Phillies-Padres 5 Things: Aaron Nola Faces MLB's Second-worst Offense

Phillies (28-57) vs. Padres (37-49)
4:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Phillies are on a four-game losing streak. The Phils waded through a 104-minute rain delay on Friday, tied the game, and then lost it in the ninth inning to begin a three-game set with the Padres. The Friars, on the other hand, have now won four of five, their best stretch in a month. 

Aaron Nola will start the penultimate game before the All-Star break, opposing Jhoulys Chacin.

Here are five things to know for Saturday afternoon:

1. The Phillies' ace?
Nola is on a roll coming into Saturday's game. 

The 24-year-old starter is 3-0 in his last three starts, allowing just three runs in 21 1/3 innings, good for a 1.27 ERA. In that span, he's struck out 25 batters and walked seven, holding opposing hitters to a .171/.241/.289 triple slash. In other words, he's living up to the Phillies expectations, bringing his ERA down to 3.73, the best mark in the rotation.

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As one would expect with Nola, he's done it in large part thanks to his curveball. He's gotten 20 swings and misses off the breaking ball in those three games and it's been highly effective alongside his sinker this year. 

This is the type of run that the Phillies have been looking for from their starting pitchers. Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta have had somewhat similar stretches over the last month, but Nola has looked the most consistently dominant. It's a bright spot for the Phillies within a dark season.

Nola has faced the Padres twice in his brief career. He struck out nine in seven innings last year while allowing four runs and lasted six innings while giving up three runs in San Diego during his fourth career start. Only three current Friars have ABs against him: Erick Aybar is 2 for 4 with two walks, Cory Spangenberg is 1 for 6 and Wil Myers is 1 for 3 with a home run.

2. Chasing Chacin
For a lot of teams, naming their opening day starter is easy. Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers. Noah Syndergaard for the Mets. Who was it for the Padres? Believe it or not, it was Chacin.

In his ninth major league season -- first with the Padres -- the 29-year-old righty has been highly hittable. Granted, he's in a highly hittable rotation, so he's actually been one of their better starters. It's a weird statement to make for a pitcher with a 4.52 ERA. His 20.1 strikeout percentage is his best since 2010 while his walk and home run rates are pretty average. Despite playing at pitcher-friendly Petco Park, his home runs have been a little up this season.

Going into Friday, Chacin had the rotation's best ERA among qualified pitchers. On a roll his last five starts, he's brought his ERA from 5.35 to 4.52. In 32 innings during that span, he's allowed just eight runs, struck out 26 and walked 10. He has a .216 BA against in those games.

And for his career, he's been good vs. the Phils. Chacin has only faced two of the current Phils (Nava 2 for 6, Galvis 0 for 3), but he has a 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 36 innings against them. He hasn't opposed the Phillies since 2014. 

3. State of the rotation
While Aaron Nola is on a roll, Jerad Eickhoff is just getting back to the mound. The 27-year-old righty will take the hill Sunday for the Phillies in his first start since June 17, a quality appearance against the Diamondbacks.

With Eickhoff returning, the Phillies will move Mark Leiter Jr. out of the rotation momentarily despite him holding his own during his three-start stint. That leaves the Phils with Nola, Eickhoff, Pivetta, Lively and Hellickson as their starting five.

However, that is very much subject to change. Vince Velasquez, who is in the midst of his own rehab work, will be back shortly after the All-Star break. One would presume that either Lively or Pivetta would step aside for Velasquez. Likely Lively, who has lost his last three starts and struggled with walks at times. 

Yet Lively has still been one of the Phils' best starters (3.80 ERA in 42 2/3 innings over seven appearances). It stands to reason that the Phillies brass would want to hand more opportunities to Lively to allow the 25-year-old to develop at the major league level.

And that leaves Hellickson. He won't be removed from the rotation for Velasquez, but the Phillies' six-starters-for-five-spots conundrum leads to an obvious solution: trade Hellickson. His value isn't at its highest but he has proven to be an average-ish innings eater at the very least. That has value, although maybe not for the tippy-top contenders.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Nick Williams picked up his first MLB extra-base hit on Friday night with a clutch double in the seventh inning. He's 6 for 23 with a walk and hit by pitch in 25 plate appearances over his first seven games.

Padres: Jose Pirela has been smashing the ball during his short time with the Padres. In 26 games, he's slashing .302/.345/.509 with three home runs and 11 doubles. He added a tape-measure shot off Pivetta last night.

5. This and that
• The Phillies split the season series with the Friars in 2016 after going 5-1 against them in 2015. They have not lost a season series to Padres since 2006. 

• Maikel Franco leads all of baseball in one category: Double plays grounded into with 16. Tommy Joseph is tied for second with 15.

• The Padres have the second worst OPS in all of baseball (.680), better only than the Giants. The Phillies' .695 mark is fourth worst.

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