Phillies-Mets 5 things: Red-hot Aaron Nola duels ice-cold Steven Matz

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Phillies-Mets 5 things: Red-hot Aaron Nola duels ice-cold Steven Matz

Phillies (42-71) vs. Mets (52-61)
7:05 p.m. on NBC 10; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

When it comes to facing the Mets, the Phillies can't seem to catch a break. A 3-0 lead? Evaporated. A late comeback? Not enough. Even a rookie shortstop got in on it as the Mets grabbed a 7-6 win Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.

If there's a pitcher the Phils would want to face the rival Metropolitans, it's Aaron Nola, who comes into Saturday hot as can be. He'll take on Steven Matz in a matchup of two starters going opposite directions.

Here are five things to know for Saturday night's game:

1. Nola continues to roll
We're running out of words to properly describe Nola, who has had inarguably the best nine-game stretch of his career coming into tonight's game. 

In 61 1/3 innings, he's allowed just 47 hits and 17 walks, struck out 70 batters and given up just 12 runs, good for a 1.76 ERA. He's held opponents to a .207/.262/.317 batting line while throwing filthy curveballs backed up with a devilish two-seamer. This is the Aaron Nola the Phillies thought they would get in the 2014 draft.

In those nine starts, he's gone at least six innings every time while allowing no more than two runs. He had nine starts prior to this run (which began June 22 vs. the Cardinals) and he failed to reach those milestones in all but three games. 

For the season, Nola has brought his ERA down to 3.12. According to Baseball Reference, Nola has produced 3.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) this season after being worth 0.0 WAR last year. That's right: He was at replacement level, no better than the average call-up from Triple A. Now he's pitching like a front-end starter.

Nola won his only start vs. the Mets this year, lasting just five innings while allowing four runs. A three-run homer by Neil Walker was the big blow. Four Mets have two hits in five or fewer ABs against Nola: Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Rene Rivera and Asdrubal Cabrera. Only Conforto and Walker have home runs off the righty.

2. Floor Matz
If you're going to sum up Matz's season in one word, it would be: troubling. The 26-year-old left-hander hasn't lived up to the promise of his first two seasons this year. He comes into tonight with a 5.77 ERA in 57 2/3 innings across 11 starts. 

He's allowed 11.2 hits per inning, a career worst, while his strikeouts per nine innings have fallen from 8.8 to 6.7, an ominous sign. 

Contrast that with his first two seasons, when he had a 3.16 ERA over 168 innings while striking out 163 batters and allowing only 183 baserunners. He's not an overpowering pitcher, but that doesn't make 2017 any less worrisome.

His struggles are perhaps under the radar with higher profile starters (Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey) going down with injuries, but they are nonetheless very real. 

A lot of it could be due to injuries. He ended last season with shoulder tightness followed by surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. This came six years after he underwent Tommy John surgery before he made his professional debut. He missed the first two months of this season with a flexor tendon strain.

The lefty works off a 94-mph sinker (down one mph from last season) while mixing in a high-70s curveball and mid-80s changeup. His change has been his most effective pitch this season while his curveball has fooled hitters a little less in 2017.

A surprising note: He's never faced the Phillies despite making 39 starts as an NL East pitcher. He's faced each of the other division opponents at least four times.

3. Hammer and a nail
The Mets' and Phillies' relationship over the last three years can be characterized as similar to that of a hammer and a nail. In other words, it's been a little one-sided.

With Friday's 7-6 defeat, the Phils are 3-8 against New York this season while being outscored, 61-47. This comes after going 12-26 against them the last two seasons. Part of it is surely bad luck/timing (a lot of games last September when the Phillies' pitching staff cratered with injuries and Jeanmar Gomez's struggles came to a head). Yet the matchup has also shown a clear difference between two franchises.

The Phillies certainly would have expected to close the gap some this season, and there is still that opportunity over the last 1 1/2 months. They have eight more games left this season, including six next month. 

The Mets won't be gunning for the postseason this year and will have less incentive to go for wins. They'll instead be looking towards development and will thus be playing their younger players (the Phils are all too familiar now with Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith). 

Now 29 games under .500, how the Phillies perform in the division over the last 1 1/2 months will go a long way toward defining how successful their second half will be. They've struggled with teams not named the Braves this season and respectable showings against the Mets, Marlins and Nationals will be key to going out of 2017 on a high note.

4. Players to watch:
Phillies: Facing Matz, Rhys Hoskins will battle against a LHP for the first time in MLB. He actually had a little bit of a reverse platoon split this season in Triple A but hit lefties better at every other level in the minors. 

MetsCespedes hit another homer against Phillies pitching Friday, giving him 13 in 35 games vs. the Phils in his career. Nine of those homers have come at CBP, where he hits .274/.342/.740 in 82 plate appearances.

5. This and that
• After pitching with a relatively fast pace through his first two seasons, Nola has been slower on the mound in 2017, taking 25.8 seconds between pitches. That's 2.1 seconds more than his career average. 

• Matz has allowed 29 home runs in his career and 27 of those have come against right-handed batters. 

