Phillies-Cardinals 5 Things: Cards Heating Up, as Is Aaron Nola

Phillies (15-11) at Cardinals (13-13)
8:15 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies' six-game win streak ended with a thud Monday night in St. Louis, when they allowed the Cardinals to score the final 10 runs of the game in a blowout loss.

The Cardinals' bats woke up and that could spell trouble for the Phils the rest of this week. Matt Adams and Randal Grichuk, two players who slumped their way through April, looked particularly locked in. If you're Aaron Nola, you should probably pitch backwards to those two tonight. 

Jeremy Hellickson missed spots in the series opener and paid for it. We wrote yesterday that he needed to handle pitcher Adam Wainwright with care and he didn't, serving up a meatball that Wainwright blasted for a game-changing three-run homer. Hellickson just can't afford to miss over the middle of the plate the way he did Monday night.

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On Tuesday, behind Nola, the Phils look to start a new win streak.

1. About last night
Wainwright's three-run home run was far from the first time this season a pitcher has hurt the Phillies with his bat. In addition to that HR, the Phils have allowed five doubles to pitchers, which is more than 26 MLB teams combined. All pitchers across baseball have a total of 19 extra-base hits and six have come against the Phillies.

And by the way, on Wainwright, he's the first pitcher since Ray Burris in 1986 to drive in three runs in consecutive starts. Wainwright hit a three-run triple last week in Arizona that also altered the course of that game. Quite a weapon, having a pitcher with a .200 career batting average and some power.

2. Catchers keep hitting
Carlos Ruiz was the Phils' offensive standout on Monday, going 3 for 4 with a double and two hard-hit singles. Chooch is batting .341 on the year with a 1.047 OPS in 46 plate appearances.

Over his last six starts, Ruiz is 11 for 23 with two doubles, two homers, four RBIs and five runs. He's reached base more times in those games (13) than he hasn't (12).

Cameron Rupp will start tonight, as he's done every single time Nola has pitched in the majors. Rupp leads all of baseball in exit velocity off the bat this season at 97.7 mph. (The league average exit velocity is around 89 mph.)

Phillies catchers rank third in the majors with a .296 batting average, second with a .520 slugging percentage and third with an .857 OPS.

Last season, Phillies catchers ranked last in the NL with a .222 batting average and .327 slugging percentage.

3. Nola on a roll
Since getting hit around by the Nationals on April 16, Nola has pitched two gems, allowing just one run on six hits and striking out 14 in 14 innings over his last two starts.

His last time out, Nola's curveball was the best it's ever looked. All seven of his strikeouts came on curves. He was throwing it inside to right-handed hitters to freeze them - the pitch would start at their hip and finish on the inside corner. Nola's curveball has such sharp break to it that when he's commanding it well, he's going to mow through righties.

That said, Nola has actually been better against lefties this season, holding them to eight hits in 51 at-bats for a .157 batting average. That was a major key for him this season after left-handed hitters batted .310 with an .834 OPS against him last season. It speaks to the development of Nola's changeup.

Nola has never faced the Cardinals, so he should have the advantage the first time through the order. But St. Louis has a lineup filled with hitters who know the strike zone like Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina or are aggressive with fastballs like Grichuk and Adams. Nola needs to have that curveball working again tonight because it's a dangerous proposition relying on pinpoint fastball command against an offense like this.

4. Wacha Wacha
Good pitching matchup tonight with Nola (1-2, 3.55) taking on 25-year-old Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha (2-1, 3.07).

Wacha was hit around by the Pirates in his first start but has pitched well four times in a row since, posting a 2.16 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 25 innings. He's kept the Cardinals in each of those games.

For as impressive as Wacha has been, for as quickly as he started his career, he's struggled against the Phillies in two starts, both of which came last season. He allowed four runs in 5⅔ innings in one of them and five runs in five innings in the other.

Wacha has a 93 to 95 mph fastball, a cutter around 90, a changeup in the mid-80s and a curveball in the mid-70s. In 734 career plate appearances ending in a Wacha changeup, curveball or cutter, he's allowed just 18 home runs. That's one HR for every 41 plate appearances ending in a non-fastball from Wacha.

5. This and that
• Maikel Franco has had some tough luck lately with lineouts or deep flyouts. But he's also expanding the strike zone and pitchers are taking advantage of it. Looking at Franco's hitting chart, the area in which he's seen the most pitches this season is low and outside, off the plate - 23.3 percent. He's got to be able to lay off the soft stuff down and off the plate because if not, pitchers are going to continue to mix him up low-and-away and then up in the zone with fastballs.

• Two more hits last night for Odubel Herrera, who's up to .310 with a .450 on-base percentage on the season. Pete Mackanin said last week that he thinks Herrera will be a "perennial .300" hitter. In 648 career plate appearances, he's hit .299.

• Brett Oberholtzer ... oof. He's allowed 15 runs in 14 innings for a 9.64 ERA. He's put 32 men on base. He's allowed eight home runs, which is the most in the majors. And he's made just five appearances. He's not exactly taking to this relief role, which isn't all that surprising. Oberholtzer had success with Houston as a starting pitcher who relied on command. When hitters are already settled in at the midpoint of a game, Oberholtzer's stuff isn't fooling anyone. It's why the vast majority of bullpen arms throw in the mid-90s - you usually want your relievers to offer a different look. Oberholtzer throws in the high-80s. You can get away with that if you have some above-average pitches like Jeanmar Gomez's sinker. But so far, it's been a real struggle every time the Phillies have called Oberholtzer's name. Curious to see what they do with him moving forward.

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