Phillies-Braves 5 things: From Syndergaard's velo to Colon's precision

Phillies-Braves 5 things: From Syndergaard's velo to Colon's precision

Phillies (6-9) vs. Braves (6-9)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Well, that was unexpected. 

The Phillies became the first team in four tries to beat Noah Syndergaard, scoring five runs (three earned) off of him in seven innings of a 6-4 win.

It gave the Phils a series win over the Mets and some momentum heading into the weekend against the Braves.

Obviously, things might not have turned out the same, but the Phillies in retrospect were one Joaquin Benoit pitch away from potentially winning consecutive road series against the Nationals and Mets.

The Phils finish their first wave of games against Washington and New York with a 5-7 record. Not terrible considering where those two clubs are projected to finish in the National League.

1. In come the Braves
Talk about an unbalanced schedule. The Phillies have the Braves for three games this weekend and then don't see them again until June 5-8 in Atlanta. 

Only seven of the Phillies' first 100 games are against the Braves.

This Atlanta team is better than it was a year ago. The Braves this offseason added Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey to the rotation, Kurt Suzuki behind the plate, Brandon Phillips at second base, and they'll have full seasons out of shortstop Dansby Swanson and outfielder Matt Kemp.

Garcia, Dickey, Suzuki and Phillips are not huge additions, but they're replacing replacement-level players, thus raising the Braves' ceiling a bit.

The real reason the Braves are projected by many to finish ahead of the Phillies in the NL East is the middle of their order. Freddie Freeman has grown from pretty good first baseman to very good first baseman to maybe the best first baseman in the National League. Freeman enters the series hitting .407 with a .500 on-base percentage in 15 games. He already has four doubles, a triple and six home runs.

Freeman is such a tough out. He has immense power, can hit lefties, works counts, walks a lot, and aside from last season (171 K's) has never been a big-strikeout guy. Through 14 games this season Freeman has 10 walks and 12 strikeouts.

It feels like Freeman kills the Phillies -- and he has, hitting .303/.388/.475 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs in 113 career games -- but he's been even better against the Mets and Nationals. He has three more homers and 12 more RBIs vs. New York and has hit .327 lifetime against Washington.

Best all-around player in the NL East? It's either Freeman, Bryce Harper or Daniel Murphy and I'd give Freeman the edge over Murphy because of defense.

2. Kemp activated
The Braves also have Kemp back this weekend. He was hot to start to the season, going 8 for 16 with four doubles and two homers in five games before landing on the DL with a hamstring injury. He returned to the Braves' lineup last night and went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

Kemp had fallen so far out of favor in San Diego that when he was traded to Atlanta last summer, Braves fans weren't exactly jazzed about the move. 

Defensive concerns aside, Kemp has been an extremely productive hitter since joining the Braves. In 60 games and 258 plate appearances, he's hit .296/.349/.561 with 19 doubles, 14 homers and 43 RBIs.

The Braves' front office felt Freeman needed protection, particularly right-handed protection, in the lineup. So far it's worked out. The Braves were 37-68 last season before Kemp arrived and 31-25 after acquiring him.

3. From Syndergaard to Colon
The Phillies go from facing a guy built like Khal Drogo who throws 100 mph to a guy built like Lord Varys who throws 90.

Still, Colon is one effective 43-year-old.

In his first three starts with the Braves, Colon is 1-1 with a 4.24 ERA, but in typical Colon fashion, he's alternated dominance and futility. 

In his first start, he allowed on run on two hits over six innings to the Mets.

In his second start, he served up six runs over four innings in a loss to the Marlins.

Then this past Sunday, Colon gave up just one hit, a solo homer, over seven innings against the Padres.

Colon is one of the easier pitchers to gameplan for but that doesn't make him easy to hit. He throws his four-seam fastball or two-seam fastball about 90 percent of the time, relying on pinpoint location on the outside corner to generate weak contact. 

There are few pitchers -- perhaps none -- who dot the outside corner to right-handed hitters better than Colon. Almost two-thirds of his pitches to righties this season (66.3 percent) have been on the outer-third or just off the plate away. Righties are 2 for 15 when making contact with those pitches.

As a Met the last few years, Colon has had some well-documented success against the Phillies. Current Phils have hit just .188 against him in nearly 200 plate appearances.

Maikel Franco is 1 for 16 against Colon. Odubel Herrera is 5 for 27 with nine strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 5 for 25 with seven K's. Cesar Hernandez is 6 for 22 with six K's.

