Phillies (67-83) vs. White Sox (72-78)
7:05 p.m. on CSN
The Phillies open their final interleague series and second-to-last home set of the season tonight against the White Sox. They have a two-gamer with Chicago before traveling to New York for a four-game series with the Mets and to Atlanta for three with the Braves.
With the year winding down, several important young Phillies are finishing strong. Let's take a look:
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1. Herrera rediscovering his stroke
Odubel Herrera gave away far too many at-bats coming out of the All-Star break, his walk rate plummeting and his on-base percentage dropping all the way from .378 at the break to .353 by Sept. 4.
During that stretch of 46 games, Herrera hit .246 with a .304 OBP and had just 10 extra-base hits.
In 13 games since, Herrera has hit .372 with seven extra-base hits. He has an XBH in five straight games and has multiple hits in five of six. Herrera is 12 for 24 over that span with four doubles, a homer, two steals and seven runs scored.
Pete Mackanin is hopeful that Herrera carries this hot streak through the end of the season so that he ends his sophomore year with confidence.
In addition to giving Herrera confidence, Herrera's late-season push could increase his trade value in case the Phillies shop him in the offseason.
Herrera played 147 games last season and hit .297/.344/.418 with 41 extra-base hits and 129 strikeouts.
He's played 147 games this season and hit .285/.361/.419 with 39 extra-base hits and 121 strikeouts. His offensive numbers are better across the board, save for batting average.
2. Five in a row for Thompson?
Jake Thompson has been solid since changing his windup, allowing no more than two runs in each of his last four starts. He has a 2.49 ERA over that span, lowering his season mark from 9.78 to 5.64.
Thompson allowed 12 extra-base hits in his first four starts and has allowed six in his last four.
Thompson minimized damage his last time out, allowing two runs to the Pirates over six innings despite putting nine men on base. He was helped by three groundball double plays, one fewer than he had in his first seven starts combined.
These have been key starts for Thompson because they've shown him and the Phillies that he can get outs at the big-league level. But he needs to throw more strikes, simple and plain. Just 59 percent of his pitches with the Phillies have been strikes and he doesn't possess stuff dominant enough to fall behind in counts.
The White Sox are just an average AL offense, but they've been hitting in September. As a team, Chicago has batted .290 with a .774 OPS in 18 September games. Jose Abreu has led the charge, hitting .382 with six home runs and 22 RBIs.
Thompson faced the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on Aug. 23, the last start before he simplified his delivery. He allowed seven runs and two homers in five innings in that game, being taken deep by Abreu and Justin Morneau.
3. A chance to tee off
The Phillies face veteran right-hander James Shields, whose stuff has completely eroded. Shields began showing real signs of decline last season, when he had a 3.91 ERA with the Padres despite moving to the easier league and to a pitcher-friendly ballpark.
He struggled in San Diego to begin the season and the Padres traded him to the White Sox in a salary dump. Chicago thought it was buying low, but Shields has been arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2016. In 19 starts with the White Sox, he's 3-10 with a 6.94 ERA. He's struck out 61 and walked 47 in 96 innings. In 30 starts overall, he's 5-17 with a 5.84 ERA.
The Phillies handed Shields his 16th loss on Aug. 24, scoring four runs against him in six innings. Cesar Hernandez and Tommy Joseph each hit solo homers off him.
Shields is, however, coming off his best start in nearly two months. His last time out, he limited the Indians, a tough lineup, to one run over six innings and struck out eight.
In his prime, Shields averaged better than 93 mph with his fastball. He's always had a very good changeup, but a changeup isn't nearly as effective once the disparity between a pitcher's fastball and changeup velocity decreases. This season, Shields' fastball has averaged 91.1 mph and his changeup has been 84.0 mph.
Who in their right mind would have ever thought the 2016 Phillies would have four players with 20-plus home runs?
Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard each have 22 homers, and Freddy Galvis and Tommy Joseph have 20 apiece, forming the majors' most unlikely 20-homer quartet. Home runs are up across the majors this season, but there are still only four teams that have more players with 20-plus homers than the Phillies: the Orioles, Red Sox, Tigers and Nationals.
That's as many players with 20-plus homers as the Phillies had in 2013, 2014 and 2015 combined.
Last season, Howard was the only Phillie to reach 20. The year before, it was just Howard and Marlon Byrd. In 2013, only Domonic Brown reached that plateau.
Throw in Cameron Rupp (15) and Herrera (14) and the Phillies have six players in double digits.
5. This and that
• The Phillies' on-base percentage by month: .292, .286, .295, .306, .299, .308. Yikes.
• However, the Phillies' .349 OBP out of the leadoff spot ranks ninth in the majors. It's been mostly Cesar Hernadnez and Herrera leading off. Both have a .361 OBP.
• The Phils are 9-9 in interleague play this season, 5-3 at home.