Phillies-Braves: 5 things you need to know

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Phillies-Braves: 5 things you need to know

Phillies at Braves
7:10 p.m. on NBC 10

The Phillies jumped out to an early two-run lead Friday night in Atlanta but immediately gave the runs back in a 6-4 loss (see Instant Replay).

The Phils have lost to the Braves five straight times, and at 42-54 they are 11 games behind Atlanta (53-43) in the NL East.

Here are five things you need to know about the middle game of the series:

1. First night back
Seven of eight Phillies starters reached base in their first game back from the All-Star break. The Phils had just six hits, but it wasn't a poor night offensively.

Jimmy Rollins walked twice out of the two-hole. Chase Utley hit his first double (not counting the All-Star Game) since June 7. Ryan Howard drove in two runs with a sixth-inning single. Marlon Byrd saw 20 pitches in four plate appearances. Grady Sizemore had two hits and is batting .313 in four games as a Phillie. Cody Asche had an RBI single and a bomb to right field with the bases loaded that may have been a grand slam in some parks but was just a sacrifice fly at Turner Field.

And the Phillies went 3 for 4 with runners in scoring position. They entered play ranked 27th in baseball with a .229 batting average with RISP.

2. Jimmy stays patient
Rollins walked for the 44th and 45th times Friday. He is on pace for 76 walks, which would best his previous career high by 14.

Where was this patience earlier in Rollins' career? He's been more selective in 2014 than ever before and hasn't sacrificed power doing it. Rollins is slugging .389 a year after slugging .348.

3. Milestone approaching
With his next steal, Rollins will reach 20 stolen bases for the 13th different year.

Only 13 players have ever had more seasons with 20-plus steals: Rickey Henderson (23), Ty Cobb (17), Ozzie Smith and Lou Brock (16), Willie Wilson, Max Carey, Eddie Collins and Honus Wagner (15), and Kenny Lofton, Otis Nixon, Brett Butler, Joe Morgan and Bert Campaneris (14).

4. Hamels on the hill
Cole Hamels, whose name has been bandied about lately in trade rumors, makes his first start of the second half looking for that elusive fourth win.

Hamels is 3-5 despite a 2.93 ERA, a .235 opponents' batting average and 106 strikeouts in 107 1/3 innings.

You know about the run support. The Phillies have barely scored for Hamels and he's been forced to make pitch after pitch in tie games. But he's still having a brilliant season. 

Over his last 13 starts, Hamels has a 2.18 ERA and has allowed just 68 hits in 90 2/3 innings. The Phillies are 6-7.

This is his second start of the year at Turner Field against the Braves. He pitched seven shutout innings there on June 16 in a 6-1 Phillies win.

Hamels has faced the Braves more than he's faced any other team. In 32 games, he's gone 14-8 with a 3.41 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.

5. They've hit Harang
Hamels' mound opponent is 36-year-old Braves right-hander Aaron Harang, who is 9-6 with 3.53 ERA.

The Phillies have tuned him up in two meetings this season, scoring 11 runs on 24 hits over 12 innings. 

Byrd is 9 for 20 (.450) lifetime against Harang with three homers. Utley is 13 for 30 (.433) with four doubles and a homer. Sizemore is 11 for 25 (.440) with four doubles. Howard is 9 for 27 (.333) with two doubles and three homers.

All told, current Phillies have hit .349/.404/.559 against Harang.

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies (17-30) vs. Reds (23-25)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App.

Tommy Joseph came through as the Phillies' hero on Saturday with his second walk-off single in three days. It was just the Phillies' sixth win in their last 27 games, but the victory allows the Phillies an opportunity to take the series with the Reds.

Zach Eflin will take the hill for Sunday afternoon's start and will oppose Scott Feldman, the 'ace' for the Reds this season.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game:

1. What a relief
It may have crept up on you, but the Phillies' bullpen is hot right now -- to the tune of 19 2/3 straight scoreless innings hot.

The Phils' relief corps came through with 3 2/3 more scoreless on Saturday to back up starter Jerad Eickhoff and give the bats a chance to walk off. After Joaquin Benoit expressed public frustration with the lack of roles in the 'pen, the team has slowly but surely found a pecking order for its back-end. With Hector Neris entrenched as closer, Benoit now serves as the primary setup man while Pat Neshek and Edubray Ramos have also been in line for high-leverage innings.

Neris has allowed just one run over 10 2/3 this month after closing last month with that back-to-back-to-back home run implosion in Los Angeles. He's back to his bread and butter -- setting up hitters with his fastball before unleashing his nasty splitter, which he used to retire Joey Votto in Saturday's ninth inning.

