Phillies-Mets 5 Things: Zeroes Needed From Nola With Syndergaard on the Hill

Phillies (5-9) at Mets (8-7)
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Mets might have to rename him Babe Bruce before it's all over.

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The Phillies move into the rubber match of their series at Citi Field against the Mets Thursday feeling like they probably should already have the series win.

They led 2-0 last night and Vince Velasquez was cruising until Bruce again victimized the Phillies with a three-run jack.

Let's take a look at what to expect tonight:

1. Bruce Almighty
Bruce is not a superstar. He's a power hitter who strikes out a lot, doesn't hit lefties and has hit .234 with a .298 on-base percentage since 2014.

Just imagine what his numbers would look like if it wasn't for Phillies pitching.

In 67 career games against the Phils, Bruce has hit .333/.383/.650 with 21 home runs and 58 RBIs. Over the last two seasons alone, he's hit .422 against them with eight homers and 22 RBIs in 19 games.

Bruce has driven in more runs in five games against the Phillies than any Phillie has driven in all season. (Maikel Franco leads the team with 10 RBIs.)

Bruce is 2 for 6 with two strikeouts against Aaron Nola, who starts tonight. 

2. Nola building momentum
Nola has opened his all-important bounce-back year with two solid starts. He allowed three runs in six innings and struck out seven in the Phillies' 17-3 outburst over the Nationals, then limited the Nats to one run over five innings last Friday.

In the second start, Nola struck out six, walked none and generated 11 groundballs against a power-packed lineup. 

More impressive than the numbers, though, is the fact that 49.7 percent of Nola's pitches this season have been in the lower-third of the strike zone. That number was similar last season but the difference was he was often missing off the plate low and falling behind in counts.

Low in the zone is where he -- and really any pitcher -- needs to live. The extra-base hits pile up when Nola is elevating his 91-93 mph fastball.

When Nola first made it up to the bigs, he impressed with precise fastball command and a knee-buckling breaking ball that starts at a right-handed hitter's hip and ends over the plate. Pitchers usually need more than two pitches to be effective long-term, but the combination of that fastball command and curveball movement led to immediate success for Nola.

The Mets are an aggressive team and every current Met who has faced him has at least one hit. Collectively, they're 8 for 20 with a double, a homer, no walks and four strikeouts.

Mets like Yoenis Cespedes and Bruce are going to be hunting early fastballs, so don't be surprised to see a few more get-me-over breaking balls than usual from Nola. Through two starts, Nola has thrown his fastball or sinker on the first pitch 63 percent of the time to righties and 50 percent of the time to lefties.

3. The Mighty Thor
The Phillies have their work cut out Thursday night against all-world right-hander Noah Syndergaard. 

Syndergaard has become much, much more than just a hard-thrower. He's a hard thrower who stays out of the middle of the plate, usually succeeds even when he misses over the plate, and doesn't walk anybody.

Through three starts, Syndergaard has a 0.95 ERA with 20 strikeouts and no walks or homers allowed. This after a 2016 season in which he went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA and 218 strikeouts to 43 walks in 183 2/3 innings.

There will be many near-triple-digit fastballs for Phillies hitters tonight. Syndergaard has thrown 11 pitches at 98 mph or faster this season, third-most among starting pitchers to Carlos Martinez and Luis Severino. Only two of those 11 pitches have been put in play and both were groundouts.

Throughout his career, the best way to get to Syndergaard has been early in the count. His opponents have hit .333 on the first pitch, .342 with the count 1-0 and .377 with the count 0-1. Once he reaches two strikes, though, good luck -- his opponents have hit .156 and struck out in 53 percent of those at-bats.

Syndergaard is 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA in four career starts against the Phillies. He's struck out 30, walked six and allowed three home runs in 26 1/3 innings.

Two of those homers were hit by Freddy Galvis, who's 3 for 11 with two bombs and a double. Odubel Herrera is 1 for 12, Cameron Rupp is 1 for 9 with five K's, and Cesar Hernandez is 1 for 6 with three walks and two strikeouts.

4. Where's the pop?
Hernandez is hitting .317 with a .358 OBP, Herrera is hitting .292 with a .404 OBP and Howie Kendrick was hitting .333 with a .395 OBP when he went on the DL.

And yet the Phillies are 5-9 and still not scoring very many runs. Aside from the 17-run game against the Nationals, they've averaged 3.77 runs per game.

Know how many runs they averaged last season? That would be 3.77 runs per game.

If I told you before the season that two weeks in, the top three hitters in the Phillies' lineup had a combined OBP of .385, you'd think the offense would be thriving, right?

That's where the non-existent offense in those 4 through 7 slots comes into play. Phillies cleanup batters are hitting .170. They've gotten a .163 batting average out of the six-spot and a .167 from their seventh hitters.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp just haven't gotten it done. More power is expected from all three, but they all have low ceilings when it comes to getting on base. That trio combined for 62 home runs in 2016 but Franco led the group with a .306 OBP.

Just not a deep enough or complete enough offense, which is why you've heard often this year about all those big bats available in free agency after 2018.

5. This and that
• Mets closer Jeurys Familia is eligible to return tonight from a 15-game suspension. It would make a shaky bullpen that much better.

• Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta dominated again at Lehigh Valley Thursday afternoon: 6 innings, 4 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 11 strikeouts.

Through three starts, Pivetta -- who was acquired in the Jonathan Papelbon trade two summers ago -- has a 0.95 ERA with 24 strikeouts and two walks.

• Michael Saunders, who looked off balance through his first nine games, is getting into a groove. He has three multi-hit games in his last five, though all seven hits have been singles.

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