Phillies-Cardinals 5 Things: Aaron Nola to Duel Scuffling Adam Wainwright in Series Finale - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Phillies-Cardinals 5 Things: Aaron Nola to Duel Scuffling Adam Wainwright in Series Finale

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    Phillies-Cardinals 5 Things: Aaron Nola to Duel Scuffling Adam Wainwright in Series Finale
    CSNPhilly.com
    Phillies-Cardinals 5 things: Aaron Nola to duel scuffling Adam Wainwright in series finale

    Phillies (21-39) at Cardinals (28-32)
    2:15 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

    The Phillies lost their fourth straight game on Saturday. They were on the wrong end of a four-hit shutout thrown by Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez while Nick Pivetta struggled through five innings. In search of a victory, the Phils turn to Aaron Nola, who will face veteran righty Adam Wainwright on Sunday.

    Here are five things to know for the series finale:

    1. Offensive futility
    The Phillies' recent offensive ineptitude bled into Saturday. Martinez dominated them from the first inning, barely needing more than a handful of pitches to dispatch with them in the opening frame. The Phils strung together just four hits -- two by Tommy Joseph -- and had just one walk against a pitcher who struggles at times with control.

    The offense isn't fully to blame for Saturday's loss as Martinez was simply too good. He had nasty stuff, lived in the zone or close enough to it and dialed back for hard stuff even at the end of the game. Working counts is always a goal, but it's easier said than done when a pitcher is putting you behind 0-2 or 1-2 pretty consistently.

    Still, the Phillies have just four runs in their last four games and seven in their last five. They were shutout for the fourth time this season, which means they're on pace to end up around last year's 11 shutouts. The Phillies' pitching staff had 12 shutouts last season but has none so far in 2017.

    After Sunday and Monday's outbursts (20 runs over two games), it appeared the offense was out of its funk. Adding a further wrinkle to the offensive woes is a potential extended absence for Cesar Hernandez, who has an oblique/abdominal injury. Without him, the Phillies lose speed and a solid presence at the top of the lineup, although the injury could open up an opportunity to see someone new for an extended tryout.

    If the Phillies are going to get the bats going soon, Sunday could very well be the day. Wainwright hasn't lived up to his reputation this year.

    2. Not the same Wainwright
    For the first eight seasons of Wainwright's career, he earned himself a reputation as an ace, a workhorse who could absorb innings and put together great results, finishing top three in Cy Young voting on four separate occasions.

    But this year, Wainwright isn't the same pitcher. He comes into Sunday with a 4.82 ERA in 65 1/3 innings over 12 starts. His walk rate is a career worst and so are his hits per nine innings (10.5).

    You can essentially divide his career into two periods: Pre- and post-Achilles injury. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in 2015, limiting him to just seven games that season. In the two seasons since, he has a 4.67 ERA in 264 innings compared to a 2.99 ERA over 1,539 2/3 innings prior to 2015. In 2016, he gave up the most hits and earned runs in all of baseball.

    Wainwright used to live in the mid 90s with his fastball, but now he works in the low 90s with his four-seam fastball and sinker. He mixes in an 86 mph cutter. His bread and butter is still his knock-out curveball. The curve, which is still an above-average pitch, isn't quite as dominant as in years past. All his hard stuff is getting hit well, so he's using his curveball more than ever.

    Don't sleep on Wainwright at the dish. He's 6 for 23 this year with two home runs and has 10 home runs in his career, including one against the Phillies last season. His .202/.228/.312 batting line wouldn't cut it for a position player but is quite good for a pitcher.

    In 14 games (12 starts) vs. Phillies, he's 6-2 with a 2.85 ERA. 1.159 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 82 innings. He had two quality starts against the Phils in 2016.

    3. Nola back to form?
    The Phillies finally saw exactly what they wanted from Nola in his fourth start since coming off the disabled list. Facing the Braves on Tuesday, Nola allowed just one run on five hits and a walk over eight innings. He struck out six and needed just 97 pitches to do the job.

    It was Nola's second start of 7-plus innings and just one run since returning from DL, yet he was sharper this time with one fewer walk and no HBPs. He also didn't allow a home run for the first time in a few starts. It was easily his best start in at least 11 months.

    Through seven starts, Nola has a 4.28 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 40 innings. While his Ks per nine innings are down and his walks are slightly up, his ERA is better by half a run. His curveball has been basically just as good as previous seasons with opposing hitters putting up a meager .232/.232/.286 line against it.

    Even better news for Nola: The Cardinals' offense has been worse than Braves' offense. The 24-year-old righty dominated the Cards last season, giving up just two hits over seven innings while striking out seven in his only appearance against them.

    4. Players to watch
    Phillies: Joseph has a six-game hitting streak going after his two-hit day on Saturday. The streak has helped raise his batting average from .238 to .255, nine points shy of his high-water mark on the season.

    Cardinals: Third baseman Jedd Gyorko has a .312 batting average and 21 extra-base hits this season. He's 3 for 7 this series with a double and four RBI.

    5. This and that
    • Monday is the 2017 MLB draft. The Phillies have the eighth overall pick, which carries a bonus pool of $4,780,400.

    • Freddy Galvis is 5 for 12 with a home run and two doubles vs. Wainwright. Daniel Nava is 3 for 7 with a homer and Odubel Herrera is 3 for 6 with a homer as well.

    • If the Phillies lose on Sunday, they will have been swept for the sixth time this year. They suffered their sixth sweep on Aug 29-31 last year and were swept eight times in all of 2016.