Phillies (40-46) at Rockies (38-46)
8:40 p.m. on CSN
The Phillies completed a 5-1 homestand Wednesday, put on their cowboy hats (at least Ryan Howard and Brett Oberholtzer did) and took off for the Rocky Mountains. Their final four games before the All-Star break are at Coors Field, the perfect destination for their hot bats.
Let's have a look-see at Thursday's series opener:
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1. Hittin' season
It's been unbearably hot lately in Philadelphia, and as tends to be the case, the Phillies' bats have warmed along with the weather.
They've been led by Maikel Franco, who has a home run in four straight games and an RBI in six straight. It's the longest home run streak by a Phillie since Howard's streak of equal length in September 2012. It's also the longest RBI streak by a Phillie since Erik Kratz drove in a run in seven straight back in June of 2013. (Major props if you knew/remember that.)
Franco, Freddy Galvis and manager Pete Mackanin all spoke Wednesday about the impact the offense's overall success lately has had on Franco. He doesn't feel like he has to do it all right now. And by settling down and actually seeing some pitches, Franco is putting himself in better counts and flourishing. He's hit .375 over his last 15 games with six home runs and 16 RBIs.
Odubel Herrera is also on a roll, going 16 for 45 (.356) with four doubles, three homers and seven RBIs over his last 10 games. Peter Bourjos, despite losing his hit streak at 14 games Wednesday, drove a ball deep into the gap in right-center early in that game. Singles-happy Cesar Hernandez is up to .288.
This sudden offensive outburst has been as pleasant as it is unexpected.
2. No Nola
Aaron Nola is being skipped in his normal rotation spot tonight. The Phillies are giving him a physical and mental break after he posted a 13.50 ERA and .427 opponents' batting average in his last five starts. The Phillies' clubhouse was obviously upbeat after Wednesday's dramatic win, but Nola was just sitting calmly by his locker. Even if you didn't know of his recent struggles, you could tell something is up with him. Hopefully for the Phils, the two-plus weeks off Nola gets do the trick.
Starting in his place tonight is left-hander Adam Morgan, who made just two relief appearances in two weeks after losing his spot on the Phillies' starting staff in late June. Excluding his relief stats, Morgan is 1-6 with a 6.55 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 11 starts. He's allowed 13 home runs in 61⅓ innings, a sky-high rate.
3. The Coors Field effect
Coors Field is the worst possible place for a contact pitcher like Morgan. Simply put, tonight could get ugly for the Phillies' southpaw.
The Rockies have hit .305 with a .904 OPS at home this season. They've averaged 4.7 extra-base hits per game.
The thin air in Denver allows fly balls to travel farther, but it's not just the home runs that make Coors Field so hitter-friendly. Outfielders are forced to play deeper because of how well the ball travels, and as a result many more bloop singles fall in than in other parks. More baserunners, more stress, more struggles for pitchers.
With so many offensive threats, the Rockies are built for their ballpark despite the 18-20 home record. Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Mark Reynolds, D.J. Lemahieu ... all are hitting between .309 and .379 at Coors.
4. Scouting Bettis
The starter the Phillies face tonight, right-hander Chad Bettis, has allowed the most hits (121) and earned runs (62) in the National League. He's 6-6 with a 5.85 ERA this season, and in 280 career innings owns a 5.44 ERA.
The 27-year-old got off to a decent start, posting a 3.89 ERA through his first six outings, but over his last 11 he has a 7.10 ERA and .343 opponents' batting average.
Bettis' 6.55 career ERA at Coors Field bodes well for the Phillies. His track record against them does not. In five appearances (three starts) vs. the Phils, Bettis is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. He faced them twice last year, allowing three runs in six innings in Colorado and pitching eight shutout innings at Citizens Bank Park.
Bettis has five pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, sinker, curveball and changeup. He throws mostly four-seamers and sliders to right-handed hitters but uses his full repertoire against lefties. His breaking balls have been his best pitches this season.
Current Phillies have 10 hits in 42 at-bats against Bettis and Carlos Ruiz has half of them (5 for 8). Chooch could get a second straight start tonight.
5. This and that
• Franco has played in 160 games the last two seasons. He's hit .271/.331/.488 with 34 doubles, 31 homers and 99 RBIs. Not bad for a guy who's slumped most of the season.
• It's crazy that Arenado still flies under the radar at this point. He's the best defensive infielder in baseball and if he stays in shape and healthy he will eventually go down as one of the greatest fielding third baseman ever. He's also an offensive force. Arenado led the NL with 42 homers last season, led baseball with 130 RBIs, and leads the NL again this season with 69 RBIs.
• CarGo has always destroyed the Phillies. He's a career .378 hitter against them in 158 plate appearances, including the 2009 NLDS.
• You can certainly get to the Rockies' bullpen, which has a 4.99 ERA, second-worst in baseball (Reds, 5.80).