Aug. 20 MLB Preview — Philadelphia Phillies (64-60) at Boston Red Sox (67-59)

(Aaron Nola photo courtesy Ken Hartline/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Tuesday, Aug. 20, Fenway Park, Boston, Mass., 7:10 p.m. EDT.

If this is indeed the last stand of the Boston Red Sox, they are at least going down with a fight.

The defending World Series champions look to match a season best Tuesday night with a sixth consecutive victory as they play the first of two games versus the Philadelphia Phillies.

Nola seeks fourth win in five starts as Phils try to gain ground in NL wild-card chase

The Phillies (64-60) entered play Monday night part of a three-way tie with Milwaukee and the New York Mets, two games behind the Chicago Cubs for the second National League wild-card spot and 3 1/2 games behind division rival Washington for the first.

The momentum of a three-game sweep of the Cubs fizzled out over the weekend as Philadelphia dropped the final two games of its series versus San Diego, capped by a 3-2 loss Sunday. Jean Segura drove in both runs with a pair of RBI doubles, but the Phillies generated few scoring chances and finished 1 for 3 with runners in scoring position.

“There’s really no time to think about what happened here and what could have or should have; we have to go to Boston and do the job,” pitcher Jason Vargas told the Phils’ official website after allowing two runs in 5 2-3 innings and not factoring in the decision.

“It’s frustrating to lose the game and the series,” manager Gabe Kapler added. “We were 4-2 on the homestand and [had] really high-quality at-bats across the board today that didn’t end with the best possible results.”

Aaron Nola (11-3, 3.56) hopes the offense perks up and Bryce Harper is able to play after leaving Sunday’s contest due to dehydration. Nola shook off a subpar outing in San Francisco with a sharp one Wednesday versus the Cubs, pitching free and easy with a 10-run lead after three innings and conceded a solo homer and two other hits in seven innings of an 11-1 rout.

Though Nola is 5-2 on the road, he has not shown Wednesday’s type of dominance often as he has a 4.63 ERA outside Citizens Bank Park. While the righty has pitched well in interleague matchups against AL Central teams this year, the opposition has been the division’s also-rans — Nola is 1-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three outings against the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox.

He had nothing to show for a stellar outing at Fenway Park last year, holding the Red Sox to one run in eight innings of Philadelphia’s 2-1, 13-inning defeat. It is also his lone appearance versus Boston.

Harper has struggled all season against AL pitching, hitting .130 (6 for 46) with 17 strikeouts and one homer. He has fared slightly better against Boston in his career, hitting .250 (8 for 32) with a pair of home runs in nine games ahead of his first trip to Fenway since 2015.

BoSox still face sizable wild-card deficit

Currently the hottest team in the majors, the Red Sox (67-59) still have much work to do for a chance to defend their World Series title in October. They began play Monday night 6 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot and must still overtake the Oakland A’s in addition to knocking out either Cleveland or division rival Tampa Bay.

After this series, Boston has a soft patch of schedule in the form of an eight-game road trip that features sub-.500 teams San Diego, Colorado, and the Los Angeles Angels. But first things first, and that is matching the six-game run established as a season best from June 12-17.

Alex Cora’s team took care of business over the weekend sweeping three games from Baltimore, erasing a five-run deficit to win 13-8 Sunday. Rafael Devers went 4 for 5 with a homer and two doubles and drove in four runs for the Red Sox, who have scored 38 runs during their win streak.

“It’s amazing,” Cora said of Devers, who leads the majors with 101 RBIs, to the club’s official website. “We go back to April, like people were talking about him going to Triple-A and trying to find it down there. But his on-base percentage was way up there and he wasn’t striking out.

So we saw a few things that we liked and he wasn’t hitting the ball in the air. When he found it, he just took off. Just quality at-bat after quality at-bat. He’s a joy to watch.”

Devers is hitting a blistering .541 (20 for 37) with four homers and 12 extra-base hits during an eight-game hitting streak and also has 11 RBIs during a five-game run with at least one run driven in.

