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

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Phillies rookie Nick Pivetta outpitched Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara Sunday afternoon as the Phils salvaged the final game of a three-game series with a 2-0 win at steamy SunTrust Park.
 
Maikel Franco smacked his 21st homer and Aaron Altherr had an RBI double for the Phillies' two runs.
 
Pivetta (7-10) pitched six shutout innings and the bullpen did the rest.
 
The Phillies ended up with a 13-6 record against Atlanta this season, their best against any team.
 
• Pivetta has mostly struggled in 25 starts in his rookie season, but he's also had some very nice outings where his potential has really shined. This was one of them. His last start, in which he gave up two runs in six innings against the Dodgers, was a good one, too. So the right-hander seems to be finishing on a high note. He will have one more start before the end of the season. In a perfect world, Pivetta would have gotten more time at Triple A this season, but there was a need in the majors. Ultimately, he should benefit from his baptism by fire.
 
• Atlanta lefty Gohara was very good in his fourth big-league start. The 21-year-old from Brazil gave up just five hits, walked two and struck out nine. The only run he gave up came on Franco's homer.
 
• Pivetta did a good job pitching around trouble. He got two outs in the second inning after an error by Franco put a runner on second. He also pitched around sloppy infield play in the fifth. In the sixth, Pivetta knocked down a ball back to the box but was unable to start a double play. He stayed calm and got two outs to get out of the inning.
 
• The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by Franco in the top of the fifth. Franco turned on a first-pitch changeup from Gohara. The pitch was on the inside half of the plate — right in Franco's happy zone. Franco pulls off pitches away in the zone, but he kills mistakes inside. Franco will work on this flaw in winter ball this season (see story).
 
• Altherr doubled home an important insurance run for the Phillies in the eighth inning. Altherr has 61 RBIs on the season and 27 have come in the seventh inning or later.
 
• Good job by the Phillies' bullpen. Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan pitched scoreless ball in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Morgan has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Hector Neris survived two hits in the ninth and picked up the save. He is perfect on is last 18 chances since June 28.

• The Phillies' first two hits of the game were singles to right field and both runners, Cesar Hernandez and Jorge Alfaro, were out trying to stretch at second base. Braves rightfielder Nick Markakis made two perfect throws. Hernandez needed to come out of the box quicker.
 
• The Phillies have a 35-40 record at home. They will play their final six games of the season at home beginning Monday night with the opener of a three-game series against the NL East champion Washington Nationals. Aaron Nola (12-10, 3.56) pitches against right-hander A.J. Cole (2-5, 4.43) on Monday night. Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14) opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.69) and right-hander Tanner Roark (13-10, 4.41) close out the series Wednesday night. The Phillies need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses.