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: Eric Thames hits league-leading 11th home run in Brewers' win vs. Reds

Best of MLB: Eric Thames hits league-leading 11th home run in Brewers' win vs. Reds

MILWAUKEE -- Eric Thames hit his major league-leading 11th home run -- his sixth against Cincinnati this season -- and the Milwaukee Brewers cruised to a 9-1 victory over the Reds on Tuesday night.

In his first season with the Brewers, Thames capped a five-run sixth with a two-run drive off reliever Robert Stephenson.

Hernan Perez had a pair of RBI triples, then homered off Stephenson leading off the sixth, and Jonathan Villar had a pair of two-run singles.

Zach Davies (2-2) allowed six hits in five scoreless innings, lowering his ERA from 8.24 to 6.57. He stranded a pair of runners in three innings (see full recap).

Keuchel tosses complete game in Astros' win over Indians
CLEVELAND -- Dallas Keuchel pitched a complete game to extend his promising start to the season and the Houston Astros beat the Cleveland Indians 4-2 Tuesday night even though Jose Altuve and Teoscar Hernandez left following a frightening collision in the eighth inning.

Altuve and Hernandez were chasing a popup in right field and stayed down for a while after. Altuve appeared to get hit near his chin by Hernandez's arm, but he walked off the field under his own power. Hernandez, called up from the minors before the game, was carted off the field with an injury to his left leg.

Keuchel (4-0) gave up solo homers to Austin Jackson in the third and Michael Brantley in the ninth. The left-hander, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, held Cleveland to six hits and has a 1.22 ERA.

Josh Tomlin (1-3) allowed three runs -- all in the fifth -- in six innings (see full recap).

Tigers score 9 in 9th to rout Mariners, 19-9
DETROIT -- James McCann, Justin Upton and Alex Avila homered for Detroit -- and that was before the Tigers added nine runs in the fifth inning en route to a 19-9 rout of the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night.

Felix Hernandez (2-2) allowed four runs in two innings in his shortest outing since 2015, and Seattle's next two pitchers fared even worse. Detroit finished with 24 hits, 19 of which came in the first five innings. That was despite injuries that kept Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias out of the lineup.

Jordan Zimmermann (2-1) allowed five runs in six innings. Jean Segura, Danny Valencia and Nelson Cruz hit solo homers for Seattle, but that wasn't nearly enough to keep up with Detroit's offensive onslaught.

Mikie Mahtook added another home run for the Tigers in the eighth. Ian Kinsler had four hits and four runs before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

The Phillies' starting pitching rotation, for the time being, features four arms that were acquired in trades that have coincided with the team's rebuild, which started after the 2014 season.

Nick Pivetta will become the latest to join the group when he is officially activated. He was in the Phillies' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, but those plans changed when Tuesday night's game against the Miami Marlins was postponed because of rain.

No makeup date was announced.

The rainout means Pivetta's big-league debut will be pushed back. Vince Velasquez, Tuesday's scheduled starter, will pitch Wednesday night against the Marlins and Jeremy Hellickson will start the series finale Thursday. Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are likely to stay on turn and pitch Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles. That means Pivetta's debut will likely happen Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Not a bad venue for an unveiling. He does not have to be activated until that day. In the interim, the Phils are carrying an extra reliever in Mark Leiter Jr.

Even with the weather-related change in plans, Pivetta was thrilled to be in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"I've achieved my goal of getting here eventually," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I'm happy to be here. I want to get my feet on solid ground right now and just take it one step at a time."

Pivetta is a Canadian from Victoria, British Columbia, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle. As a kid, he watched Toronto Blue Jays' games on television and idolized Roy Halladay.

Victoria must now be Phillies territory. Michael Saunders, the team's rightfielder, also hails from the town.

"You see it more and more, more Canadians getting into the game of baseball, so it's always nice to see another one in the locker room," said Saunders, 30. "Clearly he's pitched well enough to earn his way up here and I'm looking forward to seeing him play."

Pivetta is 6-5, 225 pounds. He was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. The Phillies acquired him for Jonathan Papelbon and cash in July 2015.

Pivetta will take Aaron Nola's spot in the rotation. Nola is on the disabled list with tightness in his lower back. He could be back as soon as early next week.

Nola said he probably could have pushed himself and stayed in the rotation, but the team chose to be cautious.

"I don't think it's any big thing," Nola said.

With Pivetta on board, the Phillies now have four pitchers in their rotation that came over in "rebuild" trades.

Eflin arrived in the December 2014 deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers.

Eickhoff came in the July 2015 deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers.

Velasquez came in the December 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

Pivetta did not immediately pitch well upon joining the Phillies organization. He had a 7.31 ERA in seven starts for Double A Reading in the summer of 2015. In 28 1/3 innings, he struck out 25 and walked 19.

Pivetta was a different pitcher last season. He registered a 3.27 ERA in 148 2/3 innings between Double A and Triple A, struck out 138 and walked 51. That performance earned him a spot on the team's 40-man roster.

"In 2016, he showed us the potential to be a really good major-league pitcher," said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. "He was a little excitable after the trade in 2015, but he came back calm and confident last year. His stuff is legit — 93 to 96 (mph) with life on the fastball, good breaking ball and good feel for the changeup."

His control continued to improve this season as he got off to a 3-0 start at Triple A. He pitched 19 innings, gave up just two earned runs, walked just two and struck out 24.

"Just getting ahead with my fastball," said Pivetta, explaining the early-season success that put him in line for the promotion. "First-pitch strikes are big. Even if I get into that 0-1 count or that 1-1 count, getting back to that 1-2 count is big. So being able to even up those counts have been really big for me, as well, and being able to finish off with my off-speed later in the counts, too."

Pivetta pitched for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. He made one start and took a no-decision in the team's 4-1 loss to Columbia. Pivetta worked four innings and allowed one run.

"That helped me," Pivetta said. "It was awesome. It was like having playoff baseball in March."

It's not clear how long Pivetta will stay in the big-league rotation. But he has more than put himself on the map, and if he continues to pitch well, he'll make more starts with the big club this season.

"I did not expect to be here this early in the season," he said. "I am happy to be here right now. I'll see how long I stay and just have fun while I am here."