Even a veteran like Howie Kendrick, who is on the DL and won't play tonight, is 2 for 25 off Colon.

From 2014-16, Colon went 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 14 starts against the Phillies.

4. Can Hellickson keep it up?
Jeremy Hellickson has cruised through his first three starts, allowing three runs on 11 hits over 17 innings. He's gotten outs early in counts, averaging just 13.8 pitches per inning, one of the best marks in all of baseball.

It's reasonable, though, to expect the worm to turn soon. Hellickson has just five strikeouts in three starts and his swinging strike rate of 6.4 percent is fourth-lowest in the majors. (His mound opponent, Bartolo Colon, has the third-lowest swinging strike rate at 6.3 percent.)

Hellickson will miss more bats as the season goes on, but the flyballs he allows will also drop more frequently. He's actually allowing 10 percent more "hard contact" than he did last season, per Fangraphs, and that .182 opponents' batting average on balls in play is sure to regress toward his career average of .272.

Not saying Hellickson's next three starts will go as poorly as his first three starts went well, just that this type of unhittability is not sustainable. Still, he's proven to be a durable, consistent starter for the Phillies the last two seasons, a valuable No. 3 in an NL rotation.

Hellickson faced the Braves four times last season and went 1-0 with a 3.43 ERA, allowing one homer in 21 innings. 

Current Braves have hit just .237/.287/.360 against him in 139 at-bats. Kemp has had the most success, going 7 for 19 with a double, triple and homer. Freeman is 2 for 7 with a double and three walks. Rightfielder Nick Markakis has seen him the most from their days in the AL East and is 10 for 50 with two homers.

5. This and that
• Great to see Franco and Tommy Joseph break out of their slumps Thursday against Syndergaard, not just because Syndergaard is an ace but because he's a flamethrower and both Franco and Joseph have struggled with hittable fastballs early this season.

• Based on Pete Mackanin's comments last night after using Hector Neris for a 1-2-3 save, it looks like Neris will be the closer until he fails or unless he's unavailable because of overuse.

• A couple rough nights in a row for Cesar Hernandez: 0 for 9, six strikeouts.

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola is a quiet, low-key Southern gentleman. Outward displays of emotion are not his thing.

But Nola made an exception Tuesday night.

After Maikel Franco made the play of the game to get Nola out of a jam in the seventh inning, the pitcher approached the third baseman in the dugout and …

"I gave him a hug," Nola said with a smile.

Franco's glove — and his bat — helped make a winner out of Nola and the Phillies as they rallied to beat the Seattle Mariners, 8-2, at Safeco Field (see Instant Replay).

"The game is about making pitches when they count, getting key hits and making good plays like that to help your pitcher out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We had a little bit of everything tonight. It was a lot of fun tonight."

Mackanin hasn't been able to say that a lot this season, particularly on the road where the Phillies have now won just 11 times in 42 games.

The Phillies came into this series in Seattle having lost three straight in Arizona and scoring just four runs in those losses. Then they were no-hit over the first four innings Tuesday night by Mariners lefty James Paxton.

The Mariners led, 2-0, thanks to a two-run homer by Jean Segura against Nola in the third. Franco led off the fifth with the Phillies' first hit, a double to right against Paxton, and that started a game-tying, two-run rally that featured two hits, a walk and two sacrifice flies.

The game turned for good in the seventh inning. Franco led off the frame with a solo home run — reliever Luis Garcia, one of Franco's best pals, caught the ball in his cap in the bullpen — to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead.

Nola survived a couple of jams early in the game then faced another big one in the bottom of the seventh inning. He gave up a pair of one-out singles before striking out Mike Zunino for the second out in the seventh. The strikeout, Nola's ninth of the game, came on his 112th pitch, the most of his career, and Mackanin quickly popped out of the dugout and walked briskly to the mound. Segura, who had taken Nola deep in the third inning, was due up. Was Mackanin going to take Nola out?

No.

"I just wanted to let him know that this was his game," Mackanin said. "He pitched so well up to that point, I wanted him to know it was his game, finish it for us."

Nola thought there was a chance Mackanin was coming to take him out.

"But once he asked how I felt, I knew I wasn't out," Nola said. "I told him I felt good and thought I could finish the inning."

Nola threw one more pitch. Segura hit it hard down the third-base line, but Franco laid out, made a diving stab and threw across the diamond for the third out. If Franco doesn't make the play, the game is tied and Nola doesn't get a win.

