Today in the NL East: Pair go for 13th win


Today in the NL East: Pair go for 13th win

The Phillies lost again Friday night, falling 6-2 to the lowly Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay). Cliff Lee took his sixth loss, the team came up short for the 11th time in 12 games, and Charlie Manuel was not happy afterward (see story).

The Phils will look to snap the skid Saturday night at Coors Field, when Vance Worley will take the hill against the Rockies' Jeremy Guthrie (see game notes).

Meanwhile, the team has yet to lock up Cole Hamels, though Ruben Amaro insists the Phils' goal is to sign him long term (see story).

Here's what's going on around the division on the first Saturday of the second half:

Mets at Braves, 4:05 p.m.
After pitching a scoreless inning in the All-Star Game, Mets ace R.A. Dickey will lead the Mets against Tommy Hanson and the Braves at Turner Field.

Dickey (12-1, 2.40 ERA), who leads in WHIP and is tied for the lead in wins, will look to become baseballs first 13-game winner. He hasnt lost since April 18, coincidentally at Atlanta, when he allowed eight runs in 4 13 innings. He is 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA in seven career games at Turner Field.

Hanson (10-5, 3.71) has won six of his last seven decisions, but he has taken two losses at the hands of the Mets already this year. Hes also struggled this season at home, where he is 3-3 with a 4.63 ERA as opposed to 7-2 with a 3.00 ERA on the road.

After missing the Braves 7-5 win Friday, Brian McCann expects to return from paternity leave on Saturday. He was red hot before the break, hitting .421 with four homers and 11 RBIs in his last five games.

Nationals at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
It may be tough to believe, but its July 14 and Washington still boasts the best record in the National League. Saturday night against the Marlins, the Nats will look to build upon their division lead and go for win No. 51 in Miami.

Two-time All-Star Gio Gonzalez (12-3, 2.92) takes the ball for Washington. A winner in four straight starts, Gonzalez also possesses a strikeout rate of 10.45 per nine, second in the league only to teammate Stephen Strasburg.

Mark Buehrle (8-8, 3.25) goes for the Marlins. The 33-year-old has been streaky all season but is hot right now with a three-game winning streak. Over that span, he has yielded just two runs in 21 23 innings, striking out 22 and walking three. Before the streak began, he had lost four in a row.

Miami will be without its only All-Star, Giancarlo Stanton, who is currently on the 15-day disabled list after undergoing knee surgery.

Today's Lineup: Odubel Herrera back in center, leading off against Giants

Today's Lineup: Odubel Herrera back in center, leading off against Giants

With the Phillies looking for their first series win since May 16-18, Pete Mackanin has Odubel Herrera back in the leadoff spot after giving the centerfielder the night off Saturday.

While Herrera continues to be the Phillies' best hitter, the second-year outfielder has been sloppy in the field. Through 73 games this season, Herrera has committed seven errors.

Before Saturday's 3-2 win over the Giants, Herrera was seen taking fly balls in right field off the bat of outfield instructor Juan Samuel (see story). For now, he's staying in center.

Herrera leads the Phillies with a .296 average with seven home runs and 26 RBIs this season, but he's hitting just .245 in June.

On Sunday, he'll face Johnny Cueto (11-1, 2.06) and the Giants.

Here's the full Phillies lineup:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Peter Bourjos, RF
3. Tommy Joseph, 1B
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Cody Asche, LF
6. Carlos Ruiz, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

At Reading, Dusty Wathan creating winning atmosphere for Phillies' prospects

At Reading, Dusty Wathan creating winning atmosphere for Phillies' prospects

READING, Pa. -- At 53-22, the Reading Fightin Phils have the best record in professional baseball. Not just the best record in Double A or the minor leagues — anywhere.

Unfortunately, that doesn't do much for the Phillies, who are currently closer to being in contention for the worst record in baseball, at least not right now anyway. Somewhere down the road, however, these prospects getting a taste of winning at the lower levels could mean a great deal to the franchise.

"It's a big part of player development," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said. "You come up through the organization winning together, it's kind of part of the way we want to teach guys.

"You can go out here and lose 80 or 90 games every year, and your last 30 or 40 games you're really not playing for anything. If you can keep these guys playing for something as the year goes on, you're gonna get more out of them."

Some of the top prospects in the organization are currently at Reading, which should probably come as no surprise given the team's success. Catcher Jorge Alfaro, righthanders Ricardo Pinto and Nick Pivetta, first baseman Rhys Hoskins and outfielder Dylan Cozens are all top 30 prospects for the Phillies, and all having fine seasons. The latter two, Hoskins and Cozens, have belted 39 home runs combined — more than the Atlanta Braves.

That's not even counting all the players Reading has lost this season. Outfielder Roman Quinn has been on and off the disabled list all season. Righthanders Ben Lively and Alec Asher and J.P. Crawford — the No. 1 ranked prospect in the organization — are among the names that already received promotions to Triple A.

Despite some of the big names to have passed through, Reading just keeps on coming up victorious. The club is 19-4 in June that's featured an 11-game winning streak.

"It says a lot about the organization and the guys that we've had here the whole year," Wathan said. "The scouting department's done a tremendous job, and we've got some guys that when other guys have gone up, those guys have stepped in and filled in nicely.

"I had guys on the bench that would be playing everyday in a lot of lineups in this league, and they weren't getting a chance because of those guys. They were patient and they're producing right now and giving us a chance to win every night."

The success has certainly contributed to the atmosphere at the ballpark. While nobody quite saw this coming, Hoskins — who leads the Eastern League with 20 homers — admits it's been a big confidence boost for everybody involved.

