While the Phillies got a stellar pitching performance out of Aaron Nola in his return to big league action on Sunday, they took the loss when they couldn’t muster out a single run. They’ve won only four times in the month of May, which amounts to a 4-14 record.
If they want to right the ship, they’ll have to do it against the Colorado Rockies, who own the National League’s best record.
That sentence may have made your eyeballs fall right out of your head for two reasons. The first being that the Phillies will have to return to competence against one of baseball’s hottest teams, which feels impossible after their recent stretch. The other is the fact that the Rockies were expected to be a so-so team this year — and they still might wind up that way — but are making noise in the NL West.
WHAT TO EXPECT
There’s a video on YouTube called “Wile E. Coyote: 80 explosions in 11 minutes.” If the Rockies come into this series playing like the best team in the NL, the next four games will look a lot like that video.
Understanding the Rockies’ performance based on their stats can be tricky because they play half their games at Coors Field. In fact, their pitchers have allowed more runs this season than the Phillies have — 208 compared to 202 — but Coors Field is likely to blame. In both teams’ away games, Colorado’s pitchers have allowed a .301 wOBA against, while Phillies pitching allowed .338.
In away games, both teams match up pretty evenly at the plate. The Phillies slash .242/.304/.397, while the Rockies are hitting .242/.310/.385. The bad news is that evenly matched offense is not a winning combination if the Phillies keep pitching like they have been.
Monday, 7:05 p.m., Jeff Hoffman (5.40 ERA) vs. Jerad Eickhoff (4.53 ERA)
Jeff Hoffman will make a spot start for Colorado to open the series. He’s a player on the cusp of being major league ready, but reportedly has a lot of potential. In his only other big league start this year, he went 5 ⅓ innings, struck out 8, and allowed 3 earned runs.
Eickhoff, meanwhile, will look to secure his second straight quality start following a string of noticeably un-Eickhoff performances. He made a mechanical adjustment in his last outing, which provides some reason to be optimistic that his return to the norm wasn’t a fluke.
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m., German Márquez (4.34 ERA) vs. Zach Eflin (4.25 ERA)
Márquez, 22, is another young pitcher holding up the Rockies’ rotation. He’s made five starts, and each has been either exceptional or very bad, with no middle ground. In his starts, he’s allowed 1, 0, 5, 0, and 8 runs, going from most to least recent. He walked 3 batters in both of his bad starts and has a season BB/9 of 3.10, so control is clearly an issue and may determine how this game turns out.
On the other end of the spectrum, Zach Eflin has a career 2.08 bb/9. He rarely gives free passes, but he also rarely strikes batters out. He’ll have to generate soft contact to succeed, something he didn’t do in his 7-run loss against Texas in his last start.
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m., Tyler Chatwood (5.09 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (3.44 ERA)
Tyler Chatwood combines the worst peripherals of the two guys starting in the game before his. His below-average career strikeout rate (5.84 K/9) and outrageously poor 2017 walk rate (4.58 bb/9) make him a disaster for the three-true-outcome crowd. The bad news for him is that his results this year have matched his true outcomes: his 5.09 ERA isn’t striking fear into many.
Hellickson, whose 3.44 ERA has been a blessing for a Phillies fanbase exhausted by the club’s pitching efforts, might be expecting a visit from baseball’s Regression Fairy soon. He’s striking out fewer than 4 batters per 9 innings, and his .205 BABIP is in no way sustainable. Those peripherals may catch up to him at any point and lead to more runs scoring off him, but the Phillies will be hoping that doesn’t happen just yet.
Thursday, 1:05 p.m., Tyler Anderson (6.00 ERA) vs. Vincent Velasquez (5.98 ERA)
It’s hard to think of new things to say about Velasquez after previous series previews belabored the same few points: efficiency, attacking hitters, pitching to contact, going deeper into games. We should have Vincent Velasquez bingo cards. I’m still a big believer in him, and every start he makes has me hoping it will be the one in which he puts it all together.
At the same time, Velasquez is the ERA champion of this match-up. Anderson is the victim of baseball’s 5th-worst homerun rate, averaging 2.06 longballs per 9 innings. In fact, he and rotation-mate Tyler Chatwood own the game’s 2nd-worst and worst homerun/fly ball rate, respectively, with Velasquez a handful of spots behind. Anderson, somehow, is pitching worse away from Coors Field than he does in it, earning a 6.66 ERA and .612 opponent slugging percentage in away games. If the stats are anything to go by, both teams should hope their bullpens are rested for this one.