Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Opportunity for a rare 4-game win streak

Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Opportunity for a rare 4-game win streak

Phillies (33-61) vs. Brewers (52-47)
7:05 p.m. on NBC10; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

For the first time since they won four straight from June 3-6, the Phillies have a three-game winning streak going. On Friday night, they were carried by the arm of Aaron Nola, who is on a roll since early June (see story). Going for the Phils' fourth straight win, Jeremy Hellickson toes the rubber Saturday against rookie lefty Brent Suter.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Gone streaking?
A winning streak! The Phillies have put together one of their better stretches of the season over the last week, winning four out of five beginning with the final game of their set in Milwaukee. 

While the offense has picked up its play in that span (6.2 runs per game in the last five), the pitching needs to be mentioned first. The staff has come together well and looks much more like what the team expected in the spring. Fitting, the three-game streak began with six quality innings from Vince Velasquez. This season has been a struggle for the righty, who came off the disabled list in the win.

On Wednesday, Nick Pivetta allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings, but the bullpen held the Marlins scoreless. And then there was Nola on Friday. He looked sharp from the get-go and found a second gear when the lineup turned over. The second time through the lineup, he struck out seven batters in the midst of retiring 10 straight batters.

Now to the offense. Going into Friday's win, the Phillies were ninth in team OPS in July. Nick Williams has 10 hits in his last six games, picking up where Aaron Altherr left off. Maikel Franco has a five-game hit streak and has raised his average to .233, the highest it's been since the Phillies' opening series in April.

Meanwhile, the Brewers are ice cold. They've lost six straight and have a tenuous hold on their division with the red-hot Chicago Cubs on their heels. They're only a game up on the Cubs and are one behind in the loss column. They're only 2.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh and 3.5 up on the Cardinals. The clock may have hit midnight on baseball's first-half Cinderella.

2. Hellickson at home
In his last time out, Hellickson had the Brewers off balance for most of his outing. He was cruising into the fifth inning with a 1-0 lead, but the righty made one big mistake, leading to a home run by Brett Phillips that put Milwaukee up.

While the Phillies won the game, it ended Hellickson's day. It was the first time in his last five starts that he had failed to complete at least six innings.

The righty has been on a mini-roll since he was roughed up by the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park last month. In his last five appearances, he has a 3.26 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. He's allowed only 30 baserunners in that period and held batters to a .227 average. 

Looking at Hellickson's season as a whole, he has similar numbers away from CBP in 2017 compared to last year. However, he's faltered at home. He had a 3.16 ERA in 99 2/3 innings at CBP last year with a 4.55 K/BB ratio. This year, it's a 4.59 ERA with a 1.59 K/BB ratio while his home run rate has ballooned. It's not a great look for a pitcher the Phillies would like to trade.

3. Brewers turn to the rookie
With their division lead evaporating, the Brewers are turning to Suter, a rookie making just his 12th appearance and fifth start of the season after making 14 and two last year. 

And the lefty has looked good in limited action. In 32 innings, he has a 3.09 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 10 walks. He's allowed 32 hits and just one home run.

The 27-year-old lefty has had success despite his four-seam fastball topping out in the upper 80s. He still throws it 70.3 percent of the time working in his mid-70s slider and low-80s changeup with some success. He'll rarely throw his curveball. 

One may wonder how a lefty who doesn't touch 90 mph can handle RHBs. Believe it or not, Suter actually has a reverse split for his career, holding righties to a .680 OPS while LHBs hit .803 off him.

Suter has made three starts in July and has held hitters to a .254/.294/.317 slash line in 17 innings, striking out 15 and walking four.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Speaking of lefties, Odubel Herrera has had better command of the strike zone recently. He's drawn a walk in four consecutive games and has five walks to go with nine hits since the All-Star break.

Brewers: Eric Thames has cooled off considerably since his hot April, but he still leads the Brewers with 23 home runs this season and has a .774 OPS since May. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies haven't won back-to-back series since sweeping Atlanta and Miami April 21-27. They've lost every home series since taking two of three from the Giants on June 2-4.

• In five career starts against the Brewers, Hellickson is 3-1 with a 2.89 ERA over 28 innings. 

• Mark Leiter Jr. took a loss for Triple A Lehigh Valley on Friday, but Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery hit their 21st and fifth home runs for the IronPigs, respectively.

'The stage doesn't look too big for' Nick Williams after game-winning grand slam vs. Brewers

'The stage doesn't look too big for' Nick Williams after game-winning grand slam vs. Brewers

BOX SCORE

MILWAUKEE -- The sample size isn't very big — just 13 games — but Nick Williams is quickly making an impression.

