Phillies-Braves 5 Things: Hot Offense Looks to Help Zach Eflin to 1st Win

Phillies (38-46) vs. Braves (28-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies are ending the season's first half with a bang, winning six of their last seven games and eight of 11. They look to remain hot Tuesday night in the second of a three-game set against the Braves, the Phils' penultimate series before the All-Star break.

Let's take a look at tonight's matchup:

1. Everybody hits
When the Phillies were losing game after game after game in mid-June, the entire lineup was cold simultaneously. Up and down the lineup, batting averages were plummeting, hits couldn't be strung together and runs were difficult to come by. From June 14 to June 20, the Phillies went 0-7 and were outscored 53-12. They weren't even competitive.

But baseball's 162-game schedule is filled with ebbs and flows, even for non-contending teams, and right now the Phillies' bats are flowing. Going back to the series in Arizona, the Phils are 6-1 and have outscored their opponents 42-24. 

Now, you look up and down the lineup and see a multitude of hot streaks. 

Leadoff man Odubel Herrera is 13 for 37 (.351) with three doubles and three homers in his last eight games. 

Two-hole hitter Peter Bourjos won't stop — he's gone 31 for 65 (.477) since June 12 and it hasn't just been a bunch of singles. Bourjos has 10 extra-base hits over that span, raising his season batting line from .192/.223/.278 to .278/.316/.417.

Cody Asche, now batting third, has 12 extra-base hits in his last 18 games. 

On Monday, Maikel Franco hit a 450-foot homer, and Tommy Joseph had a multi-hit game with a well-struck line drive on a 101 mph fastball.

And through it all, none of them have been the Phillies' best hitter over the last few weeks ...

2. Rupp to the task
Cameron Rupp has always looked intimidating at the plate, as do most burly catchers with aggressive batting stances. But his 2016 performance has been one of the Phillies' five most pleasant surprises. Rupp hasn't had any prolonged cold spells, really, and is as locked in now as he's ever been.

Over his last 12 games, Rupp is 17 for 45 (.378) with four doubles, a triple, four homers, 10 RBIs and four walks. He's hitting .289/.327/.510 on the season in 205 plate appearances. 

There are 19 catchers in the majors with at least 200 plate appearances and Rupp ranks second in slugging percentage, behind only Wilson Ramos. Rupp ranks third in OPS, behind Ramos and Jonathan Lucroy. Rupp is tied for second among catchers with 17 doubles, which is remarkable considering the catchers ranked 1 through 8 all have between 53 and 84 more at-bats than Rupp.

At 27, Rupp is just entering his prime years. As the Phillies drafted a college catcher in Andrew Knapp and acquired a top prospect in Jorge Alfaro, it looked like Rupp wouldn't be the long-term starter behind the plate for them. And that could still be the case. But Rupp's production the last two years is hard to overlook. He's played 133 games the last two seasons and hit .256 with 26 doubles, 17 homers and 50 RBIs in 504 plate appearances. 

Those are solid numbers for a catcher in today's game. Over that span, Rupp's .743 OPS is exactly the league average. But the league average OPS from catchers during that time is significantly lower at .685.

3. Eflin's fifth start
If Zach Eflin's major-league debut on June 14 in Toronto made you question whether he could get hitters out at this level, his last three starts have shown he could have a place at the highest level. Since allowing nine runs (eight earned) in 2⅔ innings in that first start, Eflin has a 2.55 ERA in three games against solid offenses.

In his last three starts (two against the Diamondbacks, one vs. the Giants), Eflin has allowed just five earned runs in 17⅔ innings. He's kept his defenders honest, walking just one batter and striking out seven. He induced 10 groundballs his last time out, which has always been his M.O.

Eflin (0-2, 5.75) is going to need to continue limiting walks to be successful. Eflin has never missed many bats as a pro, striking out 6.1 batters per nine innings in 84 minor-league games. He relies on groundouts, and groundballs are easier to convert to outs when the bases are empty, shifts are employed and infielders aren't worrying about holding runners on. Eflin's opponents hit .197 at Triple A with the bases empty compared to .259 with runners on.

This is a pretty good matchup for Eflin. The Braves are a bad team that has 27 fewer home runs than any other club, doesn't walk a lot, and has the fourth-highest groundball rate in the majors.

4. Facing a flamethrower
The Phillies on Tuesday night draw Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (pronounced foal-tin-NEV-itch).

The 24-year-old averages better than 96 mph with his fastball, which he uses 63 percent of the time. He also throws a slider and curveball and mixes in a few changeups.

Foltynewicz (2-2, 3.72) returned last Thursday after missing a month with bone spurs in his pitching elbow. A rain delay cut his night short after three innings. But before going on the DL, Foltynewicz was on the best run of his career, posting a 2.73 ERA in his previous five starts. 

Before this season, Foltynewicz's big fastball hadn't translated to results on the field. He allowed 17 home runs last season in just 86⅔ innings in his first year with the Braves. Atlanta acquired him from Houston in January 2015 for Evan Gattis.

Foltynewicz has faced the Phillies twice, in 2015 as a starter and 2014 as a reliever. They hit him both times, scoring a combined six runs on 11 hits in 7⅓ innings.

With the way the Phils have hit lately, this could be another productive night against a young pitcher who can struggle with command and who hasn't yet fully learned how to harness his stuff.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are on pace to finish 73-89, which would be a 10-game improvement over last year.

• Could be a Ryan Howard night. He's 3 for 4 with a homer off Foltynewicz. Howard has started just three of the Phillies' last nine games. 

• Phillies players will have a chance to pad their stats headed into the All-Star break, as the only remaining series after the Braves is a four-gamer at Coors Field, where Rockies opponents have hit .311 with an .885 OPS this season.

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