Benoit has seven consecutive scoreless one-inning performances. He's looking more and more like the reliever the Phillies thought they were getting when they signed him in the offseason. Neshek has five straight scoreless appearances since giving up his first runs of the season two weeks ago during the doubleheader with the Nationals. Both setup men are in line for possible trades this season and could get the Phillies something in return.

And if the rotation continues to stumble (averaging 5.38 innings per start with an ERA above 6.00 in May), the bullpen could be a backbone to keep the team respectable.

2. Needing a better effort from Eflin
One starter who is certainly struggling is Eflin, who needs to rebound after a couple poor starts.

His last two starts have been nothing short of disasters. In 10 innings, he's allowed 15 runs on 21 hits while surrendering three home runs. The appearances -- losses to the Rangers and Rockies -- account for the worst two-start stretch of his career.

Through seven starts, Eflin has an ERA of 5.36. He was coming off a string of four consecutive quality starts before this late-May swoon and had an ERA of 2.81 while averaging 6.4 innings per start.

The 6-foot-5 righty relies heavily on his sinker, so he's going to have a lot of balls put in play. However, he simply can't survive with home runs. He needs to keep the ball on the ground, especially against the slugging Reds, who have four batters with at least 10 home runs.

There's no doubt that Eflin could pitch his way out of the rotation if he can't turn things around. He's only 23 and has made just 18 MLB starts. However, pitching through his struggles in the majors is the right way to go. This is a pitcher who had a 2.81 ERA just two weeks ago and two bad starts aren't worth an overreaction.

None of his 18 career starts came against the Reds and he has not faced anyone currently on Cincy's roster.

3. The Reds' ace?
Believe or not, the Phillies don't have the worst rotation ERA in baseball. That belongs to the Reds, whose starters sport a combined 5.74 heading into Sunday's rubber match in South Philly.

In 48 games, they've allowed 53 home runs and 154 earned runs. They've walked 109 batters and have the third fewest strikeouts (185) of any staff.

So with an only OK ERA of 3.99, Scott Feldman is actually the staff ace. At 34 years old, he's played for six different teams and had middling results at each stop. For his career, he is 74-81 with a 4.38 ERA.

This season, he has a career-worst walk rate, but has limited hits and home runs to keep teams off the board. On May 7, he threw a four-hit shutout against the Giants and is coming off a six-inning, one-run start against the Indians. He struck out a season-high nine in that game.

The Phillies are more than familiar with the righty as they faced him on opening day in Cincinnati. Feldman lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up three runs, including home runs to both Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis. It was his only ever start against the Phillies as he's spent the majority of his career in the American League.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Joseph has been the Phillies' saving grace recently. In both games he finished with walk-off singles, he also hit a home run and he's looking more and more like the hitter that took the Phils' lineup by storm last summer.

Reds: Votto is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in baseball. The 33-year-old Canadian is 0 for 7 with a walk in this series but has a .413 OBP this season with more walks (36) than strikeouts (26).

5. This and that
• Howie Kendrick made his fourth rehab appearance on Saturday with Triple A Lehigh Valley. He went 1 for 5 and played the full game at third base.

• The Phillies have not won consecutive games since their six-game win streak concluded on April 27.

• The Phils lost their last eight series, beginning in Los Angeles against the Dodgers on April 28-30.

• The Phillies are 9-11 in one-run games. They were 28-23 in those contests last year.

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick on Saturday night made his fourth rehab appearance in Triple A during Lehigh Valley's 13-1 rout of the Louisville Bats in Allentown.

Kendrick went 1 for 5 with a run scored and three strikeouts. He also grounded into a double play and left two runners in scoring position.

It was his second rehab game playing third base. He played third during his appearance in the IronPigs' 8-4 loss Thursday to the Indianapolis Indians. He was 0 for 1 in three plate appearances with a run scored and was hit by a pitch twice (see story).

The Phillies' plan for Kendrick was to have him play a minimum four games at Lehigh Valley. He played left field in two games and third base twice. Pete Mackanin said Wednesday that Kendrick would also get a game at first base but he hasn't gotten a game at first yet.

There is a chance Kendrick could be recalled Sunday before the Phillies’ series finale against the Cincinnati Reds depending on how he feels.

Kendrick has been sidelined since April 15 with an oblique strain. In 10 games before the injury, Kendrick went 13 for 39 (.333) with five extra-base hits and four walks while exclusively playing left field.