Phillies-Mets 5 things: Zeroes needed from Nola with Syndergaard on the hill

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Zeroes needed from Nola with Syndergaard on the hill

Phillies (5-9) at Mets (8-7)
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Mets might have to rename him Babe Bruce before it's all over.

The Phillies move into the rubber match of their series at Citi Field against the Mets Thursday feeling like they probably should already have the series win.

They led 2-0 last night and Vince Velasquez was cruising until Bruce again victimized the Phillies with a three-run jack.

Let's take a look at what to expect tonight:

1. Bruce Almighty
Bruce is not a superstar. He's a power hitter who strikes out a lot, doesn't hit lefties and has hit .234 with a .298 on-base percentage since 2014.

Just imagine what his numbers would look like if it wasn't for Phillies pitching.

In 67 career games against the Phils, Bruce has hit .333/.383/.650 with 21 home runs and 58 RBIs. Over the last two seasons alone, he's hit .422 against them with eight homers and 22 RBIs in 19 games.

Bruce has driven in more runs (11) in five games against the Phillies than any Phillie has driven in all season. (Maikel Franco leads the team with 10 RBIs.)

Bruce is 2 for 6 with two strikeouts against Aaron Nola, who starts tonight. 

2. Nola building momentum
Nola has opened his all-important bounce-back year with two solid starts. He allowed three runs in six innings and struck out seven in the Phillies' 17-3 outburst over the Nationals, then limited the Nats to one run over five innings last Friday.

In the second start, Nola struck out six, walked none and generated 11 groundballs against a power-packed lineup. 

More impressive than the numbers, though, is the fact that 49.7 percent of Nola's pitches this season have been in the lower-third of the strike zone. That number was similar last season, but the difference was he was often missing off the plate low and falling behind in counts.

Low in the zone is where he -- and really any pitcher -- needs to live. The extra-base hits pile up when Nola is elevating his 91-93 mph fastball.

When Nola first made it up to the bigs, he impressed with precise fastball command and a knee-buckling breaking ball that starts at a right-handed hitter's hip and ends over the plate. Pitchers usually need more than two pitches to be effective long-term, but the combination of that fastball command and curveball movement led to immediate success for Nola.

The Mets are an aggressive team, and every current Met who has faced him has at least one hit. Collectively, they're 8 for 20 with a double, a homer, no walks and four strikeouts.

Mets like Yoenis Cespedes and Bruce are going to be hunting early fastballs, so don't be surprised to see a few more get-me-over breaking balls than usual from Nola. Through two starts, Nola has thrown his fastball or sinker on the first pitch 63 percent of the time to righties and 50 percent of the time to lefties.

3. The Mighty Thor
The Phillies have their work cut out Thursday night against all-world right-hander Noah Syndergaard. 

Syndergaard has become much, much more than just a hard-thrower. He's a hard thrower who stays out of the middle of the plate, usually succeeds even when he misses over the plate, and doesn't walk anybody.

Through three starts, Syndergaard has a 0.95 ERA with 20 strikeouts and no walks or homers allowed. This after a 2016 season in which he went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts to 43 walks in 183 2/3 innings.

There will be many near-triple-digit fastballs for Phillies hitters tonight. Syndergaard has thrown 11 pitches at 98 mph or faster this season, third-most among starting pitchers to Carlos Martinez and Luis Severino. Only two of those 11 pitches have been put in play and both were groundouts.

Throughout his career, the best way to get to Syndergaard has been early in the count. His opponents have hit .333 on the first pitch, .342 with the count 1-0 and .377 with the count 0-1. Once he reaches two strikes, though, good luck -- his opponents have hit .156 and struck out in 53 percent of those at-bats.

Syndergaard is 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA in four career starts against the Phillies. He's struck out 30, walked six and allowed three home runs in 26 1/3 innings.

Two of those homers were hit by Freddy Galvis, who's 3 for 11 with two bombs and a double. Odubel Herrera is 1 for 12, Cameron Rupp is 1 for 9 with five K's, and Cesar Hernandez is 1 for 6 with three walks and two strikeouts.

4. Where's the pop?
Hernandez is hitting .317 with a .358 OBP, Herrera is hitting .292 with a .404 OBP and Howie Kendrick was hitting .333 with a .395 OBP when he went on the DL.

And yet the Phillies are 5-9 and still not scoring very many runs. Aside from the 17-run game against the Nationals, they've averaged 3.77 runs per game.

Know how many runs they averaged last season? That would be 3.77 runs per game.

If I told you before the season that two weeks in, the top three hitters in the Phillies' lineup had a combined OBP of .385, you'd think the offense would be thriving, right?

That's where the non-existent offense in those 4 through 7 slots comes into play. Phillies cleanup batters are hitting .170. They've gotten a .163 batting average out of the six-spot and a .167 from their seventh hitters.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp just haven't gotten it done. More power is expected from all three, but they all have low ceilings when it comes to getting on base. That trio combined for 62 home runs in 2016 but Franco led the group with a .306 OBP.

Just not a deep enough or complete enough offense, which is why you've heard often this year about all those big bats available in free agency after 2018.

5. This and that
• Mets closer Jeurys Familia is eligible to return tonight from a 15-game suspension. It will make a shaky bullpen that much better.

• Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta dominated again at Lehigh Valley Thursday afternoon: 6 innings, 4 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 11 strikeouts.

Through three starts, Pivetta -- who was acquired in the Jonathan Papelbon trade two summers ago -- has a 0.95 ERA with 24 strikeouts and two walks.

