Phillies-Mets 5 things: Zach Eflin's turn to try to quiet the Mets

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Zach Eflin's turn to try to quiet the Mets

Phillies (4-8) at Mets (7-6)
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After taking Monday off to recover from the frustrating walk-off loss to Bryce Harper and the Nationals Sunday afternoon, the Phillies are back at it tonight.

It's another series against the Mets -- when it's over, the Phillies will have played their last 12 games all against the Nationals and Mets.

Let's take a look at the opener:

1. Eflin's season debut
Zach Eflin was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley early Tuesday afternoon when the Phillies placed Clay Buchholz on the disabled list.

Buchholz had surgery Tuesday to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm and is out 4 to 6 months, essentially ending his season (see story).

That means Eflin will have an opportunity to solidify a spot in the Phillies' rotation beyond tonight if he can piece together the type of efficient outings he had in seven of 11 starts last season.

Eflin, 23, underwent two knee surgeries late last season to relieve a chronic condition he's had since he was 10 years old. The condition ended his 2016 after 11 starts.

Eflin's numbers as a rookie looked worse than his actual performance -- 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA. He pitched two complete games with one shutout, and in seven starts from June 19 through July 22, he averaged nearly seven innings per start and posted a 2.08 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP. 

Four awful performances -- his MLB debut in Toronto and his final three starts before going on the shelf -- skewed the stats somewhat, though it was an also an indication of what can happen when Eflin isn't hitting spots perfectly. He doesn't miss many bats so he relies on soft contact and groundballs to get him through.

Eflin had just a 5.7 percent swinging strike rate as a rookie, well below the league average of 10.1 percent. To succeed at this level he's going to need to live low in the zone with his four-seam fastball and sinker. His groundball rate last season was 36.2 percent, a pretty average number for a sinkerballer.

Eflin was pretty much four-seam, two-seam, slider as a rookie, throwing one of those three pitches 89 percent of the time. He occasionally mixed in a curveball and a changeup to lefties. His fastball and sinker are in the 92 to 94 mph range.

Eflin faced the Mets once last year and had a quality start in a 5-0 Phillies loss, allowing three runs over six innings. Curtis Granderson took him deep, and the Phils had just one hit that afternoon against a lights-out Jacob deGrom.

2. Another look at Wheeler
The Phillies face Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler for the second time in six nights. They lost to him last Wednesday, putting up five zeroes before chasing him in the sixth inning.

Wheeler, who was making just his second start since 2014 after missing two years with Tommy John surgery and a few setbacks, loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth and was lifted after 85 pitches. Hansel Robles came in and gave up a grand slam to Maikel Franco, uglying Wheeler's line.

In truth, the Phillies' offense looked meager against Wheeler for most of the night. He was throwing heat, averaging 95 mph with his fastball and sinker and maxing out at 97.4 mph. And every offspeed pitch put in play against him -- three changeups, three sliders and three curveballs -- was an out.

The Phillies have seen little of Wheeler and Cesar Hernandez is the only player with multiple hits against him. Hernandez is 3 for 5, and he saw 14 pitches in three at-bats against Wheeler last week so he definitely knows what he's up against.

3. Nothin' but the East
We've gone over the Phillies' tough start to the season but the Mets' April schedule is even stranger. The Mets' first 32 games of 2017 are all against division opponents. They don't play a team outside the NL East until May 8 when they host the Giants.

When this stretch comes to an end, the Mets will have played 10 games against the Braves, 10 against the Marlins and six against the Phillies and Nationals.

That means just 44 of the Mets' final 130 games -- almost exactly one-third -- will be against division opponents.

The Mets were 40-36 against the NL East last season and that was basically the difference between them and the Nationals, who went 51-25 against the East and won the division by eight games.

4. Since we saw them last ...
The Mets dropped three in a row at Marlins Park this week, their boom-bust offense hitting a low point Sunday when they didn't have a hit through seven innings. They finished 5 for 32 with five singles against five Marlins pitchers.

Jay Bruce has cooled off since the Phillies series, and Granderson and Jose Reyes still aren't hitting. Granderson is at .174 and is still without a homer, while Reyes is 4 for 46 (.087) with one extra-base hit and 13 strikeouts.

5. This and that
• Mets closer Jeurys Familia is eligible to return on Thursday from a 15-game suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy.

Familia makes the Mets' bullpen a whole lot better. He had a 2.20 ERA with 94 saves and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings the last two seasons.

Without him, the Phillies will have their chances in the ninth inning against the eminently hittable Addison Reed, king of the straight 92 mph fastball.

• Franco has a .158 batting average on balls in play. It's very early in the season and it will normalize closer to his .271 career mark, but it explains some of his poor performance. Some, not all -- Franco's April has been a mix of bad luck and a bad approach at times. He's yet to find the kind of multi-week consistency that would make him a true difference-maker in the middle of an order.

