Phillies-Mets 5 things: Vince Velasquez could sure use a confidence boost

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Vince Velasquez could sure use a confidence boost

Phillies at Mets
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Hey, the Phillies beat the Mets! 

One win won't change the momentum in this divisional series owned by the Mets since 2014, but it had to feel good for Pete Mackanin and the boys to execute down the stretch against a team that's usually comfortably ahead in the later innings.

Tuesday's game was U-G-L-Y in all phases. Bad defense, dropped throws, boneheaded baserunning, pitchers constantly falling behind hitters. The Mets looked lifeless, for whatever reason. Maybe they left their mojo in Miami.

Here's a look at the middle game of the series:

1. Third time's the charm?
Vince Velasquez's first two starts have not gone well.

He's lasted just nine total innings and given up nine runs, needing 194 pitches to record 27 outs. A rate of 21.6 pitches per inning won't work for anyone and Velasquez knows it.

He was his own harshest critic last Wednesday night in the Phillies' clubhouse after he allowed five runs and walked four Mets in five innings. He has 17 strikeouts in those nine innings, but that's secondary to the quick exits and Velasquez's inability so far to keep the Phillies in games.

With Velasquez, it just might always be this way. One event doesn't seem to have any bearing on the next for him. He can mow through three batters one inning and then completely lose his command and poise the next.

One good start, two good starts, even five good starts won't make the Phillies feel completely comfortable with Velasquez. They're always going to go into a start not knowing whether the bullpen will be needed for two innings or five. He's not the only guy in the majors like that, but he's certainly one of the more volatile starting pitchers in either league.

Velasquez has another chance to conquer the Mets, a swing-and-miss oriented team that he could completely dominate if his command is there. It's also a team that could have him on the ropes early with a three-run homer if he's not hitting spots.

Michael Conforto has done the most damage off Velasquez of any Met. He's 4 for 7 with two homers and a walk. Look for him to lead off.

Yoenis Cespedes is 2 for 6 with a double, a homer and five RBIs against Velasquez. All other active Mets are a combined 9 for 51 (.176) with two extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts.

2. Bullpen notes
The Phillies used five relievers last night but none of them should be unavailable for tonight's game. 

Joely Rodriguez, Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Joaquin Benoit combined to allow just one hit over five scoreless innings with five strikeouts and none of them threw more than 17 pitches.

The Phillies' bullpen has a 5.01 ERA through 13 games, which ranks 22nd among 30 teams. But keep in mind that includes disastrous outings from Adam Morgan, who was sent to Triple-A, and Jeanmar Gomez, who was demoted from the closer's role.

The key pieces in the Phils' bullpen -- Neris, Benoit, Ramos, Pat Neshek -- have been mostly effective. 

Neris has thrown 7 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out nine and allowing three baserunners. He's picked up right where he left off in 2016.

Neshek has made six scoreless appearances and last week made Cespedes look silly. (Neshek went on paternity leave Wednesday and the Phillies will call up right-hander Ben Lively to have an extra arm, according to CSN's Jim Salisbury.)

Ramos is best known so far for the controversial pitch behind Asdrubal Cabrera's head last week, but he has a 2.84 ERA so far with nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.

And while Benoit did allow the game-winning three-run home run to Bryce Harper over the weekend in D.C., his other six appearances have been scoreless. I've long believed that "percentage of scoreless appearances" is a better stat for a reliever than ERA. One bad outing can skew a reliever's numbers for months, but if he gives up runs only once every seven appearances, he's doing his job.

3. Scouting Gsellman
The Phillies draw the weakest link in the Mets' rotation, 23-year-old right-hander Robert Gsellman (0-1, 9.28 ERA).

Gsellman wasn't a highly-touted prospect like Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom or Zack Wheeler, but he worked his way up to the majors in 2016 after posting strong seasons in the minor leagues the previous two. 

In eight appearances last season (seven starts), Gsellman went 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA, striking out 42 batters in 44 2/3 innings and allowing just one home run.

He faced the Phillies three times as a rookie and won twice, beating them in each of his final two starts. In those games Sept. 25 and Sept. 30, Gsellman allowed one run in 13 innings and struck out 15 against a dead-in-the-water Phillies team.

Gsellman's main pitch is his sinker, which he's thrown 46 percent of the time this season but hasn't been able to command. Opponents are 8 for 22 this season against that pitch with a double and a homer.

He also has a four-seam fastball that averages 94 mph, a slider, curveball and changeup.

4. Any love for Altherr?
Aaron Altherr had his first career pinch-hit last night, an RBI single in the 10th inning to put the Phillies up two runs. 

With Howie Kendrick going on the 10-day DL Tuesday, Altherr should have some starting opportunities over the next week. Daniel Nava got the nod in left field Tuesday but look for Altherr to get the start tonight.

Through 13 games Altherr has just 13 at-bats (4 for 13 with a double and a homer). He had a powerful spring and is looking to put a lost 2016 behind him.

