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.

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

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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.