Phillies (22-47) vs. Cardinals (32-37)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App
The Phillies competed with the Cardinals for 10 innings last night before two of their fringe major-league relievers - Edubray Ramos and Casey Fien - faltered in the 11th.
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The result was their 12th loss in 13 games, a defeat that puts them on pace to lose 111 games.
As mentioned earlier this week, that trio of 100-loss Astros teams in 2011, '12 and '13 had a better record than the Phils through this point each year.
Tonight, the Phils turn to a young pitcher who built momentum and confidence his last time out.
1. Big night for Pivetta
Nick Pivetta opened some eyes last week at Fenway Park when he outdueled Chris Sale with seven shutout innings, nine strikeouts and a whole lot of mid-90s fastballs.
We knew Pivetta had velocity but his fastball had more zip and late life last week in Boston than it did in his previous six major-league starts. He induced 15 swinging strikes, including some whiffs on fastballs that would have been hittable had they been a tick or two slower.
These were some really good, disciplined hitters Pivetta struck out, too. He whiffed Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi twice and Dustin Pedroia, Mitch Moreland and Jackie Bradley once apiece.
Pivetta's fastball averaged 94.9 mph against the Red Sox and maxed out at 97.8. But it's the development of his slider and curveball that will dictate whether he sticks in the rotation or becomes a bullpen piece long-term. Pivetta threw some tight sliders in Boston but will need to show consistency with that pitch.
At the very least, hopefully, last week showed Pivetta that his fastball has enough life that he doesn't have to nibble with it on the first pitch. There are a lot of hitters he'll be able to throw it past. Entering his last start, Pivetta had the lowest first-pitch strike rate in the National League.
Pivetta faced these Cardinals on June 10 and allowed four runs on four hits and four walks in five innings. He'll again have to deal with a patient lineup.
2. Hoping for more vs. Wacha
Michael Wacha has struggled in four of his last five starts, pitching well against only the Phillies. On June 9, he allowed two runs to them in six innings and induced a season-high 13 groundballs.
His next time out, Wacha's struggles popped back up as he lasted just four innings and put 10 men on base.
In the meeting two weeks ago, the Phillies went 1 for 14 in at-bats ending in a Wacha changeup or cutter. Simply put, he got them to hit his pitch, which was either a jamming cutter or a fading changeup.
As we saw last night with Mike Leake, it doesn't really matter if the pitcher facing the Phillies has been struggling lately.
Howie Kendrick (6 for 10, double, homer, two walks) and Maikel Franco (3 for 10, two doubles) have had the most success against Wacha.
Tommy Joseph grounded into two double plays last night in the Phillies' best two run-scoring situations. That gives him 12 on the season, second in the National League to only Maikel Franco (13).
This is just one of the many reasons the Phillies' offense has been so anemic. Joseph and Franco are counted on to be run producers, and while they've knocked in some runs via the home run, they've done little else with men on base. Joseph is hitting .206 with runners on base and Franco is hitting .218.
When you have your middle-of-the-order bats failing to move runners, your catchers slumping badly, your leftfielder coming back to Earth, your leadoff batter on the DL and your shortstop hitting .230 ... you're not going to score many runs.
We're pretty much at the point where if Howie Kendrick or Aaron Altherr doesn't have a standout game, the Phillies aren't going to score three-plus runs. And even when Kendrick does do his thing (he was 3 for 4 last night with three line-drive singles) it doesn't equal success for the Phils.
4. Trade chips
Jeremy Hellickson made his best start of the season last night, inducing 15 swings-and-misses and allowing one run over seven innings. He'll have about five more starts before July 31, meaning he has a handful of chances to boost his trade value ahead of the deadline.
Kendrick's three hits last night raised his season batting line to .339/.397/.470. Talk about consistency: The lowest Kendrick's batting average has been entering any game this season was .317 on Saturday. Since then, he's gone 7 for 14 (all singles).
A team might not come calling for Hellickson but there will certainly be suitors for Kendrick, a solid and valuable veteran bat who can play five different positions.
A team's need for Kendrick would increase if its second baseman or leftfielder gets injured. There's no clear fit just yet for such a versatile player, but the Angels and Royals could use the second-base help if they decide to make a small purchase at the deadline. He'd also be a pretty good fit for the Cardinals.
5. This and that
• Pete Mackanin has talked often this season about the lack of crooked numbers the Phillies have put up. They've scored multiple runs in an inning 61 times. Their opponents have done it 92 times.
• The Phils had no extra-base hits last night for just the third time all season.
• Despite the Cardinals' seven-spot in the 11th inning last night, their offense is lacking. They don't have a big bopper in the middle of the order and would probably really like to have Matt Holliday back. Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina are tough outs but there is no one in this lineup you circle with the note "stay away" next to it.
• Pat Neshek is now at 28 innings with two earned runs. Of his 30 appearances, 29 have been scoreless. Since allowing his only runs of the season on a two-run homer to Michael Taylor in D.C. on May 14, Neshek has pitched 14⅓ scoreless innings, allowed eight hits, walked one and struck out 13.
• Ramos has made two straight appearances in which he's put at least two men on base, allowed at least two earned runs and failed to record an out. The last Phillies reliever to do that twice in a row was Tyler Walker back in 2009.