Altherr has a future in this organization, either as a starter or fourth outfielder. His defensive ability certainly helps his cause and right now he's probably the Phils' best defensive outfielder. The Phillies have seen too many weak throws from the outfield already this season from Kendrick and Odubel Herrera.

5. This and that
• Tuesday's game was only the second time in the last 11 meetings that the Mets did not homer off the Phillies.

• Phillies starting pitchers have just seven quality starts in their last 23 games against the Mets.

• The Mets' bullpen will get better when closer Jeurys Familia returns Thursday from a 15-game suspension, but New York is going to need to add relief help by the trade deadline to have a real chance of going deep into October. Right now, this bullpen is extremely unimpressive. It's just straight fastball after straight fastball from guys like Addison Reed and Rafael Montero, and Hansel Robles is capable of imploding on any given night. 

The Mets have strong starting pitching but with a leaky bullpen and such a boom-bust offense, it just doesn't feel like a team destined to go far in 2017 ... at least as presently constructed.

Best of MLB: Dodgers lose injured Clayton Kershaw, beat Braves in 10 innings

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AP images

Best of MLB: Dodgers lose injured Clayton Kershaw, beat Braves in 10 innings

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw left after two innings with a back injury, but the Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a blown save by Kenley Jansen to beat the Atlanta Braves 5-4 on Sunday on Logan Forsythe's bases-loaded single in the 10th.

Kershaw, unbeaten in 15 consecutive starts, left after 21 pitches because of right low back tightness.

Jansen entered with a 3-1 lead and got the final out of the eighth, but gave up a three-run homer to Matt Adams in the ninth, tying the game at 4-all.

Forsythe singled up the middle after Cody Bellinger was intentionally walked by Jim Johnson (6-2) to load the bases.

Brandon Morrow (3-0) got the win after retiring the side in the top of the 10th.

Austin Barnes hit a three-run homer in the fourth for the Dodgers (see full recap).

Britton gets AL consecutive saves record as Orioles beat Astros
BALTIMORE -- Zach Britton set an American League record by converting his 55th consecutive save opportunity, blanking the Houston Astros in the ninth inning the seal the Baltimore Orioles' 9-7 victory on Sunday.

Britton struck out the first two batters and issued a walk before pinch-hitter George Springer bounced into a force play to end it.

Britton broke the AL mark held by Tom Gordon, who notched 54 straight saves with Boston from 1998-99. Britton started his run on Oct. 1, 2015, added 47 in a row last season and is 6 for 6 this year.

The major league record of 84 is held by Eric Gagne of the Dodgers from 2002-04. Saves became an official statistic in 1969.

Britton earned his fifth save on April 14 and endured two months on the disabled list with a strained left forearm before returning on July 5 (see full recap).

Nationals beat D-backs but lose Strasburg to injury
PHOENIX -- Stephen Strasburg left after struggling with his control in the second inning, and the Washington Nationals wrapped up a successful nine-game trip with a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

There was no word from the Nationals during the game explaining the standout right-hander's departure.

Strasburg, 10-3 with a 3.31 ERA entering the game, uncharacteristically walked the No. 8 and No. 9 batters in the second inning before departing with a 5-0 lead. He threw 51 pitches, 29 strikes.

Brian Goodwin's leadoff homer ignited a four-run first inning off Robbie Ray (9-5), who lasted five innings, allowing five runs.

Wilmer Difo hit his second home run of the season off reliever T.J. McFarland in the seventh.

Joe Blanton (1-2) got two outs and earned the win.

The NL East-leading Nationals took two of three in Arizona to go 7-2 on the trip (see full recap).

Yankees win 1st series in 6 weeks, beat Mariners
SEATTLE -- The New York Yankees won a series for the first time in six weeks when Aroldis Chapman struck out Ben Gamel with a runner on to preserve a 6-4 victory over Seattle on Sunday, their third win in four games against the Mariners this weekend.

The Yankees had been 0-8-2 in series since sweeping Baltimore on June 9-11. New York had lost 13 straight games with a chance to win a series.

After Seattle overcame a 3-0 deficit with a four-run fourth inning against Caleb Smith, Brett Gardner hit a tying, bases-loaded single in the sixth and Clint Frazier followed with a two-run double off former Yankee James Pazos (2-3).

Didi Gregorius had his first career multihomer game with solo shots in the second and fourth innings for New York, both on 0-1 pitches from Yovani Gallardo. Gregorius has 14 home runs.

Gardner opened the game with his 17th home run.

A converted starter pitching on consecutive days for the first time in big league career, Chad Green (1-0) struck out three in 2 1/3 perfect innings. Dellin Betances and David Robertson each threw a hitless inning, and Chapman had another shaky finish for his 11th save (see full recap).

Nationals' GCL affiliate pitch no-hitter in both games of doubleheader
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Washington Nationals' rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate pitched seven-inning no-hitters in both ends of a doubleheader Sunday.

