Phillies (34-64) vs. Astros (67-33)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App
After being dominated by the AL-best Houston Astros on two consecutive nights, the Phillies attempt to avoid a sweep with their best pitcher on the mound.
1. Unstoppable offense
As Nick Pivetta was cruising through the first five innings last night, retiring 14 of the first 15 batters he faced, you just knew the Astros' offense wouldn't be dormant for long.
Sure enough, they put up a four-spot in the sixth and the game was over.
Last night's game was the 64th time the Astros have scored five runs or more this season. The league average is 45. The Phillies have done it just 34 times, fewest in the majors.
The Astros won easily despite missing Carlos Correa, George Springer and losing Alex Bregman early to an injury. There's a ton to like about this team, and being there to watch them on the field pregame the last two days, it sticks out how loose this team is. They should be — they're winning game after game after game and blowing out their opponents.
2. Nola time
Last night was a confidence-builder for Pivetta even though he allowed five runs because it showed him and the Phillies that when his slider is working and his fastball command is there, he can silence the best of offenses.
Likewise, a successful start tonight from Aaron Nola would be huge, whether the Phillies win or lose.
Nola over his last six starts has gone 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA and .190 opponents' batting average. He's struck out 50 and walked 13 in 42⅓ innings.
Nola dominated the Brewers his last time out — seven innings, one run, nine strikeouts — by utilizing all four of his pitches. He threw 31 two-seam fastballs, 27 four-seam fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs. He'll need a similar mix tonight because this Astros team hunts fastballs early in the count and is ready to pounce on any pitch that catches too much of the middle of the plate.
Nola typically pounds the strike zone, but tonight he might be wise to begin a few more at-bats than usual with a get-me-over breaking ball.
An at-bat that stuck out last night was Evan Gattis' in the sixth inning. He came up with two men on and one out, and Pivetta threw two 96 mph fastballs by him in a 3-1 count to strike him out. Both fastballs were in very hittable zones, but because Pivetta had Gattis thinking up there about all the sliders he saw earlier in the game, Gattis couldn't catch up to the heat.
That's really the only way you can keep a team like this off balance.
3. Franco back in his shell
It looked like maybe, finally, Maikel Franco was turning a corner right after the All-Star break, but alas.
Franco is 0 for 15 with seven strikeouts over his last four games and just like that, he's back to hitting .224/.282.390.
Franco's batting averages by month this year: .213, .218, .224, .241.
His on-base percentages: .273, .274, .284, .299.
He has a .296 OBP the last two seasons, which a middle-of-the-order hitter cannot get away with unless he's hitting 40 home runs.
At a certain point, you have to accept that Franco is who he is. And with how wild and inconsistent his approach is, secondary factors like lineup protection don't really mean a ton.
4. Herrera to sit?
Pete Mackanin double-switched Odubel Herrera out of last night's game after a few questionable moments. Herrera bat-flipped a deep flyout, then later didn't run out a dropped third strike. Neither was completely out of the norm for Herrera, but Mackanin doesn't want to let every one of these events go so he pulled him.
"It's not a secret. It's talked about," catcher Cameron Rupp said (see story). "If you guys are seeing it, we are seeing it. It is what it is. We can say it to him, Pete has said it to him. It's no secret and when you don't do it, you put Pete in that position to do what he did.
"Pete is the manager and what he asks us to do, we're supposed to do. It's a team thing and one guy can't just not follow the rules. It's not the first time. It has happened before and that's something we don't want to see. We want him in the game. He's a good player. Pete doesn't ask a whole lot of us. He asks us to play the game hard and play the game the right way."
Herrera has been the Phillies' best hitter the last two months, batting .331 since June 3 with a majors-leading 20 doubles. But as Mackanin said last night, Herrera, too, is in a developmental phase. It's just the development is more mental than physical.
5. This and that
• Two perfect innings last night from Luis Garcia ran his scoreless innings streak up to 19⅓. Over that time, his opponents have hit .108. Garcia might get a shot at the closer's job in spring training 2018.
• Jose Altuve went 1 for 4 with a double and a run scored last night. How locked in is he? It was only the fourth time in his last 16 games he didn't have multiple hits. Altuve is hitting exactly .500 (47 for 94) since June 27.
• Earlier this week, Mackanin indicated Aaron Altherr could come off the disabled list today. We shall see. When Altherr does return, the Phillies will have some decisions to make in the outfield unless they end up trading Howie Kendrick before Monday's deadline.
• The Phillies face a hot pitcher tonight in Mike Fiers (7-4, 3.59). Fiers has struck out 20 in 14 innings his last two starts and helped to solidify the back of Houston's rotation. Carlos Gomez was the headliner of the trade two summers ago with Milwaukee, but it's Fiers who has had the most staying power with Houston.