Phillies-Giants 5 things: Hoskins and Williams still impress as losses mount

phillies-giants-small-stream-slide-game2.jpg
CSN/USA Today Images

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Hoskins and Williams still impress as losses mount

Phillies (43-76) at Giants (49-74)
10:15 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

What had the makings of a successful week out west has not come to fruition for the Phillies, who were swept by lowly San Diego and dropped Game 1 of their four-game series to the San Francisco Giants last night.

Aaron Nola's run of dominance came to an end — he's human, after all — and the Phillies fell just short against Jeff Samardzija and the Giants' pen.

But still, there was a lot to like last night.

1. Hoskins getting comfortable
After homering three times in San Diego, Rhys Hoskins found other ways to produce Thursday in San Fran. 

Playing in the toughest outfield in baseball, Hoskins made an impressive running catch in front of the left-center field warning track on a ball in the gap. He looked like a natural leftfielder on that play. Later in the game, he threw out Buster Posey trying to go first to third on a single.

Hoskins also singled twice and finished the night 2 for 3 with a walk. The lone out he made shouldn't have even been an out. Hoskins opened the eighth inning with a line shot down the third-base line that appeared to bounce over the bag in fair territory but was called foul. That type of play is not reviewable, so instead of an inning-opening double, Hoskins eventually popped out to shallow center.

Hoskins looks like the real deal, not just because of the power but because of the patience he continues to show at the plate. The Phillies don't have enough players who work counts and don't let pitchers get away with mistakes.

2. Williams keeps hitting
Last night was Nick Williams' 40th game and he continues to show no signs of slowing down. He crushed a solo home run to right-center field off Samardzija last night for his sixth homer and 25th RBI.

Williams is hitting .291/.348/.507 — better numbers than he had in the minors.

The 431-foot home run really stood out because of how difficult it is to go deep at AT&T Park. Entering last night, there had been 23 fewer homers hit there than any other park in the majors and 70 fewer homers than the league average.

Williams runs well, defends all three outfield positions well, has hit for average and power and held his own against lefties. What's not to like? Williams is 10 for 33 (.303) off lefties with a triple and two homers.

There are a whole lot of question marks about the Phillies' future but their outfield appears to be set with Odubel Herrera in center and Williams and Aaron Altherr in the corners (once everyone is healthy).

3. Which Eflin will we see?
Zach Eflin makes his 11th start of the season tonight, matching his total from 2016. He's 1-4 with a 5.76 ERA this season and 4-9 with a 5.65 ERA in his career.

Eflin is coming off an uneven start against the Mets in which he mostly pitched well but was hurt by two home runs. He just didn't command the ball low in the zone, as evidenced by the career-low three groundballs he generated.

The last time Eflin pitched in spacious AT&T Park, he allowed just an unearned run over six innings. 

Current Giants have gone 7 for 21 (.333) off Eflin with two doubles (both by Nick Hundley) and a homer (Brandon Crawford).

The Phillies have some decisions to make this winter with the starting pitching staff. Nola is obviously a lock, as is Jerad Eickhoff in the back of the rotation. Nick Pivetta has enough stuff to warrant a long look again in 2018. But beyond that? The Phillies don't know if they can rely on Vince Velasquez, who has struggled with injuries and inefficiency. They don't know about Eflin's long-term outlook; some nights he's brilliant, some nights he doesn't look like a viable starting pitcher. Jake Thompson has taken steps back. Ben Lively has flashed some things but does he have a sustainable repertoire?

It would seem to behoove the Phillies to add a few veteran starting pitchers this offseason via trade or free agency. I don't mean a Clay Buchholz-type, either. We talk a lot about that flashy 2018-19 free-agent class, but the top guys aren't going to want to come here if the Phillies are still a 70-win team. Improving the starting pitching staff as these young position players continue to grow would be a way to move the needle forward.

4. Moore disappointment?
The Phillies face struggling Giants left-hander Matt Moore, who enters 3-12 with a 5.71 ERA. 

Moore was once one of the most intriguing young pitchers in baseball, but he hasn't been good since 2013. Walks are always an issue, and he's on track this season to allow more home runs than ever before. Moore has walked 50 and allowed 22 homers in 135⅔ innings this season.