"Best team in baseball is pretty cool to say, but I don't think we knew that at the start," Hoskins said. "The guys that we have, this is a good group of guys, and we've shuffled players a lot. Guys have come in and done their jobs really well, so it's just a testament to all the guys in the clubhouse.

"Obviously when you win, it makes baseball more fun. I'm not that surprised that we (had that winning streak). I think we've been doing that all year. It seems like we'll win five or six then lose a game, win six or seven then lose a game, so it was only a matter of time before we rattled off 12, 13, 14, whatever we did. Don't be surprised if we do it again."

That success is starting to happen at the next level as well, where the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are heating up. The Phillies' Triple A affiliate is 18-6 in June, improving its overall record to 44-32.

As Wathan said, this is valuable experience for young players and a positive sign for their development. It's probably not a bad thing for the Phillies, seeing prospects who are on the doorstep of the majors creating this kind of excitement.

They can only hope it will translate to more winning for the big club in time — even if that means a few years from now.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Another day, another ace to face in Johnny Cueto

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Another day, another ace to face in Johnny Cueto

Phillies (32-44) at Giants (48-28)
4:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies picked up a shocking win over Madison Bumgarner on Saturday night and look to win their three-game series with the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants on Sunday.

A slumping Aaron Nola takes the hill for the Phils against the Giants' other ace, Johnny Cueto.

Here are five things to know for Sunday afternoon's game. 

1. Righting the ship?
It's been a rough little stretch for Nola. After he looked like the Phillies' most dependable pitcher through May, hitters have teed off on him in his last few starts.

The stats are not for the faint of heart.

Nola has a 15.83 ERA in his last three starts, allowing 20 runs — 17 earned — in fewer than 10 innings. Opponents have also collected 22 hits off him in all three losses. The stretch has taken his sterling 2.65 ERA up to 4.11. 

Unlike his losses earlier in the season, home runs have not been the main culprit. He gave up two homers to the Blue Jays on June 16, but none to the Twins or Nationals in the starts sandwiching the Toronto outing. 

What can easily be lost in all of this is Nola is just 23 years old and in his second big league season. Performances like this are par for the course with young pitchers (see Velasquez, Vince for reference) and it will be a key part of his development to see how he bounces back.

Ultimately, the best pitchers separate themselves by their ability to avoid bad innings and hold the opposition at bay when they don't have their best stuff. Nola has done that at times in his short major league career, but doing so on a consistent basis would help him move toward becoming the ace Phillies fans crave.

2. Here's Johnny
Facing Nola is a pitcher who has been and can easily continue to be characterized as an ace. Johnny Cueto has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since coming back to the National League this offseason.

As many know, Cueto was the Reds' top pitcher until last July, when Cincinnati shipped him to Kansas City for a haul of pitching prospects. While the Royals expected him to be an ace, he fell flat during the regular season for the first-place Royals.

But he shined in the postseason. Despite a clunker against Toronto, he pitched the Royals to victory in Game 5 of the ALDS over the Houston Astros and threw an electrifying complete game win in Game 2 of the World Series to propel Kansas City past the Mets. The Giants then signed the free agent pitcher to a six-year, $130 million deal. 

With his poor regular season numbers in KC, many worried about tossing a long-term deal at him this offseason. The Giants' faith in his overall résumé has paid off.

In 109⅓ innings, Cueto has a 2.06 ERA and an 11-1 record, striking out 96 batters. He's allowed fewer than one walk and hit per inning pitched and has looked worth every penny. 

The numbers are even better in his last seven starts. He is 6-0 with a 1.05 ERA in that span, allowing just 30 hits and 11 walks compared to 43 strikeouts. His outright filthy stuff will be an issue for Phillies hitters Sunday afternoon.

3. Brandon Belt: highly underrated
There are plenty of reasons why the Giants have one of the best records in baseball right now and it doesn't all boil down to Cueto and Bumgarner. One major piece is Brandon Belt's emergence in the middle of their lineup.

In a year where Buster Posey hasn't quite been his MVP-esque self, Belt has taken over as the Giants' best hitter. Belt, 28, took a step back in 2014, but has improved steadily over the past two years, going from solid starter to All-Star worthy. 

The .275 career hitter is batting .304 in 72 games this year. He has an on-base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500, displaying both the power analysts hoped for, and the strong eye at the plate that kept him a Giants' regular. 

The Phillies have gotten an up-close look at the strides he's taken during this series. He knocked in three runs on two doubles Friday before picking up a single off Jeremy Hellickson Saturday. While he hadn't hit the Phillies well before 2015, he hit .360 against them last year with a homer. 

If there's one batter you don't want to let beat you on the 2016 Giants, it's surely Belt with his steady lefty swing. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Andres Blanco continues to earn more playing time. One of the few hitters with prior success against Bumgarner, Blanco knocked in the Phillies' first run Saturday night against the Giants' ace before scoring the tying run. His .273 batting average is second on the team.

Giants: Angel Pagan carries a six-game hitting streak into Sunday. His three hits and two RBIs helped propel San Francisco past the Phillies on Friday and he followed that up with a hit Saturday. 

5. This and that 
• Cameron Rupp hit his seventh home run of the season Saturday. It took him until Aug. 28 last season to reach that number. 

• Ryan Howard is 4 for 21 with four walks against Cueto. He hit a home run against him in 2009.

• Nola has never faced the Giants. He has not faced any of their hitters, even when they were on other teams (Denard Span was injured for the Nationals last year when Nola faced Washington). 

• Cueto is 1-4 with a 5.05 ERA against the Phillies in his career.