jose quintana

Phillies look to correct a few ugly trends vs. NL-best Cubs and Javier Baez

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Phillies look to correct a few ugly trends vs. NL-best Cubs and Javier Baez

After salvaging the final game of the Nationals series Wednesday and taking a day to rest Thursday, the Phillies welcome the best team in the National League to Citizens Bank Park for a weekend series.

No, they will not face Cole Hamels — it's Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Aaron Nola against Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, in that order.

At 79-54, the Cubs are 4½ games better than any team in the NL. And they gave the Phillies a little help Thursday by beating the Braves.

Phillies (71-62) vs. Cubs (79-54)

Nick Pivetta (7-10, 4.76 ERA) vs. Jose Quintana (11-9, 4.33 ERA)

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: NBC10
Streaming: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App
Phillies Pregame Live begins at 6:30 p.m. ET

Getting off on the right foot

The Phillies have lost seven consecutive series openers. They've won just one of their last 10 series overall. Each of their last three series has played out the same way: lose Game 1, lose Game 2, win Game 3.

The Phils' high-water mark this season was 15 games over .500 back on Aug. 7. Since then, they're 7-13 and the Braves are 13-10.

Gaining some ground

The Braves have lost two in a row and as a result, the Phillies have picked up a game and a half over the last 48 hours. They enter the weekend trailing Atlanta by three games in the NL East.

The Phillies are also three games back in the wild-card race but they trail four teams: the Cardinals, Brewers, Rockies and Dodgers.

A look at the NL MVP?

There is no clear-cut frontrunner for the NL MVP award, but Javier Baez checks off a lot of boxes. 

He's hitting .294 with an .895 OPS. 

He has 35 doubles, eight triples, 28 homers and 97 RBI. 

He's stolen 21 bases and scored 81 runs. 

He's played plus defense at second base, third base and shortstop.

Yes, he swings at everything. But the rest of his game has more than made up for that flaw. He's been the Cubs' most consistently dangerous offensive threat.

Baez plays for the best team in the NL and has been the catalyst during a season in which Anthony Rizzo struggled in the first half and Kris Bryant has been plagued by injuries. He'd get my vote.

Five and dive

The lefty Quintana has pitched exactly five innings in each of his last three starts. Manager Joe Maddon doesn't like letting him go through the lineup a third time. 

It's hard to blame Maddon when you look at these slash lines from Quintana's opponents:

First time through the order: .264/.339/.421

Second time: .185/.261/.360

Third time: .336/.430/.564

This is a night when it might not matter if the Phillies make Quintana work. He probably won't be lasting long anyway. He's pitched six innings in just 12 of 25 starts this season.

The Cubs paid a huge price to acquire Quintana from the crosstown White Sox in July 2017, trading top power prospect Eloy Jimenez. To that point in Quintana's career, he'd done nothing but post ERAs in the low-to-mid-3.00s with low rates of walks and home runs.

With the Cubs, though, he has a 4.10 ERA in 39 starts. Quintana has the highest walk rate of his career this season (4.0 per nine innings) and his lowest strikeout rate since 2013.

The three Phillies who have faced him most, however, have pathetic numbers. Carlos Santana is 9 for 46 (.196) with one homer. Asdrubal Cabrera is 6 for 27 (.222) with eight strikeouts. Jose Bautista is 2 for 25 (.080) with 10 K's.

Cesar Hernandez is the only Phillie who's seen Quintana well, going 2 for 4 with a double, a triple, three RBI and two walks.

Pivetta's turn

Nick Pivetta badly needs a bounce-back start after allowing 11 runs in 10⅓ innings over his last two starts.

Pivetta enters 7-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 136 innings. He's struck out 162, walked 38 and allowed 20 home runs.

At home this season, he's been markedly better. Pivetta's opponents' batting average is 28 points lower at home, and in 18 more innings than he's pitched on the road, he's allowed the same number of homers, four fewer walks and struck out 38 more.

Current Cubs have hit him around, going 14 for 40 (.350) with seven walks. Rizzo, Daniel Murphy, Albert Almora and pinch-hit specialist Tommy La Stella are a combined 11 for 19 off Pivetta.

The Phillies' 25-year-old right-hander is 29 innings away from tying his career-high. Though it feels like he's had more dependable stretches in Year 2, Pivetta hasn't gone much deeper into games. He's averaged 5.19 innings per start compared to 5.11 last season.

More on the Phillies

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Defending champs in town for Players Weekend

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Defending champs in town for Players Weekend

Phillies (46-80) vs. Cubs (68-58)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After coughing up an 8-3 lead on Thursday, the Phillies enter Friday's series opener against the Cubs with the worst record in baseball. However, Rhys Hoskins stayed hot with a home run and three RBIs, tying records along the way.

Tonight, Jerad Eickhoff tries to rebound from a subpar outing in San Francisco while the Phils face off against new Cubs ace Jose Quintana.