• Michael Saunders, who looked off balance through his first nine games, is getting into a groove. He has three multi-hit games in his last five, though all seven hits have been singles.

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

BOX SCORE

The loudest noise made by the Phillies' offense on Monday night was the thud — clearly audible above the small crowd — that Odubel Herrera created when he smashed his batting helmet on the dirt infield after grounding out to third base to end the seventh inning.

Herrera's frustration spoke for an entire team. The Phillies were hammered, 8-1, by the Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay). They were out-hit, 13-3. The loss was the Phils' 18th in the last 22 games and they have been outscored 126-89 over that span.

The loss left the Phils at 15-27 for the season, matching their worst 42-game start since 2000 when they finished 65-97 in front of tiny crowds at Veterans Stadium in Terry Francona's last season as skipper.

Over the last two games, both losses, the Phils have just six hits.

"Three hits today, three hits yesterday," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You're not going to win a lot of games getting three hits."

Aaron Altherr had two of the Phillies' hits, both doubles against Colorado rookie Jeff Hoffman, who was very impressive with seven walk-free innings and seven strikeouts.

Herrera went hitless in three at-bats and is hitting just .200 in the month of May and .232 overall -- not what the front office expected when it signed him to a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension in the offseason.

"It's very frustrating because I feel like I am being selective and waiting for my pitch, but when I make contact things don't happen," Herrera said. "I feel like I'm swinging the bat well, but I'm just missing."

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff gave up nine hits, seven of which were singles, and four runs over six innings. Four of the hits that Eickhoff allowed came in the third inning when the Rockies scored three times. Two of the runs scored on a flare double and the other on a groundball through a drawn-in infield.

"I executed a lot of good pitches," Eickhoff said. "I got a lot of the contact I wanted. The ball just didn't land in the gloves."

Eickhoff did not walk a batter. He struck out four.

Despite being 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA in nine starts, the right-hander believes he has made strides his last two outings. He gave up three runs (two earned) over six innings in his previous outing at Texas. Prior to that start, he worked on fixing a mechanical flaw in his delivery.

"These past two have been night-and-day different," he said. "I felt great today in and in Texas and I'm going to keep that positivity going."

Finding other things to be positive about with this team is becoming difficult.

This Phillies team was not expected to contend; it is still in a rebuild. But things weren't supposed to be this bad, either.

"I’ll tell you what, I’m getting frustrated, too," general manager Matt Klentak said before the game. "This team is better … There is more talent on this team than we’ve shown in terms of our record.

"We’ll pull out of it. We will. That’s what talented players will do. I’m not going to tell the fans they shouldn’t be frustrated. We’ve gone through a tough stretch.

"But I’m not ready to call it regression. I think there’s been a lack of consistency on our team in general, with some players more than others. There’s been a lack of consistency, but especially for young players, two months is a relatively small sample size to categorize it as regression."

At 29-17, the Rockies have the best record in the National League. They have 16 road wins, which is one more than the Phillies have overall. The Rockies are in town for three more days. This ugly start could get even uglier.

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Max Kepler homered and drove in four runs, Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco each had a career-high four hits and the Minnesota Twins roared back to beat the Baltimore Orioles 14-7 Monday night.

Minnesota trailed 5-0 in the second inning and 6-2 entering the fifth before cranking up the offense against Ubaldo Jimenez and an ineffective Baltimore bullpen.

A two-run double by Kepler helped the Twins knot the score in the fifth, Minnesota sent 11 batters to the plate in a six-run sixth and Sano added a two-run homer in the ninth.

Joe Mauer had three hits, two RBIs and scored twice for the Twins, who reached season highs in runs and hits (21).

Adam Jones hit a three-run drive in the second inning off Kyle Gibson (1-4) for Baltimore (see full recap).

Peacock, Astros 1-hit Tigers
HOUSTON -- Brad Peacock and three relievers combined for a one-hitter and Jose Altuve provided the offense with an RBI double to lead the Houston Astros to 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.

Peacock was solid moving out of the bullpen to make a spot start for injured ace Dallas Keuchel. In his first start since September, Peacock allowed the lone hit and struck out eight in 4 1/3 innings. He was lifted after walking Tyler Collins with one out in the fifth inning.

Chris Devenski (3-2) took over and pitched 2 2/3 innings for the win before Will Harris pitched a scoreless eighth. Ken Giles struck out two in the ninth for his 12th save to allow the Astros to bounce back after being swept by the Indians over the weekend.

Detroit's only hit was a single by Mikie Mahtook with one out in the third on a night the Tigers tied a season high by striking out 14 times. The team's only baserunner after Collins was Victor Martinez, who was plunked with one out in the seventh. But Houston still faced the minimum in that inning when J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play to end the seventh.

The Astros struck early against Michael Fulmer (5-2) when George Springer drew a leadoff walk before scoring on the double by Altuve to make it 1-0 with one out in the first (see full recap).

Homers help Yankees top Royals
NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Chris Carter homered, and the New York Yankees once again downed Jason Vargas by beating the Kansas City Royals 4-2 Monday night.

A reversed umpire's call in the seventh inning kept the Yankees ahead and enabled Michael Pineda (5-2) to top Vargas for the second time in a week. The Royals, with the worst record in the AL, have lost five of seven.

Vargas (5-3) began the day with a 2.03 ERA, tied for second-best in the majors. But the lefty fell to 0-7 lifetime against the Yankees when he was tagged by Gardner and Gregorius, the only left-handed hitters in the New York lineup (see full recap).