Phillies-Mets 5 things: Thriving top-of-order faces deGrom; swaggy Cespedes

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Thriving top-of-order faces deGrom; swaggy Cespedes

Phillies (3-3) vs. Mets (3-3)
7:05 p.m. on TCN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies over the weekend won an April series against the Nationals for the second straight year, taking two of three behind an unforgettable offensive display Saturday and a dramatic, sigh-of-relief walk-off win Sunday.

Every NL East team except the Braves (1-5) has begun the season 3-3.

The Phillies welcome in the other division heavyweight this week, beginning a three-game series Monday against the Mets.

Let's have a look:

1. New week, new closer?
Pete Mackanin will announce today who the Phillies are moving forward with in the ninth inning.

Jeanmar Gomez had an ugly outing Sunday, blowing a three-run save by allowing a mammoth blast by Ryan Zimmerman. It was the second homer Gomez has allowed already in three appearances. Going back to last September, he's given up 10 extra-base hits in 66 plate appearances -- scary numbers for a closer.

Through the All-Star break last season, Gomez had 24 saves, a 2.59 ERA and his opponents hit .237/.283/.355.

Since that point, Gomez has a 9.00 ERA in 30 innings and his opponents have hit .356/.418/.534.

The candidates to replace Gomez as closer are Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit and Edubray Ramos. The thought here is that it should be Benoit -- Neris is the best of the bunch but he's also extremely valuable as a setup man. Sunday was a perfect example: Neris came into a seventh-inning jam, picked up a huge third out, then retired the top of the Nationals' order in the eighth.

2. Top of the order getting it done
Optimists looked at the Phillies' 1-2-3 of Cesar Hernandez, Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera and saw three hitters capable of hitting .290 or better and two guys in Hernandez and Herrera who can post .360-plus on-base percentages.

So far, all three have hit. 

Hernandez is 7 for 26 (.269) in the early going with two doubles, a triple, a homer, two walks and a walk-off hit.

Kendrick is 9 for 21 with three doubles, a triple and five RBIs. 

And Herrera has a hit in every game, going 8 for 22 with five walks. His 13 times on base ranks second in the National League behind only Paul Goldschmidt (14).

3. Eye-cough
Jerad Eickhoff, a 6-foot-4 model of consistency if ever there was one, makes his second start tonight against a good Mets team.

Eickhoff allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings last week in Cincinnati. The Phillies, as they're prone to do, didn't help him offensively and he took the loss.

Eickhoff has faced the Mets in seven of his 42 career starts. He's pitched well, posting a 2.66 ERA in those games with a 1.00 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 44 innings, numbers that mean more than the 1-4 record.

Current Mets have hit just .218 with a .279 OBP against Eickhoff. Only Michael Conforto (5 for 14, two doubles and a homer) and Asdrubal Cabrera (4 for 9) have had success.

Yoenis Cespedes is 2 for 12 off him, Curtis Granderson is 2 for 15 and Neil Walker is 1 for 8.

4. Another tough righty
The Phillies missed Noah Syndergaard, who pitched Sunday night, but they draw Jacob deGrom tonight and Matt Harvey tomorrow. That means that in the span of five games, they'll have faced Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, deGrom and Harvey. 

What a joy the NL East is.

First up is deGrom (can you start a sentence with a lower-case letter?), who allowed two hits in six shutout innings last week against the Braves in a no-decision.

Syndergaard gets most of the headlines because of his 99 mph fastball and the fact that he looks like he was created in a lab somewhere, but deGrom has been every bit as good since debuting in 2014. In 77 starts, deGrom has a 2.71 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.2 walks.

The 28-year-old deGrom has faced the Phillies seven times and never lost, going 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA. The Phils have hit .188 off him in three games at Citizens Bank Park.

I remember deGrom's first year, his first start against the Phils, just thinking, "This guy is going to be really damn good."

Maybe it was the classic, wiry frame for a pitcher. Maybe it was the hair. Maybe it was the 11 strikeouts. It was probably the 11 strikeouts.

He has a five-pitch mix that includes a 94 to 96 mph fastball, a sinker at nearly the same velocity, an 89 mph slider, a changeup in the mid-80s and a curveball around 80. DeGrom gets swings and misses with all of them.

5. This and that
• ESPN did a hilarious segment last night on all the gear Cespedes wears at the plate. It's completely ridiculous -- lime green arm band, elbow pads, knee pads, foot pads, multiple chains. It looks like it must take him 15 minutes to get ready for an at-bat. Swaggiest player in the majors?

• Jose Reyes (1 for 23, seven strikeouts) is a shell of the player he used to be. He's been playing third base every day for the Mets. 

• David Wright suffered a setback getting ready for the season and it's unclear whether he'll play or not this season. As much as he kills the Phillies, it'a shame to see such a competitor have his career derailed by injuries.

Phillies-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

Phillies-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola’s likely final appearance of 2017 was another good one, but also his 11th loss. 

The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits and struck out nine in six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the NL East champion Washington Nationals on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. 

With the Phillies using a six-man rotation and an off day Thursday, manager Pete Mackanin said Nola was “most likely” making his last start. He gave up a two-run home run on a 3-1 fastball to Michael A. Taylor in the second inning before getting into a groove with his curveball. 

Nola (12-11) retired eight of the final 10 batters he faced and left with a 3.54 ERA as the Phillies kicked off a season-ending six-game homestand with their fourth loss in five games. 