• Through 34 games, Nick Williams is batting .295/.336/.519 in 129 plate appearances. With his next two at-bats, he'll have exceeded the rookie limit.

Best of MLB: Indians get walk-off win over Red Sox on error

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USA Today Images

Best of MLB: Indians get walk-off win over Red Sox on error

CLEVELAND -- Brandon Guyer scored when first baseman Brock Holt threw away Roberto Perez's bunt in the 10th inning, lifting the Cleveland Indians over the Boston Red Sox 5-4 on Monday night in a matchup of first-place teams.

After Guyer's leadoff double against Brandon Workman (0-1), Holt fielded the bunted ball and tried to throw out Guyer at third. Guyer slid into the bag as the throw skipped past third baseman Rafael Devers, then got to his feet and raced across home plate. Teammates ran onto the field and doused Perez with water and white powder.

Perez also had a three-run homer in the second inning.

Cody Allen (1-6) allowed Christian Vazquez's leadoff single in the 10th, but retired the next three hitters. The inning ended when shortstop Francisco Lindor ran down Mookie Betts' popup in center field with his back to home plate.

Cleveland relief ace Andrew Miller left in the seventh inning after aggravating the patellar tendinitis in his right knee. Miller recently returned after over two weeks on the disabled list with the knee injury (see full recap).  

Albers gives Mariners win over former team
ATLANTA -- Andrew Albers worked into the sixth inning for his second straight win since coming up from the minors, leading the Seattle Mariners to a 6-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.

Albers (2-0) also had the first hit and RBI of his career -- in his first big league at-bat.

The 31-year-old left-hander beat his former organization, having spent most of the season at the Braves' Triple-A club. He went 12-3 but never got a call to the big leagues.

Instead, Albers was dealt to the Mariners for cash on Aug. 11. He was called up by Seattle to make a start four days later, working six strong innings in a 3-1 win over Baltimore.

Now, after going just over four years between major league victories, Albers has two wins in less than a week.

Mike Foltynewicz (10-9) has lost four of his last five starts for Atlanta (see full recap).

Pollock’s 2-run blast lifts D-backs over Mets
NEW YORK -- A.J. Pollock hit a two-run homer in the 10th inning and the Arizona Diamondbacks snapped a three-game skid with a 3-2 victory over the New York Mets on Monday night.

J.D. Martinez had an RBI single and left fielder David Peralta threw out the potential go-ahead run at the plate for the Diamondbacks, who began the day with a 2 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee for the second NL wild card. They are 4-0 against the Mets this season and have won nine of 10 meetings over the last two years.

Pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco walked to start the 10th. One out later, Pollock sent a 94 mph fastball from Eric Goeddel (0-1) over the center-field fence to put the Diamondbacks back in front after they squandered a 1-0 lead in the seventh.

Fernando Rodney gave up a leadoff homer to Michael Conforto before getting three outs for his 28th save in 33 tries.

Jimmie Sherfy (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth for his first major league win (see full recap)

Bruce Bochy on Hector Neris: 'He's an idiot'

Bruce Bochy on Hector Neris: 'He's an idiot'

The Giants don't seem to be too fond of Hector Neris.

The Phillies on Sunday were clinging to a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning when Hector Neris entered the game. The reliever inherited runners on first and second with two outs and Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey at the plate.

On a first-pitch fastball, Neris plunked Posey, who called out the Phillies' closer afterward.

"I'm pretty certain he hit me on purpose and it's just a shame because I wanted to compete in that at-bat," Posey said. "I guess he didn't feel he could get me out.
 
"It was a big spot. It would have been fun to hit."

In that situation, purposely hitting a batter makes little sense, as it advances the potential game-tying run into scoring position and puts the go-ahead run on base. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged just that, while Neris denied any intention behind the hit by pitch. Despite the bases-loaded jam, Neris struck out Pablo Sandoval to escape before closing out the 5-2 win with a scoreless ninth inning.

Things didn't end there, though.

A day later, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had something to say about Neris.

"It wasn't just a little inside. The same guy … I'll say it, he's an idiot," Bochy said Monday before the Giants' series opener against the Brewers. "He showed it in Philadelphia when he was having words with (Eduardo) Nunez. I think that caused the radar to be up a little bit on what happened there."

The incident with Nunez in which Bochy refers to apparently happened during the Phillies' 9-7 win over the Giants on June 4 at Citizens Bank Park. According to CSNBayArea.com's Alex Pavlovic, Neris appeared to blow a kiss at Nunez after a ninth-inning strikeout. Following a game-ending punchout of Brandon Belt, it looks like Neris glances over at the Giants' dugout before catcher Cameron Rupp stops him.

None of the above explains why Neris would feel any intent to hit Posey in such a tight spot more than 2½ months later.

"You never know for sure, but it certainly didn't look good, did it?" Bochy said.

"It wasn't a glancing blow — it was at his ribs, on the backside of the ribs. So, no, I'm not surprised [Posey was upset]. I would have been upset, too.

"Anyway, that's behind us."

For now. 

While the Phillies and Giants don't play again this season, baseball players sure have great memories.