The Phils came home after opening the season 3-3 on the road. They faced the Milwaukee Brewers, who at the time were playing with a struggling Ryan Braun. Braun came into the series with a sore thumb and had only three singles in 20 AB’s. He left Philadelphia with 3 HR’s and 10 RBI’s as the Brewers swept the Phils and beat them in just about every aspect of the game. Many are ringing the alarm bells, but it’s a little early for that. However, many of the concerns the Phils had coming into the season were highlighted by their poor performance the past three days. The Phils were outscored 25-10 in the series, couldn’t bunch hits together, played poor defense and got a pitiful performance from their bullpen. In 11 innings the pen surrendered 12 runs.
Much maligned closer Jonathan Papelbon didn’t appear in any of the three Brewer games as there was never a late lead to protect. Papelbon has been the fans favorite whipping boy early this year after blowing a lead on April 2nd against Texas. That outing aside, Papelbon has pitched three 1-2-3 innings. There was plenty of blame to go around in being walloped by the Brewers; everyone from manager Ryne Sandberg on down through the lineup and bullpen. Simply put, the Brewers were the better team.
Tonight the 3-6 Phils, who occupy last place in the NL East open a three-game series against the 5-5 Miami Marlins. The Phils enter the series on the heels of a four-game losing streak and things don’t appear to get easier tonight. The Marlins will send young phenom Jose Fernandez (2-0, 0.71 ERA) to the mound to face the Phils mercurial A. J. Burnett (0-1, 3.86 ERA). Fernandez, just 21, has pitched 12.2 innings and has only allowed one earned run while striking out 17 this year. In three starts against the Phils last year Fernandez went 1-0 and allowed just one earned run in 18 innings. The reigning Rookie of the Year held the Phils to a slash line of .129/.182/.179 in his three starts. With Clayton Kershaw on the DL with upper back problems Fernandez could be the favorite to win this years NL Cy Young award. Last year he placed third in the voting. The only statistic the Phils can hang their hat on versus Fernadez is that lifetime he’s 9-0 at home and 3-6 on the road.
A. J. Burnett will take the ball for the Phils tonight. When Burnett is on he has some of the nastiest stuff in the NL. When he’s not hitting his spots and keeping the ball down in the zone Burnett is very beatable. We’ve already seen both A. J.’s in his first two starts. In his first start against Texas, Burnett went six innings allowing only one earned run and walking two. Against a much weaker Cubs lineup Burnett went 5.2 innings, gave up eight runs, four of which were unearned and walked six. To keep the Phils in tonight’s game Burnett is going to have to be at his best.
The Phils struggling lineup has been held to 3 runs or less in five of the team’s nine games this year. Last year the Phils were held to three runs or less in 86 of 162 games. It’s a trend they didn’t anticipate continuing with a healthy lineup, but the Phils inability to generate the big inning has been almost non-existent. Not including the opening day blowout of the Rangers the Phils have only scored two or more runs five times in the past 72 innings. For a team that’s 5th in BA and 2nd in OBP in the NL that’s unacceptable. They’re stranding far too many runners and it’s come back to haunt them in every loss this year.
On Saturday night the Fish will throw Nathan Eovaldi (1-1, 3.46 ERA) against the Phils. Eovaldi has turned in two better than average starts this season, striking out 14 while walking just one batter. Lifetime against the Phils is another matter. In six starts Eovaldi is 1-4 with a 4.13 ERA against the Phils. The 24 year-old righty was the centerpiece acquired by the Marlins when they traded Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers in July, 2012. Eovaldi’s bread and butter pitch is his 96 mph fastball. The vertical drop on the pitch as measured by Fangraph’s was eight inches last year. His primary secondary pitch is his curve, but will almost always throw the fastball when behind in the count. If the Phils are patient and can get Eovaldi in good hitters counts they can sit on his fastball.
Facing off against Eovaldi the Phils will send Jonathan Pettibone to the mound for his 2014 debut. Pettibone was held back in spring training with shoulder tendinitis. He was shut down with rotator cuff inflammation last year in late July. As a rookie who was thrust into the spotlight early last year Pettibone held his own. He went 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 18 starts for the Phils. In 15 of his 18 starts he held opponents to 3 earned runs or less. The biggest knock on Pettibone was that he averaged under 5.2 innings per start. Considering he threw only two innings in spring training and had one start at AAA Lehigh Valley in which he went five innings, don’t expect Pettibone to go deep into the game. Ryne Sandberg would probably be happy with five quality innings from the young starter, but if that’s all he gets he’s going to need his bullpen to step up if the Phils are going to win this game.
The third young righty the Marlins will throw at the Phils is Henderson Alvarez (0-2, 4.15). Like Eovaldi he is just 24 years old. Alvarez will pitch to contact averaging a mere 4.5 SO/9 in his young career. It was only two years ago that Alvarez was averaging 87-90 mph on his four-seam fastball. Last year that improved to 92-94 mph. He also has a two-seam fastball that takes a few mph off the pitch, which has had the effect of drawing weak contact from opposing hitters. Alvarez also features a plus changeup and a slider that is still a work in progress. His opponent Sunday will be the Phils Kyle Kendrick (0-1, 3.75).
Kendrick’s two starts this year has been a microcosm for his Phillies career. In his first outing he went seven strong against the Rangers, allowing just five hits and one earned run. It was a well pitched game for Kendrick and he deserved a better fate. This was the game of the now infamous Papelbon 9th inning meltdown. In his second start Kendrick got the call to start the Phils home opener. Unfortunately, he didn’t handle the honor with distinction. Kendrick lasted just five innings while allowing nine hits, two of which were home runs by Ryan Braun. Kendrick was charged with six runs, four earned. It’s Kendrick’s inconsistency that draws the fans ire, as he is often fodder for the talk radio crowd in Philadelphia who’d like to see him wearing another team’s uniform next year.
This series looked to be part of a relatively easy April for the Phils. At 5-5 Miami’s been playing better ball than most of the pundits predicted. It’s still a very young team, but with some promising, talented players they may be further along than most of us thought. They were a consensus pick for last place in the NL East by most media outlets before the season began and still may end up there. It’s early. Right now they’re being led by a red hot Giancarlo Stanton and an up and coming rotation. Stanton leads the NL in RBI’s with 13 and looks to be fully healthy for the first time since 2011. Twenty-three year-old Marcell Ozana has also started the season on fire with a .940 OPS. The pickup of free agent catcher Jarrold Saltalamacchia may prove to be an excellent addition as he helps to bring the young staff along. In the bullpen the Fish have Steve Cishek to shut the door in the 9th. Cishek was a highly pursued player this offseason.
Is this the year the Marlins begin to break out and at the very least get out of the NL East cellar? It’s possible, but then again it’s still early. After starting the season 5-1 the Marlins have proceeded to lose four straight. Either the Fish or the Phils will break their four game losing streak tonight. After being swept by the Brewers the Phils need to win this series if they’re to have any chance at a winning record on this 10-game home stand. Right now manager Ryne Sandberg would probably be happy to go 5-5. Things don’t get easier after this series as the division champion Atlanta Braves come to town.