Phillies-Cubs 5 Things: Defending Champs in Town for Players Weekend

Phillies (46-80) vs. Cubs (68-58)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After coughing up an 8-3 lead on Thursday, the Phillies enter Friday's series opener against the Cubs with the worst record in baseball. However, Rhys Hoskins stayed hot with a home run and three RBIs, tying records along the way.

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Tonight, Jerad Eickhoff tries to rebound from a subpar outing in San Francisco while the Phils face off against new Cubs ace Jose Quintana.

Here are five things to know for Friday night's game:

1. Hulking Hoskins
Major-league pitchers have been unable to contain Hoskins through 15 MLB games and are still hoping to contain him.

He smashed his fifth homer in a six-game span and has now homered each of the last five days the Phillies have played. While young sluggers have been all the rage in baseball this season, there is still very little precedent for Hoskins' start.

The rookie leftfielder now has eight home runs, tied for the most through 15 games in MLB history. Only Trevor Story last season and Carlos Delgado in 1993-94 have pulled off that feat. Furthermore, before Hoskins reached eight HRs through 49 ABs on Thursday, only Delgado and Trey Mancini had hit eight before reaching 50 MLB ABs. 

He also has 19 RBIs. No, that isn't an MLB record. That belongs to Mandy Brooks, who had 24 through his first 15 games in 1925. But it shows how much of a force Hoskins is with runners on base. Nick Williams and others have hit well in front of him, creating opportunities for Hoskins.

The 24-year-old doesn't look like a natural in left field, but he hasn't brought his poor defense into the dugout and let it affect his hitting. As long as he keeps mashing, the team will find a position for him.

For now, his at-bats are must-watch events as Phillies fans get a chance to see how long his magical run can extend.

2. Last year's Cubs? Close, but not quite
Expectations were understandably high for the Cubs going into this season after they won their first World Series title in 108 years. 

The team returned most of its key players and were expecting more production from players like Kyle Schwarber, who was on the sidelines for most of the 2016 run. 

However, at the beginning of the second half, the Cubs were 5.5 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. The South Siders were playing noticeably worse defense, Schwarber earned a demotion to Triple A and the rotation wasn't quite as daunting as 2016.

Yet the team has found a new gear since the All-Star break. The team is 25-13 since the break, a strong stretch that has been overshadowed by the Los Angeles Dodgers' insane run. 

Beyond their big July acquisition (see point No. 3), the Cubs have also found themselves at the plate. Since the break, they're second in OPS (.837), third in home runs with 63, and first in runs with 222. 

Kris Bryant, last year's National League MVP, has a lower slugging percentage but much higher OBP (.400) and is nearly keeping pace with his highly successful sophomore season. Anthony Rizzo is having a similarly strong season with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs. 

Rookie Ian Happ has made a large impact but Schwarber's return to the majors has also given the Cubs a boost. Since returning from the minors in July, he was hitting .261/.356/.557 with nine home runs in 37 games going into Thursday.

The rotation is still led by veterans like Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, the latter who has turned his season around recently. Wade Davis lurks at the back end of the bullpen, although middle relief has been an issue at times, as it was on Thursday night.

3. Can't touch Quintana
Beyond Lester and Arrieta, the next biggest name in the Cubs' rotation is likely Quintana, who they acquired for four prospects on July 13. 

With respect to Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray, Quintana may have been the top starter to change teams midseason in terms of stuff, affordability and team control. With team options for 2019 and 2020, the Cubs can keep the veteran lefty on their staff for three years beyond this season. That alone made it worth it to trade their top prospect to acquire him.

And he's been living up to the price tag since coming over. In seven starts, he has a 3.73 ERA over 41 innings and has struck out 46 batters. He has a career-best strikeout rate during the short sample and has allowed just 32 hits, leading to a strong 1.098 WHIP. 

Outside of one poor start vs. the Diamondbacks, he's pitched well enough to give the Cubs a chance to win each time out. His best outing was his first with the Cubs in which he fired seven shutout innings of three-hit ball with 12 stirkeouts and no walks. 

Quintana mixes four pitches, primarily working off a low-90s fastball, sinker and a high-70s curveball, mixing in a changeup less than 10 percent of the time. 

The 28-year-old southpaw hasn't faced the Phillies in four years, so the only players on the roster he's faced before are Ty Kelly (1 for 3) and Pedro Florimon (0 for 3).

4. Eickhoff and velocity
Eickhoff had a solid string of starts going into Saturday's matchup with the Giants, but he failed to complete five innings and had a noticeable drop in velocity.

In fact, his pitch speed has dropped over the course of the season, going from a 91.59 mph average on his fastball in April to just an 88.87 mph average in August. It's been a similar drop with his changeup as well.

The wear and tear of the season can naturally lead to lower velocity, particularly come September, but this is a pretty steep drop. He's lost over 1.5 mph off his fastball month over month. That's highly troubling.

This makes the fact that Eickhoff had been able to produce relatively representative starts up until Saturday even more impressive. But his flat performance in San Fran prompted the team to give him an extra day between starts, thus moving him to Friday. 

The Cubs will be quite the test with their potent offense, but Eickhoff has generally been better at home (3.83 ERA vs. 4.93 ERA on the road this season) and is doubly so against the Cubs. 

In two career starts at Wrigley Field, including on this May, he's allowed eight runs on 13 hits and three walks in just 11 2/3 innings. However, when he faces the Cubs at home, he's 1-0 with just two runs over 14 innings, twice holding Chicago to one run in seven innings. 

Among current Cubs, Schwarber and Alex Avila have home runs off the righty. Jason Heyward is 3 for 7 with two doubles and two walks while Bryant is 3 for 12 with seven strikeouts. Rizzo is just 1 for 11 with four strikeouts .

5. Best of Players Weekend
This is quite the exciting series. Not only are the defending champions in town, but it's also the first Players Weekend, in which players will have nicknames on the back of their alternate uniforms. They'll also have the chance to wear custom batting gloves, cleats and bats.

The best way the players have to express themselves will be through the nicknames they have on the back of the uniform. Without further ado, here are some of the better nicknames the Cubs and Phillies players have chosen to wear.

• For the Cubs, Ben Zobrist is going with "Zorilla," a solid one for the World Series MVP. Jon Jay has "305 J", which is disappointing because he could have easily gone with "The Federalist" or "The Chief Justice" with his historically significant name. 

However, the best Cubs one is Carl Edwards Jr., who went with the obvious choice of "Carl's Jr." Bravo!

• On the Phillies' side, "A-A-Ron" from Aaron Altherr is a classic, although Aaron Hicks from the Yankees is going with that as well. "Knapp Time" from Andrew Knapp was a solid play off his name, although he's on the disabled list. Odubel Herrera choosing with "Torito" is a good move. 

The best, though, are a duo: Hector Neris and Luis Garcia going with "Compa H" and "Compa G," respectively. 

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