That's why Franco got a hug.

"Segura put a pretty decent swing on that curveball and Mikey made a heck of a play," Nola said. "He also hit a big home run. It was a good team win."

Franco might have the bubbliest personality in the clubhouse, but he hasn't had many opportunities to show it. There's been a lot of losing this season and his play has been inconsistent.

But Franco was able to enjoy this one.

"I don't know how I made that play," he said with a laugh. "That's the little things that win ballgames. Bottom of the seventh, two outs. It was a big play and I'm glad for me and I'm glad for Nola. He did a good job."

And how about that hug?

"Oh, yeah," Franco said with a smile. "He said, 'Nice play, that's a sick play.'"

With two important extra-base hits and a game-saving defensive play, Franco once again showed how special he could be if he could add consistency to his game.

"I keep waiting for it and it's good to see little by little," Mackanin said. "I'd like to see him do it more often. He's capable of it. We've seen him do it in the past."

The Phillies got some good relief work from Joaquin Benoit then blew the game open in the eighth and ninth innings against the Seattle bullpen. Aaron Altherr hit a two-run homer and Freddy Galvis drove in a pair of runs with a pair of singles.

Galvis voiced his frustration with all the losing on Monday and urged his teammates to show more effort (see story). He backed up his words with three hits.

Timely hitting, clutch defense, good relief work and, of course, a second straight strong start from Nola.

We haven't been able to say it often this season, but this was a good win.

"When that starter gives you seven innings, it makes it a little easier," Mackanin said. "Nola made pitches when he had to. He really kept us in the game."

And Franco did the rest.

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola pitched well and Maikel Franco came up huge with his bat and his glove in leading the Phillies to an 8-2 win over the Seattle Mariners in an interleague game on Tuesday night.

Nola won his second straight start to improve to 5-5.

Franco gave Nola a 3-2 lead with a tiebreaking, leadoff homer in the top of the seventh then preserved the lead with a sensational diving play to end the bottom of the inning.

Freddy Galvis had three singles and drove in two important runs late in the game.

The win was just the Phillies' 11th in 42 games on the road this season. They are 25-51 overall.

Starting pitching report
Nola reached a career-high of 113 pitches over seven gutsy innings. He gave up five hits and two runs and got a bunch of big outs with men on base. He walked four and struck out nine.

Nola got out of jams with two men on base three times, including in the bottom of the seventh when he preserved a one-run lead by striking out Mike Zunino and getting Jean Segura on a groundball to third. Franco made a tremendous diving play on the ball to end the inning and prevent the tying run from scoring.

Nola has won two straight starts. He has pitched 14 1/3 innings over that span, allowed just three runs and racked up 17 strikeouts.

Lefty James Paxton did not give up a hit until the fifth inning. He allowed three runs in seven innings of work. He gave up Franco's go-ahead homer.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning to preserve a two-run lead.

The Seattle bullpen allowed five runs in two innings.

At the plate
Franco ignited a game-tying, two-run rally in the top of the fifth. He led off that inning with a double, the Phillies' first hit. Cameron Perkins followed with an infield hit and Cameron Rupp drew a walk. The Phillies then scored a pair of runs on consecutive sacrifice fly balls by Ty Kelly and Daniel Nava. Galvis followed with a single and third base coach Juan Samuel got a little too aggressive in sending Rupp from second base. Rupp was cut down at the plate.

Franco's go-ahead homer in the seventh was his 10th of the season. Galvis pushed home an insurance run in the eighth. He followed Nava's leadoff double with an RBI single. Galvis drove home another run with a hit in the top of the ninth and Aaron Altherr put it out of reach with a two-run homer, his 13th of the season.

Segura smacked a two-run homer in the third to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead.

In the field
Franco made a diving stab on Segura's smash down the third-base line to end the seventh inning and keep the Phils up by a run.

A night off
Odubel Herrera, he of several recent miscues and lapses in concentration, did not start Tuesday night. Manager Pete Mackanin said it was a night off, not a benching. Herrera said he has to start playing smarter baseball (see story).

Health check
Jerad Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper-back strain, will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. That will help determine if he's ready to return in the coming days.

Up next
The two-game series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Rookie right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 3.60) pitches against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (3-2, 4.68). Leiter pitched six scoreless innings in his first big-league start Friday in Arizona.