier on Bour for a modest price over the next two seasons? Is anyone awake in Flushing?

The Rockies, a contender, haven't gotten great production from first base. It's been a combination of Ian Desmond and left-handed hitting Ryan McMahon. Against righties, Bour is an upgrade over both.

When Bour was placed on waivers at the beginning of the month, Pirates 1B Josh Bell was on the DL. Bell, a switch-hitter the Pirates are high on, has been a league-average first baseman since getting to the majors. He's been good against right-handed pitching but Bour has just been better, with a career OPS 73 points higher. 

The money

It will be interesting to see whether the Phillies keep Bour around past this season. If he produces as a pinch-hitter and fits in, he'd be a valuable bench bat to have. He'd be valuable insurance for Carlos Santana.

One of the things to really like about Bour is his production against pitching within the division. He's 8 for 21 (.381) with two homers, a double and three walks against Jacob deGrom. Yes, that Jacob deGrom. Bour has been one of the very best hitters in the league against deGrom during the righty's stellar career.

Bour has gone a respectable 5 for 17 (.294) vs. Noah Syndergaard. 

He's reached base in 17 of 28 plate appearances vs. Julio Teheran. 

He's 8 for 15 with two homers and a double against Mike Foltynewicz.

He has a homer and a .385 OBP in 26 plate appearances vs. Stephen Strasburg.

This all matters moving forward in a division with so many high-quality starting pitchers.

The Phillies are a deep-pocketed team that could afford to pay Bour $5.5 million or so next season as a non-regular. Not every team is in that position but the Phils are. Aside from their arbitration-eligible players, the Phils have just six players under contract for 2019: Jake Arrieta, Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Their decision whether to keep Bour around, trade him or non-tender him will obviously be affected by their pursuit of top free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. It will also be affected by how the Phils approach the pending free agency of Wilson Ramos and Asdrubal Cabrera, two players who make even more sense to retain because of the positions they play.

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Phillies are just another team to Freddy Galvis — wink, wink

Phillies are just another team to Freddy Galvis — wink, wink

SAN DIEGO – Deep down inside, this had to be sweet for Freddy Galvis.

But outwardly?

Just another day. Just another game. Just another team.

Galvis, traded from the Phillies to San Diego in December, has haunted his former club in six games this season. He is 10 for 22 with nine RBIs. Five of them came this weekend as the Padres took two of three from the Phillies.

Galvis, 28, launched the first grand slam of his career in the third inning Sunday to help lead a 9-3 Padres’ win over his old team. The grand slam was a 409-foot bomb – in Ted Williams’ hometown – against Jake Arrieta.

“Freddy Galvis has swung the bat against us very well all year long,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Give him some credit for continuing to swing the bat well and putting good at-bats together.”

Galvis signed with the Phillies in the summer of 2006. He was just 16 at the time. He spent a dozen years in the organization, rising to become the team’s regular shortstop for three seasons after Jimmy Rollins moved on.

Galvis never got on base enough for a Phillies management team that took over before the 2016 season, and he was traded for pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos last winter. The Phillies shortstop position has been in flux since with J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery and now Asdrubal Cabrera all playing there this season. Manny Machado will be a free-agent target this winter and could be the next to hold down the position — the Phillies hope.

Meanwhile, Galvis plays on. He is having a typical Freddy Galvis season, hitting .237 with some pop — eight homers and 48 RBIs. His on-base percentage is just .296. His defense remains top-shelf.

Galvis harbors no hard feelings against his old team for moving on without him. He said he understands the business of the game.

But still, that grannie against Arrieta had to feel awfully good, right?

“No, I treat those guys like any another team,” Galvis said. “Play hard, play ball and that’s it.”

Galvis was asked how he was able to treat a team he’d spent so much of his life with as just another club.

“I guess I’m a pro,” he said. “I’m a professional. That’s what I am. I just play the game the right way and that’s it.”

Still, it is not lost on Galvis that he has put up big numbers against the Phillies this season.

Ten hits, nine RBIs …

“Good one, huh?” he said with a smile.

Yeah, pretty good.

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