The Phillies hit him around back on June 4, scoring five runs and chasing him after four innings. They also faced him last season in his very first start with the Giants. On that day, Moore walked six men in six innings but allowed just two runs.

Moore lacks an out-pitch against lefties, who have hit an insane .386/.448/.641 off of him this season. So don't expect Pete Mackanin to try to load up the lineup with righties, who have hit .259/.318/.455.

The only Phillie to ever take Moore deep is Freddy Galvis. Cesar Hernandez is 3 for 7 with two doubles, a triple and two walks. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 6-21 against the NL West. Again, that's the worst record for any major-league team against any division in 2017.

• The Phils are 19-45 on the road. That .297 winning percentage is their third-worst on the road since 1940.

• The Phillies are 2½ games worse than the next-worst team, the White Sox at 45-73.

• In 36 career games against the Phillies, Buster Posey has hit .394 with a .943 OPS. It's Posey's highest batting average against any team, but at least 45 of his 56 hits have been singles.

Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

usa-dbacks-clinch.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

PHOENIX -- J.D. Martinez lined a two-out RBI single to deep left field with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Miami Marlins 3-2 on Sunday to clinch the top wild card in the National League.

The Diamondbacks, who won only 69 games a year ago but are 90-66 this season, were assured a playoff berth in the fourth inning after St. Louis and Milwaukee lost. The comeback victory ensured Arizona will host the NL wild-card game Oct. 4.

Fernando Rodney (5-4) pitched a perfect inning for the win.

A throwing error by Justin Nicolino (2-3) on Kristopher Negron's sacrifice bunt helped load the bases with no outs in the ninth (see full recap).

Cubs close in on NL Central title behind Quintana's 3-hit shoutout
MILWAUKEE -- Jose Quintana pitched a three-hitter for his second big league shutout, and the Chicago Cubs beat Milwaukee 5-0 Sunday to close in on a second straight NL Central title and damage the Brewers' playoff hopes.

Coming off its first World Series title since 1908, Chicago (87-68) won three of four in the weekend series and opened a 5-game lead over the second-place Brewers (82-73) with seven games remaining. Milwaukee began the day one game behind Colorado for the NL's second wild card.

Quintana (7-3 with Cubs, 11-11 overall) struck out 10 and walked one in his second complete game in 182 starts. He threw 116 pitches, his most since Sept. 7 last year.

He did not allow any extra-base hits and retired his final 11 batters after walking Domingo Santana in the sixth (see full recap).

Rockies beat Padres to open 2-game lead for last wild card
SAN DIEGO -- Gerardo Parra hit a tiebreaking single in a two-run third inning, Pat Valaika and Charlie Blackmon hit consecutive home runs in the ninth and the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres 8-4 Sunday to open a two-game lead over Milwaukee for the second NL wild card heading into the final week of the regular season.

St. Louis trails the Rockies by 2 games. Seeking its first postseason appearance since 2009, Colorado opens a six-game homestand Monday, playing Miami and then the Los Angeles Dodgers. At 41-40, the Rockies tied their record for road wins, set in 2009.

German Marquez (11-7) allowed two runs, five hits and three walks in five innings. He had been 0-2 in six starts since beating Milwaukee on Aug. 18. Colorado starters have a 2.52 ERA in their last nine games (see full recap).

Twins top Tigers for 4-game sweep, close on wild card
DETROIT -- Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar homered, and Minnesota beat the Detroit Tigers 10-4 on Sunday to complete a four-game sweep that moved the Twins closer to securing a wild-card berth in the playoffs.

Polanco hit a solo homer in the first off Buck Farmer (4-5), and Escobar welcomed Victor Alcantara with a three-run drive in the sixth.

Minnesota (82-74) began the day 4 games ahead of Kansas City, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels for the second AL wild card. The Twins outscored the Tigers 39-12 in the sweep.

Detroit has lost seven straight and 14 of 16. At 62-94, the Tigers will finish with their worst record since going 43-119 in 2003 (see full recap).

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."