The 23-year-old outfielder had two hits Sunday afternoon, including his first career grand slam which proved to be the deciding factor in the Phillies' 5-2 victory over the Brewers at Miller Park (see Instant Replay)

That boosted his average to .279, nearly matching the .280 mark he posted in 78 games earlier this season at Triple A Lehigh Valley, where he hit 15 home runs with 44 RBIs.

"He's been playing very aggressively," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He has some things he has to change with his swing, some holes like everybody else, but I like the way that he's playing. I'm happy with him so far."

That aggressiveness paid off in a big way Sunday.

The Phillies watched a 1-0 lead disappear an inning earlier when Brewers rookie Brett Phillips tagged Jeremy Hellickson for a two-run home run — the first of his career.

The Phillies opened the sixth with three straight singles off Rob Scahill, and with the left-handed-hitting Williams due up, Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell called on lefty Tyler Webb, who had yet to throw a pitch since being acquired in an All-Star break trade with the Yankees and only had six big league appearances under his belt before that.

But Williams was familiar with Webb from their time in Triple A and had an idea of what to expect. 

“I watched a couple of clips of him pitching and said, ‘Wait I think I faced this guy. A couple of weeks ago actually,'" Williams said. "In that situation, bases loaded I was thinking even if you hit the ball on the ground, get something going because we were down one run.”

Webb's first offering was a slider, right down the middle and Williams got all of it, putting the Phillies ahead.

“I don’t think I had a lot of success against him last year, but I remember I faced him this year," Williams said. "He threw me a first-pitch slider and I hit a homer. I remembered that. First pitch again, slider and another homer.

"It’s crazy.”

Williams' grand slam wasn't a cheap shot in a hitter-friendly yard, either, but rather a no-doubt-about-it blast that traveled an estimated 411 feet to left-center, one of the deepest parts of Miller Park. 

The distance was impressive but not nearly as much as the approach. 

“It was a mistake and he jumped all over it first pitch instead of taking it," Mackanin said. "Bases loaded, you’ve got to be ready for a mistake first pitch and he was.”

Acquired from Texas in a 2015 deadline deal that shipped Cole Hamels to the Rangers — the same deal that brought back Monday's starter Jerad Eickhoff — Williams struggled at times in the minor leagues and was even benched twice last season for failing to run hard.

There's been no issue with his hustle this season, Mackanin said. 

"Players have to self-motivate," Mackanin said. "That's the kind of guys we're looking for that you don't have to motivate. They motivate themselves. Hopefully, he's one of those guys.

"The test will be three, four years down the road, if and when he has some success that he continues to play like that and not fall into that trap."

And with the Phillies in rebuilding mode, Williams is starting to look like one of the players who could make up the nucleus of the next generation of winners.

Jeremy Hellickson tossed five innings of two-run ball but left early with an apparent calf injury. The righty said he is fine and expects to make his next start.

"He looks good," Hellickson said of Williams. "The stage doesn't look too big for him."

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Brewers 2

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Brewers 2

BOX SCORE

MILWAUKEE -- The Phillies gave the NL Central-leading Brewers a taste of their own medicine Sunday, avoiding a second-half-opening sweep when Nick Williams belted his first career grand slam in a 5-2 victory at Miller Park.

Starting pitching report
Jeremy Hellickson (6-5) earned his first victory since May 19 by holding the Brewers to a pair of runs on four hits and a walk while striking out six over five innings of work. 

He hadn't taken a decision in his last four starts, but including Sunday's effort, has a 3.28 ERA in his last 30 1/3 innings of work. 

Save for an eight-run outburst in the second inning Friday night, Philadelphia's starters had a good series against Milwaukee, which began the second half with the fourth-most runs in the National League.

Bullpen report
Nothing to see here, just another scoreless outing from right-hander Pat Neshek, who hasn't allowed a run in 38 of his 40 outings this season, including his last five in a row.

He was one of four relievers to combine for four shutout innings against the Brewers, who made some noise by putting runners at the corners with two outs in the eighth against Luis Garcia, but he maintained the three-run lead by getting Travis Shaw on a fly out to left, ending the threat. 

Hector Neris brought the tying run to the plate by putting two on to start the ninth but retired the next three in a row to lock down his eighth save of the year.

At the plate
Odubel Herrera moved into the leadoff spot after going 3 for 7 with two home runs and three RBIs in the first two games of the series.

He came up big again Sunday, picking up a pair of hits including an RBI ground-rule double in the fifth that gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

Williams also had two hits, highlighted by his go-ahead blast in the fourth inning — his second home run of the season and the third grand slam of the year by a Phillies' batter.

Up next
The Phillies travel to Miami where RHP Tom Koehler (1-4, 8.00 ERA) and the Marlins await for a three-game series. Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff (1-7, 4.63 ERA), who snapped a 14-start winless streak his last time out, gets the start for the Phillies.