The last leg of this disastrous road trip takes the Phillies to Comerica Park to take on the American League defending champion Detroit Tigers. The Tigers are offensively stacked coming into the series opener with the AL’s best BA, 2nd in OBP and 3rd in SLG %. The Tigers come home tonight after a seven game road trip that saw them go 4-3 against the Royals and White Sox. The offense is led by 2012 Triple Crown Winner and MVP Miguel Cabrerra, while the starting pitching is highlighted by All-Star game starter Max Scherzer, who will pitch Saturdays game against Philly ace Cliff Lee.
The Phillies have come out of the All-Star break swinging, racking up 11 runs in the first three innings of the series opener against the Mets. It’s been all downhill from there. After winning the opener against the Mets by a 13-8 final, the Phils have dropped 5 in a row by a combined score of 28-9. Included in the stretch was a three-game sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals in which the Phils scored only 5 runs. Already without the services of leadoff hitter Ben Revere and cleanup hitter Ryan Howard, the Phils found themselves without 2013’s best hitter Domonic Brown the last two games of the series due to concussion like symptoms that emerged after an attempted diving catch in game one of the series. The feckless offense hit .235 for the series with only 4 extra-base hits, 4 BB’s and 20 SO’s. Brown has been put on the seven-day disabled list dating back to Wednesdays game and will not be available against the Tigers.
Tonight’s match up pits Phils left-hander Cole Hamels 4-12, 4.16 ERA against Detroit’s right-hander Doug Fister 8-5, 3.90. Hamels has had a tough season after signing the richest sports contract in Philadelphia history last year right before the 2012 trade deadline. In his 21 starts he hasn’t got much run support, but his pitching has been erratic as well. He’s been running more deep counts than in recent memory, which has not allowed him to pitch as deep into games as manager Charlie Manuel would like. Hamels has never faced the Tigers in his 8 year career and tonight he’ll get a chance to show what he can do against the AL’s favorite to win the pennant. Hamels has 14 quality starts in the 21 times he’s taken the hill this year, but is only averaging just over 6.1 IP per start. He’s only pitched through 7 innings eight times this season. By contrast, in 2012 Hamels went 7 or more innings in 21 of his 31 starts. With a weak and injury-riddled bullpen the Phils were hoping to get more out of Hamels this year, but 2013 is more reminiscent of his 2009 campaign. In his last 3 starts Hamels is 1-1 with 1 ND. He went 8 strong on July 9th and July 14th, but came out of the break with a weak 5-inning loss to the Mets, allowing 4ER in taking the loss.
The 6’8″ Fister, Detroits 4th starter in a deep rotation, is making his debut performance against the Phils tonight. This has been a weakness the last couple years for the Phils, as they seemingly have no answer against pitchers they’ve never faced. Fister has 14 quality starts in 20 times out this year and is coming off back-to-back strong outings against the Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals. Fister is a 4-pitch pitcher with a mediocre fastball, good curve ball a cutter and a splitter. In 5 seasons with Detroit Fister has a career 1.191 WHIP, but he goes mostly unnoticed when talking about the deep Tiger rotation. His 1.6/9 BB ratio and his 4.26 SO/BB ratio keeps him alive and battling more times than not. He’ll be a tough match for an injury riddled, free swinging team like the Phils.
On Saturday Detroit is throwing 2013 CY Young Favorite Max Scherzer 14-1, 3.14 against Phils ace Cliff Lee 10-4, 3.05. Scherzer’s ERA indicates he’s a very good pitcher, but when you look at his WHIP of .952 over 137.2 innings you start to understand why Scherzer is the AL’s top starting pitcher this year. He keeps the ball in the park, allowing only 14 HR’s all season and has held opponents to 2 ER or less in 11 of his 20 starts. In his last three starts Scherzer is 1-1 with 1 ND. His only loss of the season came against a tough Texas offense that managed 8 hits and 4 ER in 6 innings of work. His other two outings are more typical of the season he’s having. In those games Scherzer has gone 7 & * innings respectively while allowing just 2 earned runs each game.
While not enjoying a Cy Young type season Cliff Lee is still one of the top 5 starters in the NL. Lee’s WHIP of 1.009 and SO/BB ratio of 5.95 are among the best in the NL. Still it seems as if every year Lee goes through a stretch where he’s giving up too many long balls and beats himself by throwing 2-strike pitches over the heart of the plate. He’s currently in one of those stretches now. Lee is 1-2 in his last 3 starts and hasn’t pitched more than 7 innings in any of the three. He’s given up 24 hits and 13 earned runs in just 19.1 IP for a 6.13 ERA his last 3 outings. He’s also given up 7 HR’s in his last two starts and is looking very beatable right now. In what should be a premier match-up it’s hard not to see the Tigers taking this game. But these stretches Lee goes through don’t last forever and it’s doubtful Scherzer’s going to finish the season with only 1 defeat. Lee is only 6-9, 4.52 lifetime against Detroit but none of those games came in a Phillies uniform. Lee is capable of pitching a gem any time he takes the mound and the Phils are in desperate need of a starter who can stop this skid. Lee gives them the best chance in the series on Saturday. He didn’t rise to the challenge against matt Harvey last Sunday but Lee is a warrior and will look to redeem himself against the AL’s best pitcher.
On Sunday we have a game of two 5th starters squaring of against one another. Jonathan Pettibone 5-4, 3.97 takes to the mound against 4th year Tiger, Rick Porcello 7-6, 4.49 ERA. Pettibone just turned 23 on July 19th and has shown more poise than expected from the rookie. Yes he pitches himself into trouble, but he rarely gets rattled and pitches his way out of most of the jams he gets himself into. In 9 of Pettibone’s 17 starts he hasn’t made it to the 6th inning, but he’s only lasted less than 5 full once, back on June 15th where he only went 3 innings in a loss to the Rockies. In his last 3 starts Pettibone has only gone 16.1 innings, resulting in a 1-1 record with 1 ND. Porcello, pitching in his 5th season in the Tigers rotation has turned it on lately. He’s won his last 3 starts, and in two of those games he’s gone 7 strong giving up zero runs each game. These two victories sandwiched yet another win in which Porcello pitched into the 7th inning. In that game he gave up 7 hits and 3 ER in an 8-5 Tiger win.
The Phils are rolling into Motown with a 5-game losing streak with the trade deadline looming just 5 days away. With an injury-riddled lineup the Phils will attempt to beat three pitchers they’ve never faced head to head. That in itself is not good. Add to it that it’s one of the best, if not the best team in the AL, and the Phils will be happy to just end the losing streak and get out of town with one win. Though the Phils face the number 1, 4, & 5 pitchers, missing Justin Verlander and Anibal Sabchez, they still face an uphill battle in the Motor City. If they can squeeze out one W this weekend that’s probably as good as it’s going to get.
No one in Philly will be surprised if they come home to face the Braves with an eight-game losing streak. Although Atlanta hasn’t been able to put away a weak division, the only division in baseball where there is only one winning team, it’s still a long shot that the Phils will make any major acquisitions to help them close the gap. While most fans think the Phils should be sellers, it looks like the Phils and Chase Utley are in talks to extend the veteran 2nd baseman’s contract. Right now there’s very little talking of buying big or selling big. Ruben Amaro’s known to play these situations close to the vest and he’s doing so once again this year.