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Difficult to envision Phillies rising to Astros' level anytime soon

The hot-hitting Astros are "as good a team as we've seen," Phils manager Pete Mackanin says.

Houston’s Alex Bregman is greeted by pitcher Brad Peacock after his second-inning homer Monday night.
Houston’s Alex Bregman is greeted by pitcher Brad Peacock after his second-inning homer Monday night.Read moreTOM GRALISH

The records said the teams were separated by 30 games before they stepped between the white lines Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. The nine innings of baseball that were unmercifully interrupted by a nearly two-hour rain delay indicated the difference between the teams was far greater.

The Phillies are where the Houston Astros were just a few years ago when they lost 106, 107 and 111 games in three straight seasons. As recently as 2014, the Astros lost 92 games, but the following year, they reached the postseason as a wild-card team and now they are by far the best team in the American League.

And boy, do they have the bats to prove it.

"This is going to be a good test, these three games," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said before experiencing a long night literally and an even longer one figuratively. "When I look at their cover sheet and look at all their numbers, I really don't want to look at it. But once again, good pitching will stop good hitting, so if we can get good outings from some of our pitchers, we have a chance."

The Phillies had no chance Monday night in a lopsided 13-4 loss that was far worse than the score indicated. Vince Velasquez, in his second start since returning from an elbow injury, was beaten up by the power-hitting team that had traded him before last season. Velasquez allowed six hits, four runs, three walks and two home runs in his three innings and was lucky that the long rain delay ended his evening after he issued a leadoff walk in the fourth.

If you like power, the Astros have plenty of that, too. They opened the scoring in the second with back-to-back home runs by Brian McCann and Alex Bregman, the seventh and eighth hitters in the lineup. Bregman's home run was his 10th of the season, making him the 10th player on the team with double-digit home runs. Among Houston's starting eight position players Monday, only Josh Reddick does not have double-digit homers. He has nine.

"This is as good a team as we've seen," Mackanin said. "They're very aggressive hitters, and you can't make mistakes. That was one thing that was noticeable. Early in the count, they hack at mistakes."

Mackanin would love for his own young hitters to take some notes during this series.

"I'd like them to," the manager said. "It was noticeable to me that they go up there to do damage. They go up there to hit every pitch. They're not taking to get a look at the pitcher. If you make a mistake out over the plate, they're going to hurt you. That goes for everyone in that lineup."

Even more impressive is that the Astros are without arguably their best player right now. Carlos Correa, with his .320 average and 20 home runs, is sidelined by a thumb injury. Second baseman Jose Altuve had four hits for the Astros, increasing his major-league-best average from .358 to .365. It was the 24th four-hit game of his career. His last four-hit game had come the day before in Baltimore.

[Phillies' Aaron Altherr expects to return later this week.]

It all made Mackanin's recent giddiness about the Phillies offense seem a little silly.

"The thing that I'm excited about is the way we've been swinging the bats," Mackanin said before the game. "Seven games in a row with five runs or more, that's pretty encouraging."

That streak ended as the Phillies managed just four runs off a total of four Houston pitchers. By the time Nick Williams delivered a three-run triple in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Astros already had a 12-1 lead.

As well as Williams has played in his brief time in the big leagues, it is difficult to imagine the Phillies being in the place where the Astros have ascended to anytime soon. It does, however, remain the goal.

"It's a matter of time," Mackanin said. "It's not going to go on forever. When that point is, I can't say, but I know one thing: It will get done at some point."

At this point, however, it is impossible to envision it in the near future.

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