Brian Johnson (1-1, 6.45) hopes Devers and Boston’s offense can continue to produce at a prolific clip. Cora has been quick to hook the left-hander at the first sign of trouble in his last two starts and pulled him in the third inning Wednesday against Cleveland after yielding an unearned run with three hits and two walks in 2 2-3 innings.

Johnson has lasted just five innings once in his five starts and has no record and a 3.86 ERA in those contests. He has given up 22 runs in 16 1-3 innings in those games, with opposing hitters batting .319.

The southpaw’s lone interleague appearance in 2019 was a disaster as he gave up more runs (7) than recorded outs (4) in a relief role in Boston’s 15-8 loss at Arizona on April 5. Johnson’s only matchup with Philadelphia was a road start in 2017 when he yielded three runs and four hits in 2 2-3 innings before Boston rallied for a 7-3 victory.

Notable Trends

The Red Sox are:

  • 2-9 in their last 11 games vs. above-.500 teams.
  • 4-10 in their last 14 games after allowing five or more runs in the previous game.
  • 0-4 in their last four home games vs. above-.500 teams.

The Phillies are:

  • 5-1 in Nola’s last six interleague starts.
  • 20-8 in Nola’s last 28 starts on five days of rest.
  • 5-1 in Nola’s last six starts vs. above-.500 teams.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Red Sox UNDER 5.5 runs (-121)

The hook makes the play here as the Red Sox have scored more than five runs just twice in their last nine home games and been held to four or less in five of their eight interleague games.

Philadelphia has also kept opponents under six runs in all but three of Nola’s last 22 outings and in its last six games. The Phils have not allowed more than five runs in any of their five interleague road games and kept AL teams under six in 11 of 13 matchups.

****4-Star Picks****

UNDER 11 runs (-115)

This is more of a feeling the number is too high and that Nola’s effectiveness can outweigh Johnson’s potential struggles. Cora’s quick hook also plays into taking the under, which is 6-1-2 in the last nine meetings between the teams and 4-0-1 in the last five at Fenway.

The under is 5-1-1 in Nola’s last seven starts versus AL teams and 9-3-1 in Philadelphia’s last 13 games against AL East foes. The under is also 3-1-1 in Boston’s last five contests versus NL East opponents.

Phillies 3-way ML first 3 innings (+135)

Nola has pitched the Phillies to a three-inning lead in six of his last 10 starts (6-1-3) and not allowed a run in seven of them. This is also a favorable matchup if Cora’s short leash on Johnson is going to continue as he plays for the short-term win when the left-hander is on the mound. Nola’s form and the extra day of rest should lead to early effectiveness that gives this pick a shot to deliver a healthy plus-money reward.

***3-Star Picks***

Phillies ML (Even)

These have been the kind of games that have exposed the Red Sox all season as a flawed team — playing a good team when having to use a back-end pitcher in their rotation. In this case, it is magnified with Johnson, who is essentially a de facto opener given Cora is now willing to pull him at the drop of a hat.

Nola has a 3-1 mark and 3.09 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break, and both he and the Phillies benefit from that extra day of rest. Philadelphia is 13-6 following an off day and been a dominant Tuesday team, winning nine of its last 10. Nola has also been a Tuesday pitcher, helping the Phillies go 9-2 in his last such 11 starts.

Even with the line in Boston’s direction, Nola still feels like a confident play with a better return on the money line.

Phillies 3-way ML first 5 innings (+121)

The Phillies are 7-2-2 at the midway point in Nola’s last 11 starts, with opponents scoring one or no runs in nine of those outings. There is always a leeriness about Boston’s offense lighting things up, especially at Fenway, but facing Johnson as opposed to Rick Porcello makes the Phillies worth the flyer here.

UNDER 6.5 runs first 5 innings (-121)

Similar to the overall over/under, the feeling is the number is too high given Nola’s current form. The five-inning under is 7-3-1 in his last 11 starts, with two of those overs hitting because the Phillies cleared the number themselves in offensive support of their right-hander.

The under is also 6-3-1 in Boston’s last 10 at Fenway Park, which is somewhat surprising considering the last three opponents for the Red Sox were all sub-.500 teams in Kansas City, the Los Angeles Angels, and Baltimore.

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