The Phils just finished a seven game home stand that was abbreviated to six games due to last Wednesday’s rain out to the NY Mets. They went 2-4 on the home stand after being swept the final two games by the Blue Jays. Now they head north of the border to play two in Toronto.
Going back to the first inning of the Nats game on Sunday where the Phils scored their only run of the game, they hadn’t scored until they broke out for five runs against Toronto Tuesday. This ended a 22-inning drought for the Phils. After the 6th inning last night the Phils offense was done. The inconsistent offense has managed to score 6 total runs in their last 27 innings, but the scoring was confined to two innings – the first inning on Sunday and the 6th inning last night. As we’ve discussed before, this inconsistent scoring along with a bad bullpen is going to make it very difficult to put together any meaningful winning streaks.
Tonight the Jays (16-17) play host to the Phils (15-16) in a two-game series. After these two games the Phillies head to Citi Field to take on the surprising NY Mets for a weekend series. The two games in Toronto will feature more interesting pitching match ups than the two just played in South Philly.
In the opener the Blue Jays will send Mark Buehrle (5-1, 2.25 ERA) against the Phils Ace Cliff Lee. Buehrle has three WG’s to his credit in six starts, all wins for the veteran left hander. Buehrle is closing in on 200 career victories which could come this year, as he enters tonight’s game with 191 W’s. Buehrle has had a very good career highlighted by a no-hitter on April 18, 2007, a perfect game on July 23, 2009, four All-Star appearances and four Gold Gloves. At age 35 he shows no sign of slowing down and will be a formidable opponent in tonight’s game.
In Buehrle’s last three starts he’s 2-1 with a 3.79 ERA. In 19 IP he’s allowed 23 hits, 8 ER, 8 BB’s and only 7K’s. Though he’s won two of three his numbers tell us he’s been very beatable lately. In the three-game stretch opponents have slashed .319/.390/.486 against him. Lifetime against the Phils Buehrle is 5-2 with a 3.95 ERA and 1.244 WHIP. Buehrle hasn’t faced the Phils since 2012 when he played for the Marlins.
The Phils will send their Ace Cliff Lee (3-2, 3.00 ERA) to the mound tonight looking to snap the teams two game losing streak. Lee has four WG’s to his credit in seven starts and has come on strong lately. In his last three outings spanning 21 innings Lee is just 1-0, but has thrown two WG’s. In 21 innings he’s allowed 16 hits, 4 ER, 17K’s and only 4 BB’s, culminating in a 1.71 ERA.
Opponents have slashed a meager .216/.253/.297 against Lee. Lifetime against the South Side boys Lee has had his troubles. He’s just 6-6, but with a 5.65 ERA and 1.464 WHIP in 21 games, 19 of which were starts. I think we can disregard Lee’s lifetime numbers against the White Sox when gauging how tonight’s game may go, as Lee hasn’t pitched against them since the 2009 season.
Thursday night, 39 year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (2-3, 5.01 ERA) will oppose the Phils A.J. Burnett (2-1, 2.06 ERA). Dickey’s been struggling finding the strike zone this year, leading the AL with 22 BB’s in 41.1 innings of work. However, Dickey’s pitched better of late. In his last three starts he’s 1-0 with 2 no decisions. In 18.1 innings he’s allowed 16 hits, 7 ER, 15K’s and only 7 BB’s. His ERA has dropped from 6.26 on April 17th to today’s 5.01 due to a 3.44 ERA over the last three games. In his career Dickey’s faced the Phils nine times. Though his record in those games is 3-4, he does have a 2.90 ERA and 1.220 WHIP against the Phightins.
Dickey’s opponent will be the red hot A.J. Burnett (2-1, 2.06 ERA). Since being diagnosed with an inguinal hernia that caused him to leave the game in the 5th inning of his April 11 start against the Marlins, Burnett has been on a tear. Instead of opting for surgery that would have shelved the 37 year old righty for 6-8 weeks, Burnett’s decided to pitch through the pain as long as he can. I’m sure manager Ryne Sandberg and his Phillies team mates are glad he did. In his four starts since being diagnosed with a hernia the seasoned vet is 2-0 with a 0.98 ERA, and the Phils have won all four of the games he’s started. The hernia hasn’t limited his pitch count either, as Burnett’s averaging just over 100 pitches per start.
Entering tonight’s series the Phillies are in last place in the NL East but are only 2.5 games behind the division leading Braves in a tight NL East. The Phils have to find a way to start scoring more runs and spread the scoring out to more than just one inning per night. Sandberg has tried different batting orders and some different players trying to get something started offensively, but his ideas have come up short to date. Free agent acquisition Marlon Byrd along with Chase Utley have been the lone standouts in the lineup. Howard is playing respectably and is on pace for 31 HR’s and 94 RBI’s…a far cry from what he once was but good enough to win if everyone else pulls their weight.
The bottom of the lineup has been a problem for the Phillies all year. When batting 7th, Carlos Ruiz is hitting just .229 with 2 RBI’s in 54 PA. Cody Asche, fresh off his 4-4 game and grand slam raised his BA from .214 to .257, but him and the others who’ve manned 3B this year (primarily Freddy Galvis and Jayson Nix) aren’t getting it done. Domonic Brown continues to struggle and we could fast be approaching decision time on him if he doesn’t pick up his offense.
Gone are the days when the Phils could sit back and wait for the three-run homer to bail them out of an otherwise lost game. This team needs to string together hits to score. There simply isn’t enough power to plate runs any other way. Much like last year the Phils have far too many games where they score 3 runs or less. It’s happened in 16 of the teams 31 games to date. That inconsistency is killing them. They also need to begin winning home games. Ten of the remaining 18 games this month are at The Bank, but it’s not a home field advantage when the teams record is 6-9 in front of their own fans.