Phillies (36-46) vs. Royals (43-37)
1:35 p.m. on CSN
It's supposed to be pretty hot on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park and with high temperatures will come high velocity. Young flame throwers face off with Vince Velasquez and the Phillies trying to take a series from Yordano Ventura and the defending World Series champions.
Five things to know for the series finale.
Complete coverage of the Fightin' Phils and their MLB rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
1. Vinny velo
Phillies fans can rejoice: Velasquez is back and the 24-year-old righty turned back the clock to April in his last start.
In five shutout innings, he gave up just five hits, no walks, and struck out seven batters in Arizona. Technically, it was his second straight start without allowing a run, but since his last start lasted just two pitches and led to a DL stint, this one was much more encouraging...
Important to note were the 84 pitches he threw to complete the five innings. Velasquez has struggled to go deep into games with pitch counts nearing or surpassing the century mark before he's even eligible for a win. The Diamondbacks didn't have all that impressive of an offense, but it's still a strong step for the young flamethrower to have in his first start off the disabled list.
The biggest development was his 16 swinging strikes, which helped lead to those seven strikeouts. He upped his strikeouts per nine innings to 10.8 on the season. His velocity was still touching the upper 90s, a good sign after his biceps issue.
One quick fact: Vince Velasquez has the third-highest batting average on the team with a .287 mark. He has six hits in 21 at-bats and only Odubel Herrera (.302) and Cody Asche (.287) have better averages.
2. The fire and the fury at his command
If there is one player in Major League Baseball you don't want to be on the wrong side of, it's probably Yordano Ventura. When he doesn't like you, he lets you know in a big way.
Ventura is set to make his second start after serving an eight-game suspension for throwing at Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado and starting a scuffle between the Royals and O's. He's earned a reputation as someone who is more than willing to throw at hitters. The June 7 brawl with the O's wasn't his first rodeo.
As Ventura has never faced the Phillies before, he likely has little reason to throw at their hitters. Besides, he likely needs to focus on throwing the ball by hitters and not at hitters because his 2016 numbers are well below expectations.
His first start after his suspension was one of his worst this season, allowing seven runs on seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings against the Cardinals. Ventura's ERA has gone up by nearly a full run since last season and 1.8 runs since his breakout 2014 season.
The math is simple behind Ventura's decline. He's giving up nearly a hit per inning and 4.1 walks per nine innings, both career worsts. He also has struck out nearly two fewer batters per nine innings, failing to miss bats while hitters make more consistent solid contact.
For someone the Royals were hoping would be their ace of the future, he's been loudly disappointing, prompting rumors that Kansas City is shopping him. At 25 years old, there's plenty of time for a turnaround, but his 2016 is nothing if not worrying thus far.
3. A lighter road ahead
The last month has not been kind to the Phillies. While they've have had some series with the Twins, Diamondbacks and Brewers peppered in, the likes of the Cubs, Nationals, Blue Jays and Giants have taken the Phils well below .500.
However, after the current series with the defending champions ends on Sunday afternoon, there is finally a reprieve in the schedule. The Phillies close the first half with two series against teams with losing records.
First up? The Atlanta Braves, the Phils' division mate which currently sports the second worst record in all of baseball. While the Braves are projected to trot out their top two starters (Mike Foltynewicz and Julio Teheran), the July 4 matchup features rookie Joel De La Cruz making just his second career start. After winning on Saturday, the Braves have an identical -98 run differential with the Phillies.
After the Braves comes a quick trip west to Colorado. With the offense on a roll (outside of Saturday), four games at Coors Field could boost the Phils even more. The Rockies do boast a formidable offense headlined by Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez and rookie sensation Trevor Story. Expect plenty of long balls in the Mile High city.
4. Players to watch
Phillies: It's very likely there will be only one Phillies representative in the 2016 All Star Game and Odubel Herrera continues to be the heavy favorite for that spot. Despite an 0-for-4 game on Saturday, Herrera leads the team in batting average, hits, on-base percentage, OPS, walks and stolen bases.
Royals: The defending champs will have plenty of All Star representation, but one cannot help but highlight Wade Davis' performance at the back end of their bullpen. Taking over the closer role full time, he has a sterling 1.23 ERA with 19 saves in 21 chances. He hasn't pitched this series, so the Phillies may face him even if there's no save chance on Sunday.
5. This and that
• The Phillies have not won consecutive series since May 13-18, when they took two out of three against the Cincinnati Reds and Miami Marlins.
• Since that series against the Marlins, the Phillies are 5-19 against teams that are currently above .500. They were 15-10 against clubs with winning record before and including that May 16-18 series vs. the Marlins.
• The Royals are 4-7 in road series of at least three games.
• Kendrys Morales is 2 for 4 with a home run against Velasquez. Alex Gordon is 1 for 3.
• Peter Bourjos is 1 for 4 against Ventura. Jimmy Paredes is 1 for 3.