Phillies (29-58) at Brewers (50-41)
8:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App
After a first half to forget, the Phillies return to action after the All-Star break tonight in Milwaukee vs. the surprising first-place Brewers. Here are five things to look for in tonight's 8:10 start.
1. Something to play for
In a word, the Phillies' first half of the season was a disaster. Key players once considered building blocks took major steps backward and trade candidates have either floundered or gotten injured. Add that up and you get the 2017 Phillies, MLB's worst team.
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But, starting tonight, there are still reasons to watch. The trade deadline is just two weeks away (July 31) and the Phillies, despite their shortcomings, have some interesting pieces to sell. Pat Neshek will be dealt. Tommy Joseph's future is in doubt. Jeremy Hellickson has been on the cusp of being dealt for over a year now, but has come back to earth after a standout 2016 season. With just two or three starts remaining before the deadline, Hellickson will have to regain his 2016 form if the Phillies want to get anything of serious value for the righty.
With two weeks to go, it's time for the Phillies' trade candidates to play their way onto a contender's radar. These may be small moves coming, but sometimes the minor moves pay off.
2. Pivetta's payoff
Looking for proof? How about tonight's pitcher Nick Pivetta. The Phillies acquired the righty in the trade that offloaded Jonathan Papelbon to the Nationals in 2015. Then, a 22-year-old in Double A, Pivetta had an up-and-down start to his minor league career, despite being ranked the Nats' 10th-best prospect by Baseball America.
Flash forward to now, and Pivetta has arguably been the Phillies' best pitcher outside of Aaron Nola since returning from the minors in early June. That's not saying much, but he has shown that he can be a reliable big-league pitcher.
Since returning from the minors on June 5, Pivetta has lowered his ERA by more than half a run (4.73) while going much deeper in games, with four of his last five starts going at least six innings. Pivetta has been overpowering hitters with his fastball that tops out at 96 mph, averaging seven strikeouts per game in his last five. Which bodes well for Pivetta vs. the Brewers, who lead MLB with 874 strikeouts on the year.
3. Brew Crew who?
Despite the astronomical number of strikeouts, the Brewers have come out of nowhere to hold the NL Central lead at the season's midpoint, 5.5 games ahead of the hungover Cubs.
Nothing the Brewers do jumps out at you. They're simply an all-around sound team. Milwaukee boasts the eighth-best team ERA in MLB, have scored the sixth-most runs in the league while clobbering the second-most homers and stealing (138) and stealing the third-most bases (75). For comparison, the Phillies have 89 homers and just 35 stolen bases on the year.
The Brewers have seven qualified regulars hitting .259 or better. The Phillies have just two, and one of them is Cesar Hernandez, who hasn't played in over a month.
4. Players to watch
Phillies: Tommy Joseph's time with the Phillies could be coming to an end with Rhys Hoskins ready to make the jump to the show. If so, Joseph has nailed his audition for a trade partner so far. In 34 July at-bats, Joseph is hitting .294 with five runs scored, two homers, five RBIs and just six strikeouts.
Brewers: After two years in Boston, Travis Shaw is blossoming in his first year with the Brew Crew. Hitting .299 with 19 homers and 65 RBIs, Shaw is on pace to demolish his combined numbers from his first two seasons in MLB. And to think, the Red Sox kept Pablo Sandoval instead.
5. This and that
• Zach Davies gets the start for the Brewers in Game 1. Now in his second full season, Davies has struggled a bit, posting a career-high 4.90 ERA, while allowing 10.4 hits per nine innings. Davies has allowed 15 homers in 18 starts.
• Despite the poor numbers, Davies is 10-4 on the year. To compare, Aaron Nola leads the Phillies in wins at 6-6, but has a much better 3.59 ERA.
• The Brewers have nearly as many home wins (26) as the Phillies do total on the season (29).