Has it really been nearly four weeks since the Phillies won back-to-back games? They have played 22 games since winning three straight from May 13-17. And none of those 22 games have featured back-to-back wins. It’s been a while. The Phils can finally change that tonight with their best pitcher on the mound.
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— Matt Breen (email@example.com)
Aaron Nola is pitching like an all-star
Aaron Nola’s start Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park will be exactly five weeks from the All-Star Game, and it is becoming difficult to imagine the midsummer classic without the Phillies righthander. Just take a look how he stacks up among National League starters:
ERA: 2.35, sixth best
FIP: 2.80, third best
WAR: 2.4, third best
HR/9: 2.35, 10th best
BB/9: 0.53, third best
His all-star numbers stem from an increased ability this season to induce weak contact. He has the third-best groundball rate among National League starters, and he has allowed the NL’s fifth-lowest rate of hard contact. His change-up, which he has started to throw more this season, is nearly unhittable, which has made his fastball even better.
Batters are swinging at more of Nola’s pitches this season, but that’s fine because the contact, if there is any, tends to be weak. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is the eighth best in the NL. Nola’s .251 mark is 58 points lower than it was last season and 83 points lower than it was in 2016. The contact has been so weak that a number that low might be sustainable.
It is difficult to know now how many representatives the Phillies will get next month in Washington, but if the Phillies get just one — which they have for the past four seasons — then Nola is making a strong case to be the lone Phil.
Odubel Herrera enters Tuesday batting just .163 in his last 20 games. Gabe Kapler said Herrera is going through a rough time as he tries to find his timing and rhythm at the plate.
Need a good sign for the Phillies lineup? Wait for Kapler to bat J.P. Crawford ninth again. If Crawford can consistently get on base, then Kapler will move him back to ninth, where he planned to bat Crawford this season as a way to get someone on base for the top of the order.
There were a lot of rumblings around Zach Eflin, who looked to be in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot after two rough outings. But the righthander responded by taking down two of the National League’s best teams. His spot now looks secure.
Tonight: The Rockies visit to start three-game series, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Nick Pivetta faces Tyler Anderson, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Vince Velasquez vs. German Marquez in the series finale, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Phils head to Milwaukee to play the Brew Crew, 8:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
Remember how comfortable Ryan Braun looked this past weekend at Citizens Bank Park? You might want to get ready for Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon, who seems to love South Philly. Blackmon has seven homers in 65 plate appearances at CBP. His OPS (1.190) and homer rate (one per every 9.28 trips to the plate) at Citizens Bank are higher than they are at any other ballpark. You’ve been warned.
From the mailbag
Question: Are you able to explain why Kapler has a natural SS who plays excellent defense at third base instead and a natural second baseman who plays inferior defense at SS? Why not J.P. at SS and Kingery at third? James L., email
Answer: Crawford is at third because he has a stronger arm than Kingery and showed last year the ability to play third. Kingery was starting to look comfortable at shortstop around the time Crawford returned from the DL, so it wouldn’t have made sense then to move him to third. All of this is a result of the Phillies’ practically shifting Maikel Franco to a platoon role.
Here’s what Gabe Kapler said when asked that question last week: “A natural shortstop becomes natural because they play shortstop. I guess that’s the fairest and most direct way to answer it. Scotty is getting more and more natural at shortstop every day. At what point is he a natural shortstop? We don’t know. We know he has the capability to play second base because he’s played a lot of second base. The reason we know that is because he has played a lot of second base. So we want to get Scotty as many reps as possible to see what we have in him as a shortstop as well. It’s kind of cool to have two natural shortstops.”