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.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies (15-27) vs. Rockies (29-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies were supposed to take a step forward in 2017. Pete Mackanin went out on a limb when he said before the season that he thought they could be close to a .500 team, and so far they've fallen well short of that expectation.

At 15-27, the Phillies are on pace to go 58-104, an even worse record than 2015, the year of Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, etc.

They hope to stop the profuse bleeding tonight against the Rockies, who can't lose on the road lately.

1. Franco and Saunders sit
Looking for some more offense, or just a different approach, Mackanin is sitting Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders tonight in favor of Andres Blanco and Ty Kelly (see lineup).

Franco has actually been hitting a bit more in May, picking up a hit in nine straight games before going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Monday. Still, he's hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage, and his .657 OPS is 27 percent below the league average.

Saunders just hasn't done much with the Phillies. He's hitting .227/.273/.383 with four homers and 15 RBIs, and he's struck out 35 times in 150 plate appearances. Two of those four homers came in games that were already decided.

It's a rare start for Blanco, just his fifth of the season. Coming mostly off the bench the last four seasons, he's been a consistent hitter for the Phillies, batting .270/.333/.449 with 43 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs in 559 plate appearances, essentially a full season's worth.

2. Eflin's turn
Mackanin's hope is that with Aaron Nola back from the DL, Jeremy Hellickson appearing to turn a corner and Zach Eflin giving the Phils some consistent innings, the starting rotation can get into a groove, thus helping out the bullpen and giving the Phillies a chance to win more close games the way they did in 2016.

Jerad Eickhoff was just OK last night, allowing four runs in six innings as he dropped to 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA. A quality start tonight from Eflin against a strong Rockies lineup would go a long way because the Phillies really need more than half of their rotation to be clicking right now.

Eflin was rocked his last start in Texas, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and two walks over four innings. It caused his ERA to rise from 2.81 to 4.25 and his WHIP from 1.00 to 1.25.

As is usually the case when Eflin doesn't pitch well, he just wasn't getting his sinker low enough in the zone. He had induced 40 groundballs over his previous three starts before picking up just eight against the Rangers. 

An interesting note on Eflin is that he's struck out just five of the 70 right-handed hitters he's faced compared to 13 of the 85 lefties he's seen. Righties have hit .323 off him with a .798 OPS compared to .250 with a .715 OPS from lefties.

Current Rockies are 3 for 16 off Eflin with just one extra-base hit. He faced Colorado last season at Coors Field and gave up just two runs over six innings.

3. An unlikely start
Unlike most seasons, the Rockies are pitching well and winning on the road. Colorado has gotten off to hot starts almost every year the last five, but it's usually fueled by an unsustainably hot offense. 

Hasn't been the case in 2017. The Rockies are middle of the pack with a 4.29 ERA, a half-run lower than the Phillies. And away from Coors Field, they have a 3.45 ERA, the second-lowest road ERA for any team behind the Diamondbacks.

The run has been credited to a young starting staff that has been missing projected No. 1 Jon Gray. We saw former first-round pick Jeff Hoffman dominate the Phillies last night (seven innings, three hits, one run, seven strikeouts) and tonight the Phils face 22-year-old German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

One of the biggest difference-makers for the Rockies in 2017 has been closer Greg Holland, who signed a prove-it deal with Colorado coming off a major injury. He has 19 saves and a 0.96 ERA in 20 appearances and has earned himself a whole of money this winter.

4. The book on Marquez 
The Rockies acquired Marquez along with left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the January 2016 trade that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays, where he's thrived.

Marquez made just a handful of appearances in the majors last season but has been solid for the Rockies in five starts so far this year. 

He throws pretty much all four-seam fastballs (65 percent) and curveballs (24 percent), with his heater averaging 95.1 mph. He'll also mix in a few changeups to lefties and cutters.

In two starts away from Coors Field, Marquez has allowed just one run in 11 innings with 11 strikeouts. He's kept the ball in the park in four of five starts.

5. This and that
• Good to see Aaron Altherr pick up two doubles last night. He was 6 for his previous 33.

• Tommy Joseph in May: .345/.418/.707, six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs. 

• Since beginning the season on an eight-game hitting streak, Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP, six walks and 35 strikeouts.

• Daniel Nava was placed on the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. LHP Adam Morgan was recalled again from Triple A to take his place on the active roster.

Tonight's lineup: Sputtering Phillies sit Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders vs. Rockies

Tonight's lineup: Sputtering Phillies sit Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders vs. Rockies

Losers of 18 of their last 22 games, the Phillies are desperate for a spark. 

And Pete Mackanin is hoping the bench can revive the Phils' sputtering offense tonight vs. the Rockies.

Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders and Cameron Rupp will all sit vs. Rockies righty German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

In come Andres Blanco at third, Ty Kelly in left field and Andrew Knapp behind home plate.

Saunders' day off comes a night after he was dropped to eighth in the lineup, where he went 0 for 3 with a strikeout. 

Franco continued to struggle in Tuesday's loss, going hitless with two strikeouts. The embattled third baseman is now hitting just .221 on the year and continues to struggle with his plate discipline. 

Rupp, who is hitting .118 over the last week, has more strikeouts (5) than hits (2) in that span. He will be replaced by Knapp, who is off to a solid start to his MLB career. The backup is crushing right-handed pitching with a .847 OPS and 10 of his 11 hits on the year coming vs. righties.

Tuesday will be just Kelly's second start as a Phillie.

Here is tonight's lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Andres Blanco, 3B
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Ty Kelly, LF
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Zach Eflin, P