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

1. Hulking Hoskins
Major-league pitchers have been unable to contain Hoskins through 15 MLB games and are still hoping to contain him.

He smashed his fifth homer in a six-game span and has now homered each of the last five days the Phillies have played. While young sluggers have been all the rage in baseball this season, there is still very little precedent for Hoskins' start.

The rookie leftfielder now has eight home runs, tied for the most through 15 games in MLB history. Only Trevor Story last season and Carlos Delgado in 1993-94 have pulled off that feat. Furthermore, before Hoskins reached eight HRs through 49 ABs on Thursday, only Delgado and Trey Mancini had hit eight before reaching 50 MLB ABs. 

He also has 19 RBIs. No, that isn't an MLB record. That belongs to Mandy Brooks, who had 24 through his first 15 games in 1925. But it shows how much of a force Hoskins is with runners on base. Nick Williams and others have hit well in front of him, creating opportunities for Hoskins.

The 24-year-old doesn't look like a natural in left field, but he hasn't brought his poor defense into the dugout and let it affect his hitting. As long as he keeps mashing, the team will find a position for him.

For now, his at-bats are must-watch events as Phillies fans get a chance to see how long his magical run can extend.

2. Last year's Cubs? Close, but not quite
Expectations were understandably high for the Cubs going into this season after they won their first World Series title in 108 years. 

The team returned most of its key players and were expecting more production from players like Kyle Schwarber, who was on the sidelines for most of the 2016 run. 

However, at the beginning of the second half, the Cubs were 5.5 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. The North Siders were playing noticeably worse defense, Schwarber earned a demotion to Triple A and the rotation wasn't quite as daunting as 2016.

Yet the team has found a new gear since the All-Star break. The team is 25-13 since the break, a strong stretch that has been overshadowed by the Los Angeles Dodgers' insane run. 

Beyond their big July acquisition (see point No. 3), the Cubs have also found themselves at the plate. Since the break, they're second in OPS (.837), third in home runs with 63, and first in runs with 222. 

Kris Bryant, last year's National League MVP, has a lower slugging percentage but much higher OBP (.400) and is nearly keeping pace with his highly successful sophomore season. Anthony Rizzo is having a similarly strong season with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs. 

Rookie Ian Happ has made a large impact but Schwarber's return to the majors has also given the Cubs a boost. Since returning from the minors in July, he was hitting .261/.356/.557 with nine home runs in 37 games going into Thursday.

The rotation is still led by veterans like Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, the latter who has turned his season around recently. Wade Davis lurks at the back end of the bullpen, although middle relief has been an issue at times, as it was on Thursday night.

3. Can't touch Quintana
Beyond Lester and Arrieta, the next biggest name in the Cubs' rotation is likely Quintana, who they acquired for four prospects on July 13. 

With respect to Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray, Quintana may have been the top starter to change teams midseason in terms of stuff, affordability and team control. With team options for 2019 and 2020, the Cubs can keep the veteran lefty on their staff for three years beyond this season. That alone made it worth it to trade their top prospect to acquire him.

And he's been living up to the price tag since coming over. In seven starts, he has a 3.73 ERA over 41 innings and has struck out 46 batters. He has a career-best strikeout rate during the short sample and has allowed just 32 hits, leading to a strong 1.098 WHIP. 

Outside of one poor start vs. the Diamondbacks, he's pitched well enough to give the Cubs a chance to win each time out. His best outing was his first with the Cubs in which he fired seven shutout innings of three-hit ball with 12 strikeouts and no walks. 

Quintana mixes four pitches, primarily working off a low-90s fastball, sinker and a high-70s curveball, mixing in a changeup less than 10 percent of the time. 

The 28-year-old southpaw hasn't faced the Phillies in four years, so the only players on the roster he's faced before are Ty Kelly (1 for 3) and Pedro Florimon (0 for 3).

4. Eickhoff and velocity
Eickhoff had a solid string of starts going into Saturday's matchup with the Giants, but he failed to complete five innings and had a noticeable drop in velocity.

In fact, his pitch speed has dropped over the course of the season, going from a 91.59 mph average on his fastball in April to just an 88.87 mph average in August. It's been a similar drop with his changeup as well.

The wear and tear of the season can naturally lead to lower velocity, particularly come September, but this is a pretty steep drop. He's lost over 1.5 mph off his fastball month over month. That's highly troubling.

This makes the fact that Eickhoff had been able to produce relatively representative starts up until Saturday even more impressive. But his flat performance in San Fran prompted the team to give him an extra day between starts, thus moving him to Friday. 

The Cubs will be quite the test with their potent offense, but Eickhoff has generally been better at home (3.83 ERA vs. 4.93 ERA on the road this season) and is doubly so against the Cubs. 

In two career starts at Wrigley Field, including on this May, he's allowed eight runs on 13 hits and three walks in just 11⅔ innings. However, when he faces the Cubs at home, he's 1-0 with just two runs over 14 innings, twice holding Chicago to one run in seven innings. 