• Cesar Hernandez since 2016: .299 batting average, .373 on-base percentage in 678 plate appearances. Only four other players in the National League have that high a batting average and OBP since last opening day: Joey Votto, D.J. LeMahieu, Freddie Freeman and Daniel Murphy.

• The Mets have won 42 of the 60 meetings between these teams since 2014 and the dominance isn't limited to one venue. The Phillies are 9-19 during that span at Citi Field and 9-23 against them at Citizens Bank Park.

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies (15-27) vs. Rockies (29-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies were supposed to take a step forward in 2017. Pete Mackanin went out on a limb when he said before the season that he thought they could be close to a .500 team, and so far they've fallen well short of that expectation.

At 15-27, the Phillies are on pace to go 58-104, an even worse record than 2015, the year of Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, etc.

They hope to stop the profuse bleeding tonight against the Rockies, who can't lose on the road lately.

1. Franco and Saunders sit
Looking for some more offense, or just a different approach, Mackanin is sitting Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders tonight in favor of Andres Blanco and Ty Kelly (see lineup).

Franco has actually been hitting a bit more in May, picking up a hit in nine straight games before going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Monday. Still, he's hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage, and his .657 OPS is 27 percent below the league average.

Saunders just hasn't done much with the Phillies. He's hitting .227/.273/.383 with four homers and 15 RBIs, and he's struck out 35 times in 150 plate appearances. Two of those four homers came in games that were already decided.

It's a rare start for Blanco, just his fifth of the season. Coming mostly off the bench the last four seasons, he's been a consistent hitter for the Phillies, batting .270/.333/.449 with 43 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs in 559 plate appearances, essentially a full season's worth.

2. Eflin's turn
Mackanin's hope is that with Aaron Nola back from the DL, Jeremy Hellickson appearing to turn a corner and Zach Eflin giving the Phils some consistent innings, the starting rotation can get into a groove, thus helping out the bullpen and giving the Phillies a chance to win more close games the way they did in 2016.

Jerad Eickhoff was just OK last night, allowing four runs in six innings as he dropped to 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA. A quality start tonight from Eflin against a strong Rockies lineup would go a long way because the Phillies really need more than half of their rotation to be clicking right now.

Eflin was rocked his last start in Texas, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and two walks over four innings. It caused his ERA to rise from 2.81 to 4.25 and his WHIP from 1.00 to 1.25.

As is usually the case when Eflin doesn't pitch well, he just wasn't getting his sinker low enough in the zone. He had induced 40 groundballs over his previous three starts before picking up just eight against the Rangers. 

An interesting note on Eflin is that he's struck out just five of the 70 right-handed hitters he's faced compared to 13 of the 85 lefties he's seen. Righties have hit .323 off him with a .798 OPS compared to .250 with a .715 OPS from lefties.

Current Rockies are 3 for 16 off Eflin with just one extra-base hit. He faced Colorado last season at Coors Field and gave up just two runs over six innings.

3. An unlikely start
Unlike most seasons, the Rockies are pitching well and winning on the road. Colorado has gotten off to hot starts almost every year the last five, but it's usually fueled by an unsustainably hot offense. 

Hasn't been the case in 2017. The Rockies are middle of the pack with a 4.29 ERA, a half-run lower than the Phillies. And away from Coors Field, they have a 3.45 ERA, the second-lowest road ERA for any team behind the Diamondbacks.

The run has been credited to a young starting staff that has been missing projected No. 1 Jon Gray. We saw former first-round pick Jeff Hoffman dominate the Phillies last night (seven innings, three hits, one run, seven strikeouts) and tonight the Phils face 22-year-old German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

One of the biggest difference-makers for the Rockies in 2017 has been closer Greg Holland, who signed a prove-it deal with Colorado coming off a major injury. He has 19 saves and a 0.96 ERA in 20 appearances and has earned himself a whole of money this winter.

4. The book on Marquez 
The Rockies acquired Marquez along with left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the January 2016 trade that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays, where he's thrived.

Marquez made just a handful of appearances in the majors last season but has been solid for the Rockies in five starts so far this year. 

He throws pretty much all four-seam fastballs (65 percent) and curveballs (24 percent), with his heater averaging 95.1 mph. He'll also mix in a few changeups to lefties and cutters.

In two starts away from Coors Field, Marquez has allowed just one run in 11 innings with 11 strikeouts. He's kept the ball in the park in four of five starts.

5. This and that
• Good to see Aaron Altherr pick up two doubles last night. He was 6 for his previous 33.

• Tommy Joseph in May: .345/.418/.707, six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs. 

• Since beginning the season on an eight-game hitting streak, Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP, six walks and 35 strikeouts.

• Daniel Nava was placed on the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. LHP Adam Morgan was recalled again from Triple A to take his place on the active roster.