Facing the GCL Marlins at the teams' shared spring training home, right-handed prospect Joan Baez opened the first game with six innings, allowing a walk and striking out seven. Jose Jimenez walked one in the seventh to close a 4-0 victory.

Baez is among the organization's top pitching prospects. He improved to 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA in four appearances (three starts) with the GCL Nationals.

In the second game, Jared Johnson walked one in four innings, and Gilberto Chu closed with three perfect innings in a 1-0 win. It was only the second pro start for Johnson, a 17th-round draft pick last month from Palm Beach State Junior College.

They were the first no-hitters in the GCL this season.

Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball

Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball

BOX SCORE

Though they still have the worst record in the majors by 3½ games, the 34-62 Phillies aren't playing like the worst team in baseball right now.

Not from an offensive standpoint, not from a starting pitching standpoint, not from a bullpen standpoint.

The Phils' offense stayed hot Sunday afternoon in a 6-3 win over the Brewers, their fourth win in five games and sixth in the last 10 (see Instant Replay).

Nick Williams homered again, Howie Kendrick had a very Howie Kendrick-like at-bat with the bases loaded, Jerad Eickhoff spun a quality start and the trio of Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Luis Garcia sealed the win.

The Phillies have scored at least five runs in seven straight games, which is something none of their recent division-winning teams did in a single season. It's their longest such streak since May 31-June 7, 2005.

Their starting pitchers have allowed three runs or less in six of the last eight games.

And the Phils' bullpen has the lowest ERA in the majors since June 26 at 2.19.

A lot of things are clicking right now for a team that probably can't play worse than it did in the first half. The Phils' record remains hideous, but there are actually four teams with worse run differentials: the Reds, Blue Jays, Giants and Padres.

"My first year here as a coach was '09, and in no way am I comparing ourselves to that team, but it was reminiscent the way we've been swinging the bats of us coming back and coming from behind and catching up and beating other teams," Pete Mackanin said. "It reminds me to a certain degree."

For much of the season, Mackanin has walked into the Phillies' media room after a loss and said that his hitters aren't living up to their standard. For much of the season, the Phillies have made quick outs and life easy for the opposing pitcher. 

But with Kendrick and Cesar Hernandez back from the DL, with Odubel Herrera hitting .331 since June 1, with Maikel Franco walking as much as he's struck out the last 35 games, and with Williams' power and energy rubbing off on the rest of the team, many different Phillies are playing like they have something to prove.

"Everybody is playing for a job next year," Mackanin said. "Everybody is playing to be part of our future and I think the guys are competing among themselves. It's good to see. Everybody's more aggressive. They're into the games."

The energy added by Williams' arrival on June 30 has been impossible to ignore, though it's kind of a chicken-or-egg thing. Is there added energy because he and so many other guys started hitting, or are they hitting because there's a more positive vibe in the clubhouse and dugout?

"I like to do whatever I can to start the momentum or get guys going," Williams said. "If I do something exciting, they're like, 'Oh, he's playing hard.' But everyone's been hitting and everyone's been just playing the game right and just doing all the little things and that's how we've been able to come out with some victories.

"In close spots with the hitting, we've been able to knock a lot of guys in. It's just that hitting's contagious. I always say when one guy does it, why can't the next? That's how I think of it."

The biggest spot in Sunday's game came with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth inning. With the game tied, the Brewers switched pitchers and Kendrick quickly found himself down 0-2 before singling up the middle to score two runs.

Kendrick has missed 60 games this season and it's been frustrating for him because he's been so locked-in when he's played. After picking up two more hits Sunday, he's up to .353 with an .873 OPS. His numbers are rarely sexy because he averages about 10 home runs per season, but a versatile, perennial .290 hitter has value. It's why the Phillies' offseason acquisition of Kendrick made sense and it's why he figures to have some trade value even though Sunday was just his 36th game of the year.

"Not only is he a good hitter but he plays solid defense out there," Mackanin said. "He doesn't have the greatest range but it's not bad. He's average to maybe a tick above average. 

"I'm sure there's a lot of interest in a lot of our guys, (Pat) Neshek, [Kendrick], even (Joaquin) Benoit, (Daniel) Nava. We'll wait and see."

The non-waiver trade deadline is just eight days away and general manager Matt Klentak expects there to be some movement. The Phils' two best trade chips are Kendrick and Neshek and both had productive weekends. Neshek pitched a scoreless seventh inning to lower his ERA to 1.12. He's allowed runs in just two of 43 appearances.

And Kendrick has picked up right where he left off, going 4 for 10 since returning Friday from a hamstring strain.

"If I were scouting for another organization I'd recommend him," Mackanin said of Kendrick. "I'd put an acquire (label) on him."

We'll soon see what that acquire label nets the Phillies. The return won't be huge, but trading Kendrick will allow the Phils to add another young player with upside and open a spot back up for Aaron Altherr, who could return from the DL as early as Wednesday.