Among current Cubs, Schwarber and Alex Avila have home runs off the righty. Jason Heyward is 3 for 7 with two doubles and two walks, while Bryant is 3 for 12 with seven strikeouts. Rizzo is just 1 for 11 with four strikeouts.

5. Best of Players Weekend
This is quite the exciting series. Not only are the defending champions in town, but it's also the first Players Weekend, in which players will have nicknames on the back of their alternate uniforms. They'll also have the chance to wear custom batting gloves, cleats and bats.

The best way the players have to express themselves will be through the nicknames they have on the back of the uniform. Without further ado, here are some of the better nicknames the Cubs and Phillies players have chosen to wear.

• For the Cubs, Ben Zobrist is going with "Zorilla," a solid one for the World Series MVP. Jon Jay has "305 J", which is disappointing because he could have easily gone with "The Federalist" or "The Chief Justice" with his historically significant name. 

However, the best Cubs one is Carl Edwards Jr., who went with the obvious choice of "Carl's Jr." Bravo!

• On the Phillies' side, "A-A-Ron" from Aaron Altherr is a classic, although Aaron Hicks from the Yankees is going with that as well. "Knapp Time" from Andrew Knapp was a solid play off of his name, although he's on the disabled list. Odubel Herrera choosing "Torito" is a good move. 

The best, though, are a duo: Hector Neris and Luis Garcia going with "Compa H" and "Compa G," respectively. 

Best of MLB: Jose Quintana dazzles in Cubs debut, fans 12 in win over Orioles

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USA Today Images

Best of MLB: Jose Quintana dazzles in Cubs debut, fans 12 in win over Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Jose Quintana dazzled in his debut for the Chicago Cubs, striking out a season-high 12 in seven sharp innings to beat the Baltimore Orioles 8-0 Sunday for a three-game sweep.

Acquired by the World Series champions during the All-Star break from the Chicago White Sox for a playoff push, Quintana gave the Cubs exactly the kind of boost they hoped to get. The lefty ace allowed three hits, walked none and joined Matt Garza as the only pitchers in Cubs history to fan 12 in their debut.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo homered to help the Cubs move over .500 for the first time since June 29. The Cub hit 10 home runs during the sweep at Camden Yards.

Chicago took advantage of another wild start by Ubaldo Jimenez (4-5) and opened a 4-0 lead in the second. Willson Contreras added a career-high four hits (see full recap).

Frazier's 9th-inning single gives Pirates win over Cards
PITTSBURGH -- Adam Frazier's game-ending single capped a two-run rally in the ninth inning that lifted the Pittsburgh Pirates over the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 Sunday.

Francisco Cervelli reached on an infield single leading off the ninth against Brett Cecil (1-3), and Jordy Mercer's one-out double scored pinch-runner Josh Harrison with the tying run. Jose Osuna grounded out, David Freese was intentionally walked and Frazier lined a single to center.

Pittsburgh took two of three against an NL Central rival, winning Friday on Josh Bell's three-run homer in the ninth off Seung Hwan Oh. Bell and Frazier both got their first walkoff hits in the big leagues.

Wade LeBlance (4-2) pitched a hitless ninth.

Yadier Molina had put St. Louis ahead 3-2 with an eighth inning home run, the first allowed by Juan Nicasio this year (see full recap).

Cabrera's walk in 11th gives Tigers win over Blue Jays
DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera walked with the bases loaded in the 11th inning Sunday, giving the Detroit Tigers a 6-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

With the score 5-all, Alex Avila was walked by Jeff Beliveau (1-1) leading off the 11th and advanced on Jose Iglesias' sacrifice.

Lucas Harrell relieved, Ian Kinsler lined out and third baseman Josh Donaldson fielded Nicholas Castellanos' grounder down the line and then bobbled the ball while pulling it out of his glove for an error that put runners at the corners.

Justin Upton walked on a 3-1 pitch, loading the bases, and Harrell fell behind Cabrera 3-1. The two-time AL MVP took a called strike, fouled off a pitch, then took a fastball outside for ball four, giving Detroit two victories in three games following the All-Star break.

Warwick Saupold (2-1) got the win with a scoreless 11th (see full recap).

Turner homers, Dodgers win 9th straight by beating Miami
MIAMI -- Justin Turner homered and singled to increase his batting average to .374, and the Los Angeles Dodgers extended their winning streak to nine games Sunday by beating the Miami Marlins 3-2.

Five Los Angeles pitchers combined for 16 strikeouts with no walks. Kenley Jansen got the final four outs for his 23rd save in as many chances.

The Dodgers (64-29) climbed 35 games above .500 for the first time since 1977 by completing their 11th sweep of the year, most in the majors. They've won 29 of their past 33 games and have the best record in the big leagues.

They also have the franchise's best record through 93 games since 1955 (see full recap).