Phillies-Pirates 5 Things: Pretty Hard to Be This Bad in Clutch Situations

Phillies (28-55) vs. Pirates (39-46)
6:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' season series with the Pirates comes to a close tonight at Citizens Bank Park as they look for a four-game split.

The Phils' offense the last two nights has been anemic, as has often been the case in 2017. Will it get any better Thursday?

1. What big hit?
The Phillies are 1 for 20 with runners in scoring position in the series, and their only hit with RISP didn't even score a run.

On the season, the Phillies have hit .235 with runners in scoring position and their .677 OPS in that situation is worst in the National League. The league average OPS is .768.

Specifically, the Phils have struggled to get a runner in from third base with less than two outs. In those situations, they've hit .213/.244/.343, ranking last in the majors in all three categories. The Phillies' .587 OPS with a runner on third and less than two outs is 117 points lower than the next-worst team.

The team just doesn't have enough hitting. Last night, Daniel Nava was the only player in the lineup with a batting average above .275 or an OPS above .750.

2. Check the clock
The Phillies are in a stretch in which they'll play 20 straight games at a different time than the night before. Last night's 7:05 p.m. game followed a 4:10 start the day before. Tonight's game starts at 6:05, and then the Padres series has games at 6:35, 4:05 and 1:35.

The Phillies won't play two games in a row at the same time until July 17-18 in Miami, both 7:10 starts.

3. Nava keeps hitting
Daniel Nava has made a nice little home in the Phillies' leadoff spot the last two weeks. Batting first this season, he's 11 for 30 (.367) with two doubles, four RBIs and four walks. The Phillies are 5-2 in those games.

Nava, a non-roster invitee in the spring who had to battle to earn the Phils' final spot on the bench, has produced all season, hitting .313/.408/.430 in 152 plate appearances. He has 20 walks and 29 strikeouts.

Nava has been solid as both a starter (.304 BA, .841 OPS) and pinch-hitter (.346 BA, .823 OPS). Because of that, he should be attractive to a contending team seeking a fourth outfielder or bench piece ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.

But it's not an open-and-shut case for the Phillies to trade him. He's a 34-year-old rental player who's played for five different teams in the last three years. How much can you realistically expect to get back for him?

When it comes to shopping a player like Nava, the Phils might find it makes more sense to keep him. He's provided more value than any Single A prospect you'd get in return likely ever would in the majors.

Sure, Nava's departure would open up a spot that could perhaps be filled by someone like Dylan Cozens. It would give the Phillies a chance to play Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams every day. But the Phillies could still do all of that and just move Nava to the bench.

Consider this: The Phillies could also look to re-sign Nava at season's end to be a veteran bench piece. The fact that he can play left field, right field and first base and hit from both sides of the plate makes him a valuable NL bench player.

The Phillies had chances the last few years to trade Andres Blanco and didn't because they valued his veteran presence and the various things he can do off the bench. They also knew they wouldn't get much for him. Blanco has taken big steps back in 2017, so perhaps Nava fills that role next season.

4. Helly on the hill
Jeremy Hellickson makes his 18th start of the season tonight, entering 5-5 with a 4.48 ERA. 

He allowed a pair of home runs on July 1 at Citi Field, when he allowed four runs in 6⅓ innings. Prior to that, Hellickson had made two good starts in a row, allowing two runs in 13 innings with 11 strikeouts.

Hellickson has been missing more bats of late. He's punched out 25 batters in his last 35⅔ innings. Prior to that, he had just 24 K's on the season in 60⅔ innings.

Hellickson, again, faces an uncertain future. Trade speculation with him was much more pronounced last July when he ended the month with a 3.71 ERA. But the Phils could finally 
move him this time around given their willingness to pay down much, if not all, of his remaining salary.

Hellickson's last game against the Pirates was one of his best starts of the season. He allowed just two hits and one earned run over six innings and would have gone longer if he didn't tweak his back during an at-bat.

Current Pirates are 12 for 87 (.138) off Hellickson with no home runs. Only two players, Josh Harrison (2 for 6) and Gregory Polanco (2 for 9), have multiple hits against him.

Andrew McCutchen is 1 for 7 with five walks.

5. This and that
• Since Cesar Hernandez went out on June 9 with an oblique strain, the Phillies have scored the fewest runs in baseball and have the worst on-base percentage and slugging percentage in the league.

• Right-hander Chad Kuhl, a 24-year-old Delaware native, gets the start tonight for the Pirates. He's 2-6 with a 5.26 ERA but made one of his better starts against the Phillies on May 21, allowing just one hit over five shutout innings.

• The Phillies' 5-6-7-8 hitters last night - Williams, Blanco, Odubel Herrera and Andrew Knapp - struck out a combined nine times in 16 at-bats.

• After homering twice in his last three games, Maikel Franco is on pace for 23 homers and 86 RBIs. It's still impossible to look past that .219 batting average and .278 OBP, though.

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