Phillies (16-11) at Cardinals (13-14)
8:15 p.m. on CSN
"Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher," as the old baseball saying goes. It proved true early this week in St. Louis, when it looked like the Cardinals' bat woke up Monday and then went dead silent on Tuesday against a dominant Aaron Nola.
(You'll want to check out the rarity of this run Nola's on, by the way.)
Complete coverage of the Fightin' Phils and their MLB rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Tonight, the Phils look to take the advantage in this four-game series in St. Louis. It won't be easy, and left-hander Adam Morgan has his work cut out for him in start No. 2.
1. 6 key pieces
Everyone's expecting the Phillies to regress, and we all know they will at some point, but the main reason they find themselves five games over .500 at this point is because of six key pieces on the pitching staff. Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez are legitimately above-average major-league starters, and the bullpen trio of Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris and David Hernandez has been pretty much unhittable lately.
Velasquez (.164) and Nola (.176) rank second and fourth, respectively, in the National League in opponents' batting average. Clayton Kershaw is fifth at .182.
Neris has a 1.10 ERA, six holds and a save in 15 appearances. He's struck out 27 batters and walked four in 16⅓ innings with a splitter that is fast becoming one of the best pitches in baseball.
Gomez is 9 for 9 in saves, and most of his ninth innings have been stress-free.
Hernandez's ERA is all the way down to 3.38, which is no small feat considering it's early in the season and he gave up three runs without recording an out in his first appearance. Hernandez's ability to go multiple innings was unforeseen - he's pitched two innings in three of his last four appearances.
Hernandez, who has 22 strikeouts in just 13⅓ innings, has punched out multiple batters in each of his last five outings. The last three Phillies relievers with longer streaks with multiple strikeouts were Ken Giles last year, Ryan Madson in 2005 and Ricky Bottalico in 1997.
When you have three starting pitchers who give you a chance and three quality relievers at the back-end of your bullpen, you have the ability to win tight games. And the Phillies have done that in 2016, going an MLB-best 9-2 in one-run games.
2. Morgan's turn
Morgan's second start comes against the same team he made his major-league debut against last June. That night, Morgan beat the Cardinals by allowing one run over 5⅔ innings. It turned out to be one of his more impressive starts of the year.
Morgan (0-0. 5.40) struck out a career-high seven last Friday against the Indians, but this Cardinals lineup is better. It also features mostly right-handed hitters in Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Aledmys Diaz. Even a lefty like Matt Carpenter typically puts up decent numbers against left-handed pitchers.
Morgan must be precise tonight. He doesn't have a Nola-like curveball or a Velasquez fastball. He won't be fooling these hitters too much so his command needs to be sharp.
Right-handed hitters batted .281 with a .500 slugging percentage last season against Morgan.
3. Leake struggling
Mike Leake signed a five-year, $80 million contract with the Cardinals this past offseason but hasn't been pitching like a $16 million per year guy so far, going 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA and allowing four or more runs in all five starts.
Leake has always been a pitch-to-contact type who relies on his sinker, but he usually doesn't struggle like this. From 2013 to 2015, he went 36-30 with a 3.59 ERA in 94 starts, striking out 6.1 batters per nine and walking 2.2. His consistency made him a hot commodity at last year's trade deadline.
Leake has just been way more hittable this season, missing too much with the sinker, which opponents have hit at a .298 clip.
Leake throws a changeup, slider and curveball, but he's mostly sinker-cutter, throwing his sinker 52 percent of the time and his cutter 31 percent.
In eight career starts vs. the Phillies, Leake is 2-3 with a 6.00 ERA. His last three starts against them, however, have been very good, with Leake going 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA and allowing just 20 baserunners in 21 innings.
Ryan Howard and Maikel Franco have both hit Leake well. Howard is 7 for 21 with a double, two homers and five RBIs. Franco is 4 for 6 with a double.
4. On the pharm
Last night was a good night for Phillies prospects. At Triple A Lehigh Valley, leftfielder Nick Williams hit a walk-off two-run home run. Williams has been on fire lately and is up to .289 on the season with two homers and 12 RBIs.
Jake Thompson started that game for the IronPigs and had his best outing of the season, allowing just one run on two hits over seven innings.
Outfielder Cam Perkins also continues to hit at Triple A. He's batting .386 with a .968 OPS in 18 games. He and/or Williams could be up by the summer given how weak the Phillies' corner outfielders have been at the plate.
At Double A, shortstop J.P. Crawford hit his second homer, CF Roman Quinn stole his 10th base, and corner outfielder Dylan Cozens reached base twice more. Cozens is hitting .261/.349/.500 with seven doubles, five homers and 19 RBIs in 24 games.
5. This and that
• Last night's game was the 18th time this season Odubel Herrera reached base at least twice. He and Josh Donaldson lead the majors.
• Darin Ruf isn't making the most of his opportunities. He's just 5 for 30 (.167) with two RBIs in games he's started. If Tommy Joseph keeps hitting at Triple A, his bat might soon be more useful to the Phillies than Ruf's.
• The Royals' comeback win over Jonathan Papelbon last night finally gave the rest of MLB the same number of wins against the Nationals as the Phillies have. The Nats are 2-4 against the Phils and 16-4 against all other teams.