Phillies-Braves: What you need to know

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Phillies-Braves: What you need to know

Phillies (37-47) vs. Atlanta Braves (43-39)7:05 p.m. on CSN
What was in line to be one of the Phillies best wins of the season instead turned into one of the most crushing defeats in a year filled with late-inning misery.

The Phils scored five runs off Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who had allowed zero runs in his six of his previous seven starts, and carried a 5-4 lead into the ninth. But Jonathan Papelbons second blown save led to yet another walkoff loss, this one coming right before Ryan Howard makes his much-anticipated season debut.

Its a shame with the positive feelings surrounding Howards return from Achilles surgery, Thursday night and Friday afternoon could have been a rare high-point for Phillies fans. But the Phils, 10 games under .500 and trailing the Nationals by 13 games, just havent had luck on their side in 2012.

Perhaps the bats will wake up over the next few weeks to propel the Phillies back into contention in the National League. Howard is certainly a help his presence turns the Phillies lineup into one of the best in the league (see story).

Ryans return
The Phillies sorely missed Howard over the first 84 games. Phillies first basemen were 18th in baseball in home runs and OPS and 20th in on-base percentage.

The collection of Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry, Hector Luna, Laynce Nix and Jim Thome hit .258.319.414. Howard, in 2011, his worst full season in the majors, hit .253.346.488. Thats significant.

Starting pitchers
Kyle Kendrick (2-8, 5.35 ERA) takes on Tim Hudson (6-4, 3.87) Friday night.

Kendrick hasnt pitched well lately, but dont tell him that. The righthander allowed five runs in the first inning to Pittsburgh his last time out, his fourth time in the last five starts allowing at least five runs, but after the game said he thought he gave the Phillies a chance to win.

The Phillies are 4-8 in Kendricks starts this season and 4-13 when he appears. He has a 6.96 ERA since pitching a shutout in St. Louis on May 26.

Kendrick is 6-1 with a 2.53 ERA in 15 appearances (10 starts) vs. the Braves. That said, his strikeout and walk numbers against Atlanta are terrible, at 27 and 24 in 67 23 innings.

Hudson has made just 12 starts this year, as he missed much of April with a back injury. Of those 12 starts, five have been great, four were very bad and three were average.

Hudson is 7-8 with a 3.71 ERA in 22 starts against the Phillies. He has 83 strikeouts and 58 walks vs. the Phils for a 1.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio, his worst against any NL foe.

Hudsons repertoire
A sinkerballer, Hudson has had made a great career out of keeping the ball in the infield. He has a 58.8 percent career groundball rate, which is why hes able to get away with striking so few batters out.

Hudsons sinker is between 89-91 miles per hour, and righties have struggled mightily against it in recent years, batting .232 off Hudson since 2009.

Key matchup(s)
The only three-homer game of Ryan Howards career came in Sept. 2006 against Hudson. On that day, the eventual MVP took Hudson deep for his 50th, 51st and 52nd home runs of the season.

Lifetime, Howard is a .327 hitter off Hudson with six homers, 10 walks and just eight strikeouts in 63 plate appearances. Howard has more plate appearances vs. Hudson than any other pitcher.

Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley havent fared well against Hudson, batting a combined .209 in 115 at-bats.

Current Braves are hitting .310 off Kendrick. He must be careful with two Braves in particular Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward.

Bourn is 5 for 10 off Kendrick with a homer. His contract year has gone the exact opposite of Shane Victorinos. While Victorino hasnt hit well, Bourn is experiencing a career year, hitting .307 with a career-high seven home runs, a .812 OPS and 23 steals. He also leads the majors in three-hit games, with 14.

Heyward is on fire. He hit .348 with a 1.053 OPS in June and he already has two more homers in July. Hes just 1 for 11 lifetime off Kendrick, though.

Sound off
Can a Phillies lineup with Howard, Utley, Hunter Pence and a perpetually hot Carlos Ruiz make a second half run to earn a playoff berth?

E-mail Corey Seidman at cseidman@comcastsportsnet.com

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Bats need to stay hot vs. Charlie Morton, MLB's best offense

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Bats need to stay hot vs. Charlie Morton, MLB's best offense

Phillies (34-63) vs. Astros (66-33)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After a 13-4 shellacking by the AL-best Astros last night, the Phillies look to rebound in Game 2 tonight.

Here are five things to watch:

1. Well that was ugly...
Monday night’s loss was ugly. Words don’t do it justice. So take a look at this tweet instead.

That local hero may need to grow a third hand for tonight’s game, because it doesn’t get any easier for the Phillies tonight. 

It’s Nick Pivetta’s turn to try and cool the Astros’ unstoppable offense. The Phillies may catch a break with All-Star outfielder George Springer — hitting .311 with 27 homers on the year — left Monday’s game in the third inning with a sore quad muscle and may sit out tonight. Superstar shortstop Carlos Correa remains on the DL. But Jose Altuve is hitting .507 — yes that’s a five — in July, so Pivetta has his work cut out for him.

Pivetta flashed his big-league potential with two dominant starts at the beginning of July, but he has come back down to earth in his last two outings, highlighted by a five-inning start in Milwaukee where he gave up nine runs. The rookie’s success came with his high number of fly ball outs. Pivetta was able to get hitters to pop up on weak fly balls and keep them off balance. In his first two July starts, Pivetta had a 25 to 8 fly ball to ground ball ratio, while giving up just four runs in that span. Over his last two starts, he has given up 12 runs while inducing just 17 fly balls and 17 groundouts. Fortunately for Pivetta, the Astros have the sixth-most fly outs in MLB this year.

