Phillies-Mariners 5 Things: Aaron Nola Hopes to Avoid More Interleague Struggles

Phillies (24-51) at Mariners (39-39)
10:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

As the losses mount, as the run differential pushed past minus-100, as the season slogs on even though summer just arrived, the Phillies have no option but to keep banging against the wall until it starts to crack.

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After dropping three of four in Arizona, the Phils head to Seattle for a two-game series against the .500 Mariners.

1. Can it get any worse?
Always a dangerous question to ask but with the Phillies right now it's relevant. At 24-51, they have the worst record through 75 games of any National League team in eight years.

They're on pace to finish 51-111, and in truth it could be even worse than that considering their most reliable hitter (Howie Kendrick) and reliever (Pat Neshek) will likely be gone by the July 31 trade deadline.

This is just such a blah team. They don't hit, they don't hit in important situations, no starting pitcher has gotten on an extended role, the bullpen blows leads, outs are given away on the bases.

The harsh but honest truth is that it comes down to a lack of talent. Look at Monday's Phillies lineup - there were two starters hitting above .257. They just don't have guys other than Kendrick and maybe Daniel Nava who can consistently take advantage of mistake pitches. Even Aaron Altherr, having an impressive, breakout season, has left many a fastball right down the middle.

2. Awful with RISP
Through May 2, the Phillies were 12-12 and they ranked 13th in the majors in both batting average (.258) and slugging percentage (.438) with runners in scoring position.

Since then? Not only do they have the lowest batting average in the majors with RISP at .220, but they have the second-fewest opportunities. 

Over that span, the league average has been 505 plate appearances for a team with runners in scoring position. The Phillies have 424.

Odubel Herrera has hit .203 with runners in scoring position. Maikel Franco has hit .208. Altherr is at .250. Andrew Knapp and Michael Saunders (before he was released) are both below .150.

3. Nola feels like himself
Aaron Nola is coming off his best start of the season, 7⅓ innings of one-run ball against the Cardinals last Thursday.

Nola allowed just six baserunners, struck out eight, and threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of 28 hitters. He had his perhaps his best two-seam movement of the season, freezing Cardinal after Cardinal with a two-seamer that started off the plate and crossed right over the outside corner. Of his eight K's, five were looking.

Nola and manager Pete Mackanin both said after the game that Nola looked like he did when he first arrived in the majors (see story). If he's getting back to that version of himself, the Phillies will be more than satisfied with him over the second half of the season.

As mentioned above, the Phillies really haven't had a starting pitcher get on a roll this season. Jeremy Hellickson had a 1.80 ERA in April but that's it. Jerad Eickhoff hasn't reeled off three or four good starts in a row, nor has Nola, nor did Vince Velasquez or Zach Eflin. Nick Pivetta and Ben Lively have had some nice moments but they've been inconsistent as well.

The Phillies desperately need at least one starting pitcher to get into a groove. If not, they're going to head into the offseason not knowing how many rotation spots are even filled for 2018. There are more questions about this group of young pitchers now than there was a year ago.

In 10 starts this season, Nola is 4-5 with a 4.32 ERA. He's struck out 55 and walked 18 in 58⅓ innings and his opponents have hit .254.

He's been better away from Citizens Bank Park, posting a 3.82 ERA in six road starts. 

Lefties have hit .288 with an .810 OPS off Nola compared to .225 and .579 for righties. That's long been the case for him because his breaking ball is his best secondary pitch while the changeup has been a work in progress. His last time out, Nola threw four changeups to lefties and they swung through all four of them.

He's never faced the Mariners. In six interleague starts, Nola is 1-4 with a 7.71 ERA and 1.75 WHIP. 

4. If trends matter ...
... then the Phillies should be able to hit left-hander James Paxton tonight.

Paxton, Seattle's 28-year-old, oft-injured southpaw, is 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 11 starts. But after a great start to the season, he's allowed 15 runs in 13 innings his last three outings. 

When Paxton was cruising in April, he walked just six batters in 32⅓ innings and had four scoreless starts out of five. In his last six starts, he's walked 16. He's prone to high pitch counts because he misses bats, induces plenty of foul balls and can struggle with control.

Paxton throws heat. At 96.3 mph, his average fastball velocity is highest in the majors for a left-handed starting pitcher. He's thrown it 63 percent of the time.

Paxton goes mostly fastball, curveball, cutter. Typically a lefty will use the cutter against right-handed hitters to jam them, but Paxton actually throws it more to lefties, saving it for righties when he has two strikes.

Paxton faced the Phillies once back in 2014 and allowed four runs (one earned) and lasted just four innings. 

5. This and that
• Nelson Cruz is obviously one of the more dangerous power hitters in the game but he's in a big home run drought that's lasted 18 games and 78 plate appearances. He's hitting .291 with 14 homers, 58 RBIs and an .890 OPS.

• Remember when the M's came to Philly and Robinson Cano played through a quad injury and went 6 for 8 with two homers, a double and five RBIs? He went on the DL immediately after that series and missed two weeks. Since returning, he's hit just .261/.313/.410.

• Nick Pivetta's fastball velocity was down to an average of 93 mph Monday after hovering around 95 his last two starts. He also threw just three of 17 sliders and curveballs for strikes.

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