Phillies-Cubs 5 Things: Tonight Is the Most Winnable Game of the Series

Phillies (11-12) at Cubs (13-11)
8:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

There's no way to describe the Phillies' weekend series at Dodger Stadium other than incredibly disappointing. They held the lead in all three games and lost all three by a combined five runs. 

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It brought them back to Earth after six straight wins at home over division opponents. 

Now the Phillies move on to an even tougher stretch of the schedule. Let's take a look:

1. Bring on the Cubs
Nine of the Phillies' next 11 games are against the Cubs and Nationals, who right now look like the class of the National League. Yes, the Cubs are 13-11 and only 1½ games better than the Phillies, but they're still a complete team that will hit its stride sometime soon. The Phillies are hoping it isn't this week at Wrigley Field. 

Then again, the Dodgers weren't playing all that well when the Phils arrived Friday. 

Not a lot has changed about the reigning-World Champion Cubs. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist still comprise the middle of the order, and Bryant and Rizzo are both locking in right now. 

Dexter Fowler is gone, replaced by a platoon of Jon Jay and Albert Almora. 

Kyle Schwarber, who missed nearly all of last season, is the untraditional leadoff man. Every count with him at the plate seems to go to 3-2. A lot of walks, a lot of strikeouts and a lot of power can be expected from Schwarber.

The Phillies face the Cubs' two best starting pitchers Tuesday and Wednesday in Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, though Arrieta is off to a rough start. 

2. Can Velasquez keep it moving?
Vince Velasquez (1-2, 6.33) makes his fifth start of the young season. His first two went poorly; his last two went well. 

Velasquez struck out 17 batters in nine innings in his first two starts but threw a ton of pitches (21.6 per inning) and struggled with control. 

Over his last two, Velasquez has struck out just five in 12⅓ innings but averaged 14.3 pitches per inning, thus allowing him to go deeper into games. He's made consecutive quality starts against the Mets and Marlins, allowing three runs in each game.

That difference in pitches per inning from his first two starts to his last two is significant - it's the difference between needing 100 pitches in five innings and 100 pitches in seven.

Velasquez has turned to his secondary pitches more to get outs earlier in counts. He threw five sinkers in his first two starts combined then threw 11 in his third. His last time out, Velasquez threw a season-high 15 sliders and 34 offspeed pitches. (He averaged 25 offspeed pitches in the first three starts.)

Velasquez will certainly need to continue to mix things up against the Cubs. And make no mistake about it, this is one tough lineup to pitch to. Schwarber, Bryant, Rizzo and Zobrist are all disciplined hitters who really make you work. They won't chase. 

The keys for Velasquez tonight are to work ahead as he did in his last start when he threw 19 of 26 first-pitch strikes, and to trust his stuff enough to not focus on making perfect pitches which miss the zone slightly. The Cubs aren't going to expand the zone.

Velasquez had thrown first-pitch strikes just 58 percent of the time as a Phillie before his last start when he did it 73 percent of the time. That's the difference between starting four more hitters 0-1 as opposed to 1-0. 

3. Who closes?
Hector Neris was unavailable Sunday after giving up back-to-back-to-back home runs in L.A. for his first blown save.

Pat Neshek likely would have pitched the ninth inning Sunday if the Phillies had a lead in an ever-changing bullpen.

It was a disastrous and troubling outing for Neris, who has allowed runs in four of his last five appearances. Four of those five games were Phillies wins so it was less noticeable.

Still, he deserves another shot or two to close. The fact remains he has the best stuff in the Phillies' bullpen, and you can't just overlook all the success he's had since 2016. Even after the three-homer, four-run appearance Saturday, Neris has a 2.90 ERA in 93 innings since the start of last season with 116 strikeouts and 33 walks.

Neshek is extremely deceptive and capable of getting big outs, but he's better served as a setup man. He's more in the mold of a Brad Ziegler or Koji Uehara, guys who capably filled in as closer when needed but had more experience and success in the seventh and eighth innings.

4. Scouting Brett Anderson
The Phillies face Brett Anderson, a solid left-hander who's had a lot of trouble staying healthy over his nine-year career.

The Cubs are Anderson's fourth team in the last five years. He spent two seasons with the Dodgers, making 31 starts with a 3.69 ERA in 2015 but pitching in just four games last season.

He signed with the Cubs and is 2-0 with a 3.54 ERA in four starts. He's struck out 14 but walked 11 in 20⅓ innings. The walks have been surprising because he's always had good control.

Anderson is not a "nasty" lefty and he has reverse platoon splits for his career. Lefties have hit .306 off him with a .754 OPS compared to .257 with a .702 OPS for righties.

Lefties have long been able to pick up his slider (.281 opponents' batting average) and four-seam fastball (.340).

He throws five pitches, with a sinker, changeup and curveball in addition to those two aforementioned offerings. His fastball and sinker are in the 89 to 92 mph range.

He's a big-time groundballer. Over the last three seasons, his 64.0 percent groundball rate is the highest in the majors for starting pitchers with at least 200 innings.

Anderson has faced the Phillies just twice in his career, both in 2015. He gave up one run in six innings in one start, and allowed four runs in five innings in the other.

Current Phils are 11 for 41 (.268) off him with only two extra-base hits - doubles by Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders.

5. This and that
• Several Phillies - Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cameron Rupp - were hot either heading into this road trip or to begin it, but Tommy Joseph and Aaron Altherr have had a rough week. Those two are a combined 2 for 23 with 10 strikeouts over the last seven days.

• Bryant during his 11-game hitting streak: .378/.463/.644 with six doubles, two homers, seven RBIs, 12 runs scored, eight walks and 11 strikeouts. 

• The Phillies' nine errors through 23 games are the fifth-fewest in baseball. The Cubs, who were the best defensive team in the sport last season, have 18.

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