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Phillies Look to Correct a Few Ugly Trends Vs. NL-Best Cubs and Javier Baez

After salvaging the final game of the Nationals series Wednesday and taking a day to rest Thursday, the Phillies welcome the best team in the National League to Citizens Bank Park for a weekend series.

No, they will not face Cole Hamels - it's Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Aaron Nola against Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, in that order.

At 79-54, the Cubs are 4½ games better than any team in the NL. And they gave the Phillies a little help Thursday by beating the Braves.

Phillies (71-62) vs. Cubs (79-54)

Nick Pivetta (7-10, 4,76 ERA) vs. Jose Quintana (11-9, 4.33 ERA)

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
Streaming: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App
Phillies Pre-Game Live begins at 6:30 p.m. ET

Getting off on the right foot

The Phillies have lost seven consecutive series openers. They've won just one of their last 10 series overall. Each of their last three series has played out the same way: lose Game 1, lose Game 2, win Game 3.

The Phils' high watermark this season was 15 games over .500 back on Aug. 7. Since then, they're 7-13 and the Braves are 13-10.

Gaining some ground

The Braves have lost two in a row and as a result, the Phillies have picked up a game and a half over the last 48 hours. They enter the weekend trailing Atlanta by three games in the NL East.

The Phillies are also three games back in the wild-card race but they trail four teams: the Cardinals, Brewers, Rockies and Dodgers.

A look at the NL MVP?

There is no clear-cut frontrunner for the NL MVP award, but Javier Baez checks off a lot of boxes. 

He's hitting .294 with an .895 OPS. 

He has 35 doubles, eight triples, 28 homers and 97 RBI. 

He's stolen 21 bases and scored 81 runs. 

He's played plus defense at second base, third base and shortstop.

Yes, he swings at everything. But the rest of his game has more than made up for that flaw. He's been the Cubs' most consistently dangerous offensive threat.

Baez plays for the best team in the NL and has been the catalyst during a season in which Anthony Rizzo struggled in the first half and Kris Bryant has been plagued by injuries. He'd get my vote.

Five and dive

The lefty Quintana has pitched exactly five innings in each of his last three starts. Manager Joe Maddon doesn't like letting him go through the lineup a third time. 

It's hard to blame Maddon when you look at these slash lines from Quintana's opponents:

First time through the order: .264/.339/.421

Second time: .185/.261/.360

Third time: .336/.430/.564

This is a night when it might not matter if the Phillies make Quintana work. He probably won't be lasting long anyway. He's pitched six innings in just 12 of 25 starts this season.

The Cubs paid a huge price to acquire Quintana from the crosstown White Sox in July 2017, trading top power prospect Eloy Jimenez. To that point in Quintana's career, he'd done nothing but post ERAs in the low-to-mid-3.00s with low rates of walks and home runs.

With the Cubs, though, he has a 4.10 ERA in 39 starts. Quintana has the highest walk rate of his career this season (4.0 per nine innings) and his lowest strikeout rate since 2013.

The three Phillies who have faced him most, however, have pathetic numbers. Carlos Santana is 9 for 46 (.196) with one homer. Asdrubal Cabrera is 6 for 27 (.222) with eight strikeouts. Jose Bautista is 2 for 25 (.080) with 10 K's.

Cesar Hernandez is the only Phillie who's seen Quintana well, going 2 for 4 with a double, a triple, three RBI and two walks.

Pivetta's turn

Nick Pivetta badly needs a bounce-back start after allowing 11 runs in 10⅓ innings over his last two starts.

Pivetta enters 7-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 136 innings. He's struck out 162, walked 38 and allowed 20 home runs.

At home this season, he's been markedly better. Pivetta's opponents' batting average is 28 points lower at home, and in 18 more innings than he's pitched on the road, he's allowed the same number of homers, four fewer walks and struck out 38 more.

Current Cubs have hit him around, going 14 for 40 (.350) with seven walks. Rizzo, Daniel Murphy, Albert Almora and pinch-hit specialist Tommy La Stella are a combined 11 for 19 off Pivetta.

The Phillies' 25-year-old right-hander is 29 innings away from tying his career-high. Though it feels like he's had more dependable stretches in Year 2, Pivetta hasn't gone much deeper into games. He's averaged 5.19 innings per start compared to 5.11 last season.

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