2. But, there is hope 
There is hope for the Phillies, though. Before last night’s debacle, the team was on a bit of a hot streak. The Phillies are 4-2 in their last six games, while averaging 5.7 runs since the All-Star break. That’s tied for the seventh-most runs scored in all of MLB during that span. That’s quite an improvement from 29th before the All-Star break. Last night’s loss ended a seven-game streak of at least five runs scored for the Phillies. Something they haven’t done in a single season since 2005.

The Phillies will need to keep up the hot bats to keep up with the Astros tonight.

3. Morton returns
And to do that, the Phillies will have to hit against former Phillies’ great Charlie Morton. Don’t remember the salt man? That’s probably because he only pitched in four games for the Phils in 2016 before tearing his left hamstring in April and missed the remainder of the season. 

Now he’s with the Astros, and has excelled in the back end of the rotation. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old is 7-4 with a 4.18 ERA. However, he is averaging three walks allowed per start, something the Phillies’ should look to capitalize on if Morton struggled with his command early.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: 
Odubel Herrera has really turned his season around as of late. Herrera is back to his All-Star 2016 form, hitting .524 over the last week with four doubles and seven runs scored. Perhaps most noticeable is Herrera's newfound plate discipline. No longer flailing wildly at pitches in the dirt, Herrera has worked five walks in his last 21 at-bats. 

Astros: It's impossible not to mention Altuve here. His insane month of July (.507/.554/1.314) has made him the AL MVP favorite. Standing at just 5-foot-6, Altuve can do it all, including hit for power (15 home runs in 2017). 

5. This and that
• Charlie Morton's 4.18 ERA would be second-best among Phils' starters. Aaron Nola leads the rotation with a 3.38 ERA.

• Maikel Franco's recent hot streak has helped revive the Phillies' offense. Franco is hitting .300 since the All-Star break with as many walks (5) as strikeouts.

• The Astros have a 17-game cushion in the AL West. The Phillies are 25 games back of the Nationals in the NL East.

Phillies prove no match for AL-best Astros in series opener

Phillies prove no match for AL-best Astros in series opener

BOX SCORE

A lot has changed since the Houston Astros last came to Philadelphia in 2014. Back then the Astros were a rebuilding team on their way to a 92-loss season after reaching triple-digit losses the previous three seasons.

Now, the Astros' rebuild is complete and they have the best record (66-33) in the American League and the second best in the majors after the Los Angeles Dodgers (68-31).

The Astros have a powerhouse offense that ranks first in the majors in runs (594), hits (1,105), doubles (222), homers (165), batting average (.293) and OPS (.863).

Those numbers burned the eyes of Phillies manager Pete Mackanin when he got a look at them before Monday's game.

"When I look at their stat sheet and look at all their numbers, I really don't want to look at it," he said. "But once again, good pitching will stop good hitting, so if we can get good outings from some of our pitchers, we have a chance."

The Phillies did not get a good outing from their starting pitcher, nor did they get good work from the bullpen, as they lost Monday's series opener, 13-4 (see Instant Replay).

The Astros pounded out 18 hits and eight of them were for extra bases.

And they did all that damage without star shortstop Carlos Correa (.320/20/67). He is on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb. Also, All-Star George Springer (.311/27/66) left the game in the third inning with a sore quad muscle.

So it could have been worse if the Astros had played with a full deck.

"We’ve been playing pretty well recently and these kinds of games happen," said Mackanin, whose club is 5-5 after the All-Star break. "Unfortunately, this was one of those games.

"Houston is as good a team as we've seen. They have nine guys with double-digit home runs. They are a real aggressive team, one of the best, if not the best, that we’ve seen. They have aggressive hitters. You can't make mistakes against them. Early in the count, they hack at those mistakes. They don’t strike out a lot.

"It was noticeable that they go up there ready to hit every pitch. They're not taking to get a look at the pitcher. If you make a mistake over the plate, they look to hurt you, to do damage."

The Phillies trailed 12-1 in the seventh inning before rookie Nick Williams tripled home three runs. Williams has three triples and 18 RBIs in 72 at-bats with the big club.

Cesar Hernandez had three hits and Odubel Herrera added a pair to raise his July batting average to .364 (24 for 66).

"Other than that, there weren't a lot of bright spots," Mackanin said.

Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, pitching against his former team, worked into the fourth inning, but had his outing cut short by a one-hour, 52-minute rain delay. Velasquez might not have pitched deep into the game even in good weather conditions. He struggled with location and did not use his secondary pitches effectively. He gave up a pair of home runs (to Brian McCann and Alex Bregman) in the second inning, both on fastballs.

Mackanin was rather blunt when asked how he thought Velasquez pitched.

"He gave up six hits, two home runs, in three innings," Mackanin said. "His velocity was OK, but if you don't locate against a team like this, you're going to get hurt."

Velasquez walked three. One of those walks turned into a run.

"They were hunting fastballs," Velasquez said. "Maybe if I utilized my secondary pitches more I would have slowed their bats down and protected my fastball better. They hammer mistakes.

"I probably could have done a better job if I executed. Correa was out of the lineup. If he was in there he probably would have done some damage, too. This team is hot. They're in first place for a reason. They're very selective. They are in the zone. They're locked in."

Ricardo Pinto picked up Velasquez when the game resumed in the top of the fourth inning. He was tagged for seven hits and six runs in 1 1/3 inning. Three of the runs were unearned.