Odubel Herrera hit an 0-2 mistake fastball for a solo shot to right in the fourth for the Phillies’ lone run. They struggled against A.J. Cole (3-5), who allowed six hits over 5 2/3 innings and collected his first major-league hit.

• It marked the 18th time in 27 starts that Nola allowed two earned runs or fewer. He gave up only eight earned runs in four starts against Washington. 

• The Phillies have scored seven runs in the past four games. 

• Rhys Hoskins hit a nubber toward first in the fourth inning that Ryan Zimmerman fielded facing the mound and blindly flipped backward to Cole covering first for the out. Hoskins flied deep to center to end the fifth and finished 0 for 4. He’s 2 for 21 in the past four games and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14. 

• Nick Williams went 1 for 4 with a single and three strikeouts. 

• Maikel Franco popped out on the 11th pitch of his at-bat to lead off the ninth against Sean Doolittle (24th save). 

• Hoskins made two fine plays at first base. He made a nice scoop of Freddy Galvis’ low throw in the first and made a leaping grab of Cesar Hernandez’s high and wide throw and tagged Matt Weiters going by for the out in the fourth. 

• Nationals slugger Bryce Harper’s return from a left knee injury was delayed by illness. Manager Dusty Baker said Harper, out since Aug. 12, woke up feeling sick. He was at the park early to get treatment and could play Tuesday. “He probably doesn’t like to hit here,” Mackanin joked. Harper’s 12 home runs at Citizens Bank Park are the most he’s hit in any road stadium. 

• Nola twice came up with runners at first and second and two outs. He grounded to first in the second and fanned in the fourth. 

• Mackanin planned to give his team a pep talk. “If they think they’re tired and ready to go home — it’s been a long season — I’m going to remind them, ‘If you want to go to the World Series, you’re going to play another entire month,’” he said. 

• With Nola likely finished for the season, it’s lining up for Henderson Alvarez to start Saturday and Nick Pivetta to go in the season finale Sunday. 

• All players from both teams on the field before the game stood for the national anthem. Baker, who is black, said he opposes kneeling, but understands the frustrations of those athletes who do it. “We’ve been talking about the same problems I had when I was 18 or 19 years old, so have we made progress or have we regressed?” Baker said. “It’s up to us to try to figure out how to come up with a solution.” 

• The Phillies dropped to 33 1/2 games behind the Nationals. They must win one of their final five games to avoid 100 losses. The Nationals must finish 5-1 to win 100 games. 

• Right-hander Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14 ERA) will make his fourth start against the Nationals this season when he faces lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. 

Pete Mackanin: 'I still don't know if I'll be here next year'

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Pete Mackanin: 'I still don't know if I'll be here next year'

Pete Mackanin may have received a contract extension in May, but the Phillies' manager has yet to receive assurances from general manager Matt Klentak that he’ll return in 2018. 

“I still don’t know if I’ll be here next year,” Mackanin said before Monday’s game against the Washington Nationals.

Mackanin took over midway through the 2015 season and has presided over the Phillies’ rebuilding project. He went 37-51 to finish 2015, 71-91 last year and was 62-94 heading into the final week of the season. 

Does Mackanin hope Klentak tells him his fate soon? 

“Of course,” Mackanin said. “I’m signed through next year and I assume I’ll be here. But you never know what they’re going to do.”

Mackanin said he’s set to meet with Klentak on Saturday to evaluate players. The season ends the next day, with the Phillies needing one victory over their final six games to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1961. 

“Do you need better coaches? Do you need a better manager? The answer to all these questions is you need better players,” Mackanin said as he quizzed about his future. 

Despite the dismal record, the Phillies have made progress in many areas. They may have found their future star power hitter in Rhys Hoskins. Fellow rookie Nick Williams has shown flashes. Cesar Hernandez is hitting .296. Freddy Galvis is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. Adam Morgan has pitched like a permanent setup man (see story). Mackanin believes Aaron Nola has established himself as a “solid No. 3 starter.” 

But the rest of the rotation is uncertain. They still need more offense. And while the Phillies have played well down the stretch, it’s come with no pressure in a sea of meaningless games.

Mackanin was asked if the team made a step forward this season. 

“I think individual players have made a step forward. As a team, of course not. We’re down at the bottom,” Mackanin said. “On the other hand, there are teams with similar records with much higher payrolls that were expected to do much better and haven’t. And when you look at the makeup of the team with all the pitchers that we’ve used and injuries, we’ve had a lot of unproven players.”

Mackanin revealed the angriest he’s been was back in May, when the Phillies went 6-22. He said while he's trying to keep an “even keel,” he gave his team a tongue-lashing after a home loss during that stretch. 

“I just went down the list of players,” Mackanin said. “Every one of them, I pointed out all the good things they’ve done to get here. And I asked after I got done naming every player how good they’ve been and what they’ve accomplished to get here, I asked, ‘How come we’re so bad?’”

Despite injuries and having to rush players to the majors, the Phillies were 33-36 since the All-Star break before Monday’s game. 

Mackanin acknowledged 2018 will be different, when the record will matter much more. He believes it’s time for the franchise to start winning in order to lure the potential free agents needed to become a contender again. 

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Mackanin said. “We’ve got players who have to prove they’re for real. Next year will tell us an awful lot.”

The 66-year-old Mackanin hopes he’s around to see what happens. 

“Blame the managers and coaches. How about if the players perform better?” Mackanin said. “Now, could we get the players to perform better? Everybody tries hard to do that.”