Phillies-Rangers 5 Things: Can Nick Pivetta, Phils Avoid a Sweep in Texas? - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Phillies-Rangers 5 Things: Can Nick Pivetta, Phils Avoid a Sweep in Texas?

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    Phillies-Rangers 5 Things: Can Nick Pivetta, Phils Avoid a Sweep in Texas?
    CSNPhilly.com
    Phillies-Rangers 5 things: Can Nick Pivetta, Phils avoid a sweep in Texas?

    Phillies (14-23) at Rangers (21-20)
    2:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

    The Phillies lost their 14th game in the last 17 tries Wednesday night, falling, 9-3, to the Rangers in Texas. Zach Eflin was roughed up for seven runs in one of the worst starts of his young career and the Phillies' offense was silent for most of the evening (see story).

    On Thursday afternoon, the Phils will send out rookie Nick Pivetta in an attempt to avoid a three-game sweep while Martin Perez will take the hill for Texas.

    Here are five things to know for the series finale.

    1. No break for Pivetta
    Pivetta will make his fourth MLB start Thursday and he's yet to receive an easy assignment. His first game came at Dodger Stadium and his last two starts were against the red-hot Washington Nationals. 

    As desert for that main entree, Pivetta faces the Rangers, his fourth straight opponent that competed in the 2016 postseason. It's been a rude entry to the league and Thursday is likely his final big-league start for a little while: Aaron Nola threw 6 1/3 in his last rehab start and is ready to rejoin the rotation Sunday.

    Pivetta threw four good innings in his last start. Unfortunately, he threw 4 2/3 innings and what transpired in the fifth inning was enough to turn it into a forgettable outing. He blew a 4-0 lead over the course of four batters with a runner on second with two outs, allowing a home run, consecutive two-out walks and a game-tying double to the red-hot Ryan Zimmerman.

    On one hand, Pivetta was torched by the top four hitters in the National League's best offense. That's not necessarily something of which to be ashamed. But the walks are troubling and his penchant for long balls (five in 14 2/3 innings) isn't ideal. His WHIP of 1.909 doesn't look great either, nor does his 6.14 ERA.

    But still, he's shown something in these early starts. The way he rebounded against the Dodgers after a tough first inning. How he shut down the Nats for those first four innings. Acquired for Jonathan Papelbon, he's shown promise and regardless of Thursday's result, he deserves another chance assuming it's his last in this MLB stint.

    2. Opportunity vs. Perez
    Perez, now in his sixth MLB season, was once a top Rangers prospect. Now a consistent part of their rotation, he's been a solidly average starter who is coming off his first full season with 33 starts.

    Perez comes at hitters with a mid-90s sinker and plays off that with a four-seam fastball and solid off-speed offerings of a circle change, curveball and slider. He beats up hitters with the sinker to induce groundballs and get ahead, then uses the off-speed stuff to get strikeouts.

    However, he's never struck out a ton of batters, which is certainly true this year. He's actually seen an uptick in strikeout rate over last season, but his control has become an increasing issue. He's walked 4.3 batters per nine innings this season, posting his worst walk rates since his early days in the minor leagues.

    Like a typical sinkerballer, he avoids home runs but allows a fair number of hits. His WHIP is a career-worst 1.70 and the Phillies need to take advantage of the southpaw by simply taking what he gives you. Most of his pitches have been average in small samples this season but his sinker has been hit very well. 

    In his career, righties have fared significantly better against him than lefties, particularly with more power. That's reversed this year as, in a short sample size, lefties are hitting .412 off him. He has always been better at home than away, including this season in similar splits.

    Perez faced the Phils in Texas three seasons ago on April 2, allowing seven hits and two runs over 5 2/3 innings while striking out seven. Cesar Hernandez is the only current Phillie to face him that day, going 2 for 2 with a single and a double. Michael Saunders, formerly a Mariner, is familiar with Perez, going 2 for 10 off him with two walks and four strikeouts in his career.

    3. Skidding off the tracks
    The Phillies have just three wins since April 28, which was the start of their three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in Los Angeles. It marks a major reversal from last year when they went on a run around this time. On May 18 last season, the Phils beat the Marlins to move to a season-best seven games over .500.

    Their struggles this season are mostly because of a much tougher schedule. Fifteen of their last 17 have come against 2016 playoff contenders. Still, there have been some winnable games in this stretch, whether against the Mariners or the Rangers. Even the Cubs haven't quite lived up to expectations thus far. 

    The Phillies haven't been losing because of their offense. In May, they're 15th in baseball in OPS. They're 20th in runs, a little worse. But it's been the pitching that's done them in. Their 5.37 ERA this month is third worst in baseball, behind the Mets and Braves, and their -0.4 WAR is fourth worst for any staff. 

    Their starters are averaging just 5.26 innings per start, compared to the Rangers who have gotten 6.10 innings from their rotation this month. Their bullpen has blown four saves and has recorded no holds while their five losses in relief are tied for second worst in the baseball in May. It's truly been the entire staff, with no one, not even Pat Neshek, blameless for a month gone awry.

    The bright spots have come from Aaron Altherr and Tommy Joseph, who have combined for 10 home runs, 20 runs scored and 25 RBIs while each posting slugging percentages above .800. The team will need more contributions from other players to get out of this rut, but Altherr and Joseph could help keep the Phillies' collective heads above water.

    4. Players to watch
    Phillies: In 19 games during April, Joseph had just 12 hits. He has 15 since May 5 alone after a two-hit night on Wednesday and he's beaten lefties to a pulp this year, sporting just a .207 average but a .655 slugging percentage. 

    Rangers: Just his second game of the season, Jared Hoying had four hits and was a triple away from the cycle last night. He had just 10 hits in 49 plate appearances in his first taste of the show last season.

    5. This and that
    • The Phillies are 7-7 all-time against the Rangers. They've never been swept with this season marking the fifth series between the two teams dating back to their first interleague meeting in 2005.

    • Good news for the Phillies: The Rockies had a rainout on Wednesday, meaning they will play a doubleheader on Thursday. Why is this good news? It means the Rockies' rotation will be thrown off and will likely need a spot starter or a start on short rest during the four-game series at Citizens Bank Park next week.

    • Wednesday was the Phillies' fourth loss by five or more runs this season. The team already had six of those by this time last season and finished with 34 such defeats.