Phillies-Braves 5 Things: More Mastery From Aaron Nola?

Phillies (24-17) vs. Braves (10-30)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies welcome the lowly Atlanta Braves to town for the third and final series of their nine-game homestand. They've taken care of business over the last week at Citizens Bank Park, going 4-2 with series wins over the Reds and Marlins.

A sweep this weekend would put the Phils 10 games over .500; winning two of three would make them a season-high eight games over .500. Quite an opportunity for a surprising team more than a quarter of the way through the season.

Let's take a look at Friday's series opener:

1. Ninth start for Nola
The Phillies have won five consecutive games started by Aaron Nola, who enters 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA.

Nola has reached a new level in his last handful of starts, going 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA and .158 opponents' batting average. So many of his innings have been quick, painless and bereft of baserunners. Nola's 0.85 WHIP is fourth-best in baseball, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Jake Arrieta.

Nola didn't face the Braves last week in Atlanta but did start three games against them last season, going 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA. Despite those solid numbers, though, current Braves are 12 for 35 (.342) against Nola with two doubles, a homer, three walks and six strikeouts.

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Nola is known for having excellent fastball command, but it's his curveball that has put him over the top this season. His opponents are 7 for 83 (.084) with 42 strikeouts in at-bats ending against his curve. Nola's opponents have swung and missed at 21 percent of his curveballs and 15 percent of his changeups. He worked on that changeup in the offseason to help stave off lefties, who hit .310 against him last season.

The 49 total swings-and-misses against Nola's curveball this season are second-most in the majors, behind only the 62 Miami's Jose Fernandez has induced on curves.

2. Braves better on the road
The Braves are 2-17 at home, but they've actually played respectable baseball on the road, going 8-13. For reference, the Braves have a better road record than the Yankees, Royals, Brewers, Reds, Twins and Astros.

That said, Atlanta has failed to win any of its last five road series. And this is still an anemic offense. 

Despite the smallish dimensions of Citizens Bank Park, Braves slugger Freddie Freeman has never used it as much of a power source. He's hit .265/.337/.405 with eight doubles and six homers in 205 career plate appearances in Philly.

The Phillies went 6-4 against the Braves at home last season.

3. Another look at Wisler
The Phillies face Braves right-hander Matt Wisler (1-3, 3.14) for the second time in as many weeks. When they saw the 23-year-old on May 10, they scored three runs against him in eight innings in a 3-2 win. Wisler struck out just two.

Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Ryan Howard have all hit him well in a limited sample. Franco is 4 for 6 with a double and a homer; Herrera is 2 for 7 with a double and a homer; and Howard is 3 for 7 with a double. Current Phillies have struck out just three times against Wisler in 48 plate appearances, so there should be no fear of laying off early, borderline pitches and getting to two strikes tonight.

In the previous meeting, 17 of the 35 pitches Wisler threw to right-handed hitters were in and off the plate. His two most-used zones against lefties were low-and-away (18 of 69) and up-and-in (11).

4. Tommy time?
The Phillies probably wouldn't have won Tuesday if not for Tommy Joseph's contributions — three hits, including a homer and another run-scoring single, plus a diving stop to end the game — but he sat the next day against a right-hander.

Will he start against Wisler? 

It's tough to tell. On the one hand, manager Pete Mackanin said Joseph will not be strictly a platoon player. On the other, he wanted to use Howard on Wednesday because the Phillies don't have power in many other places in the lineup and Mackanin still considers Howard, despite his .168 batting average and .236 on-base percentage, a "big part of the team."

It's going to be a delicate balance moving forward of giving Howard some playing time while also letting Joseph sink or swim against right-handers. Perhaps Howard will play tonight but Joseph will start Saturday against Williams Perez, who the Phillies mustered no offense against in Atlanta recently. Although against Perez, Howard's solo home run was the only run and one of only two hits the Phillies had.

There's a difference between Joseph and Darin Ruf, who rarely had success vs. right-handed pitching. This season at Triple A, Joseph hit .324 against righties with seven extra-base hits.

Among the 189 major-leaguers who qualify for the batting title, Howard ranks dead-last in batting average and 187th in OBP, ahead of only Cleveland's Yan Gomes and Atlanta's Erick Aybar.

5. This and that
• Franco has been over-aggressive at the plate this season but has also been unlucky. He's 18 for 30 (.600) on line drives, which is 60 points lower than the league average. If he were on par with the rest of the league, that would mean a few additional hits. Franco has also flied out or lined out five times this season on balls that traveled at least 380 feet.

• Jeanmar Gomez leads the majors with 16 saves, Hector Neris leads the majors with 11 holds, and Neris (33) and David Hernandez (30) rank first and second in the National League in strikeouts by a reliever.

• Herrera's finger has been bothering him a bit lately. He's been receiving treatment for a few weeks, Mackanin said, but it hasn't been bad enough to keep him out of the lineup. Herrera sat on Wednesday for the first time all season, a move that was designed to give him two full days off with Thursday's open date.

• The Phillies have the best divisional record among the NL East teams at 13-8.

• If the Phils are able to win the first two games of this series they'll have the same record through 43 games that they had in 2011.

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