Juan Soto

Juan Soto becoming a real pain for Phillies to deal with

Juan Soto becoming a real pain for Phillies to deal with

Nick Pivetta makes his third start of the season Wednesday night as the Phillies wrap things up with the Nationals.

The Phils face each division opponent 19 times this season, and 12 of their head-to-head matchups with the Nats come in their first 75 games.

When: 7:05 p.m. ET — Pregame Live starts at 6:30
Where: NBC Sports Philadelphia+ and streaming live on NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

Big start for Pivetta

There was plenty of hype surrounding Pivetta heading into the season. He had strong peripheral numbers last season and an even stronger showing in spring training. There were a couple starts in Clearwater when Pivetta's fastball touched 98 and 99 mph. 

Well, the spring radar guns may have been juiced. Pivetta's fastball averaged 95.4 mph in his first start but was down to 93.8 in his last start Friday against the Twins.

Pivetta has allowed 17 hits in 9⅔ innings. The Phillies scored 18 runs to win both games but they won't be able to do that consistently. There will be more than a few starts from Pivetta this season when the Phillies need him to deliver a quality start to have a good chance to win. Tonight, they could really use at least six innings from him.

Pivetta has just been missing spots. He's thrown 20 pitches middle-middle, middle-high or middle-low compared to just 10 from Zach Eflin. Few pitchers in the era of velocity can get away with a poorly located heater, especially when the pitcher's fastball speed is in the 93 mph range.

This Nationals team has hit Pivetta around in the past. Anthony Rendon is 6 for 12 with three homers and a double. Ryan Zimmerman is 5 for 9 with a homer and a double. Juan Soto is 3 for 7 with a homer and a walk.

Soto ... such a pain

Rendon and Soto are a nightmare for opposing pitchers. Rendon covers so much of the plate, possessing the ability to hit for a high average, hit 30 homers and uses both gaps. Soto is an incredibly disciplined hitter, not just for a 20-year-old but for a major-leaguer, period.

Aaron Nola has had problems getting through the 3-4 spots in the Nats' order. He won't be the only pitcher to experience those pains this season. 

Then there's Victor Robles, who is certainly too talented to stay in the nine-hole for much longer. With his hot bat there, it gives a team one more thing to worry about at the bottom of the order.

Realmuto heating up

J.T. Realmuto singled three times on Tuesday night to raise his batting line to .257/.357/.371. The power hasn't yet surfaced but the Phillies are confident it will. The hope is that Realmuto heats up while Rhys Hoskins is still seeing the ball as well as he is right now, giving the Phillies an even more potent 1 through 5.

In his customary eight-spot, Maikel Franco had another strong night at the plate Tuesday, going 2 for 5 with a 426-foot home run and a laced single up the middle off Stephen Strasburg, then a 395-foot flyout to the center field wall a few innings later. Good to see him have a quality night at the plate after going 0 for 4 with a few weak at-bats the previous night.

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Nationals 5, Phillies 1: First impressions after another grim performance

Nationals 5, Phillies 1: First impressions after another grim performance

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola’s Cy Young chances took a hit in the Phillies’ latest loss Wednesday night. Nola lasted just five innings and gave up four runs, three on a pair of homers, in a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals, who swept the three-game series.

Nola’s ability to keep the ball in the yard had been impressive for most of the season. But after allowing just eight homers in his first 27 starts, he has surrendered seven in his last three. Nola is 16-5 with a 2.42 ERA in 30 starts.

Where they stand

Since they topped out at 63-48 and led the NL East by 1½ games on Aug. 5, the Phillies are 11-23. Their record is now 74-71. Incredible as it may seem given where they once were, the Phils might not even finish with a .500 record.

They are still in second place, trailing Atlanta by 7½ games with 17 to play. But they are only a half-game better than third-place Washington.

Hmm

The Phils’ deficit of 7½ games with 17 to play sounds familiar. Oh, yeah, that’s how far they were behind the Mets when they came back to win the NL East in the Jimmy Rollins, “We’re the team to beat,” year of 2007. This team doesn’t look capable of a similar comeback. This team is going in the wrong direction and appears out of gas.

Phillies have a new owner

Actually they don’t, but Stephen Strasburg does own them in the figurative sense. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball, walked none and struck out nine, to improve his lifetime mark against the Phils to 12-2 in 24 starts.

Not much offense

Manager Gabe Kapler praised his hitting coaches before the game (see story). Then the Phils went out and had just five hits. J.P. Crawford had three of them with an infield single, a bloop single and a homer.

Time to see some kids

Kapler said he would continue to play lineups that give the Phillies the best chance to win, but with their playoff hopes all but faded he is likely to get a look at some of the team’s younger players. The exercise started Wednesday night when Crawford started his first game at shortstop since June 18. Crawford got the Phillies on the scoreboard with a solo homer against Strasburg in the fifth inning.

Another young player, Roman Quinn, could be ready to return to the starting lineup as soon as Friday. He has been out since suffering a broken toe last week.

Kapler is consistent in strategy

The Phils trailed, 4-1, after Crawford’s homer in the fifth. Jorge Alfaro was then hit by a pitch. Nola was on his way out of the game, but it was possible he could have stayed around to try to move Alfaro to second with a bunt. Kapler instead sent Justin Bour to the plate to pinch-hit. That was no surprise because all season Kapler has made it clear that he will play for big innings and you do that by swinging the bat. Bour struck out. Cesar Hernandez struck out. Rhys Hoskins popped out to the catcher. Alfaro never advanced past first base and the Nats added a run on a solo homer by Juan Soto in the top of the sixth.

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