The Philadelphia Phillies host the Milwaukee Brewers in a four-game weekend series at Citizens Bank Park.
The bottom has apparently dropped out. The sand has run through the hour-glass. The clock has struck midnight, and the carriage turned into a pumpkin.
Use whatever cliché’ you like, but the early season winning has ended for the once overachieving Phillies. They have lost five straight, three consecutive series, and 12 of their last 16 games.
The losing streak has left them with a losing record for the first time since late April, and dropped them 6.5 games out of an NL East Division race in which they had tied for the top almost three weeks ago.
Is there a quick antidote? Well, if there is one, perhaps it can be found in the Milwaukee Brewers, who come in for their annual visit to Citizens Bank Park for a four-game long weekend series.
The Brewers are a losing team, sporting a 24-29 record that has them 13 games out in the NL Central Division. They are 9-14 on the road, accounting for the five games below .500 at which the Brew Crew currently finds themselves.
Milwaukee stands in fourth place in a division where the three teams ahead are legitimate playoff contenders. They have no hope for the 2016 season.
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Those statements are likely true for the Phillies as well, so this series means that at least the Fightin’ Phils will not be facing a major talent gap. If they can’t win now, when?
The Brewers are still led offensively by a now 32-year old Ryan Braun. The left fielder has a .352/.421/.579 slash line with nine homers, 32 RBI, 23 runs scored, and five stolen bases.
Slugging 1st baseman Chris Carter has 13 home runs to lead the club, and is tied with Braun for the RBI lead. Shortstop Jonathan Villar is a legit speed threat, with 19 stolen bases, 28 runs scored, and a team-high 15 doubles.
The Brewers also have one of the better offensive catchers in the game in Jonathan Lucroy, who has a .299/.355/.531 slash line with nine homers and 28 RBI. The club’s 2nd baseman, Aaron Hill, can also produce offensively. He has a .275 average and a half-dozen homers.
When manager Craig Counsell goes to his bullpen it is an inconsistent bunch to which he turns. Two of the better arms are closer Jeremy Jeffress, who has 13 Saves, a 2.55 ERA, 1.095 WHIP, and has allowed 22 hits over 24.2 innings.
The other nice bullpen arms belongs to Tyler Thornburg, a righty who could push for that closer role at some point. He has a 31/7 K:BB ratio over 22.1 innings in which he has allowed just 13 hits.
The Phillies did get a bit unlucky in timing, as Milwaukee just activated lefty reliever Will Smith from the disabled list. He brings a reliable left-handed dimension that the Brewer pen has been lacking.
Weather could be a factor at any point after Thursday (see below NWS forecast), especially in the series finale on Sunday afternoon.
THURSDAY: Jerad Eickhoff (2-7, 4.07 ERA) vs Chase Anderson (2-6, 5.00 ERA): Anderson is a 28-year old right-hander who typically doesn’t walk a lot of batters, but who just as typically is getting battered around by opposition lineups. He has allowed a dozen homers, and won’t overpower the Phils hitters. He is an absolutely perfect antidote for what ails this weak lineup – but will they take advantage? Eickhoff has been competitive more often than not, with six of his 10 outings as Quality Starts. He was battered in Chicago last weekend, but the Cubs are battering everyone these days.
FRIDAY: Vincent Velasquez (5-2, 3.63 ERA) vs Jimmy Nelson (5-3, 2.88 ERA): Nelson is a 27-year old righty, which is a bit redundant. This is one of the most right-handed pitching staffs the Phils will face all season. Nelson is the best of the Brewers’ starters, having allowed just 56 hits over 72 innings. He is not overpowering, but will make the Phillies offense work to score, which usually proves a difficult task. On the Phils mound, talent is never the question with Velasquez. The problem remains, can he harness his stuff and pitch deep into a game under control? He has not reached the 6th inning in any of his last three starts, mostly because he throws too many pitches.
SATURDAY: Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 3.68 ERA) vs Junior Guerra (3-1, 3.47 ERA): Guerra is a 31-year old rookie who bounced between the bullpen and rotation over a long minor league career. He is getting his first career opportunity in a big league starting rotation, and has thus far made the most of it, allowing just 30 hits over 36.1 innings with a 36/12 K:BB ratio. If he keeps that up, it could be a long night for the Phils’ lineup. Of course, odds say that his bubble will burst at some point. Hellickson has been pitching really well, having gone seven innings in three of his last four starts. Velasquez could learn much by paying attention to how economical Hellickson is with his pitches. The 29-year old may be making himself a valuable trade chip for later this season.
SUNDAY: Aaron Nola (4-4, 2.88 ERA) vs Wily Peralta (3-6, 6.51 ERA): Peralta is a 27-year old righty who was once highly regarded, but who has fallen on difficult times over the last couple of seasons following some physical problems. He has been banged around this year for 85 hits over 56.2 innings, and has a poor 37/24 K:BB ratio. Back on April 24th, he beat the Phillies, handing them the loss that dropped them below the .500 mark at 9-10. That was the last time the Phils were losers until now. Nola is the Phillies most consistently strong starter at this point. He has gone at least six innings in 10 of his 11 outings, and has allowed more hits than innings pitched just once all year, back in mid-April. He dominated the Brewers back in late April in Milwaukee.
KEYS TO PHILLIES VICTORY
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MEDIOCRE PITCHING: the Phillies have run into some talented pitching in recent series. This ain’t that. Of course, this has been a largely punchless lineup no matter who is out on the opposing mound. Tommy Joseph now hits in the middle in place of Ryan Howard, presumably at least for this series vs Milwaukee. He needs to produce, as does 3rd baseman Maikel Franco. Those two getting hot would make a massive difference in the offensive attack. They have the capability, and the team is counting on them heavily.
EFFECTIVE STARTING PITCHING – ESPECIALLY VINNY: the Phillies have their four best current big league starting pitchers lined up in this series, and the head-to-head matchups all appear to either favor the Phils or would appear to be even matchups at worst. A huge key will be the performance of Velasquez, who has shown that while he can dominate big league hitters at times, he also has major command and control issues still to work out. A step forward in his maturity would be another huge development for this rebuilding team.
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE forecast for Citizens Bank Park
Increasing clouds, with a low around 65. Southeast wind 5 to 9 mph.
A chance of showers, with thunderstorms also possible after noon. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. Cloudy, with a high near 78. Southeast wind 3 to 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 50%. New rainfall amounts between a quarter and half of an inch possible.
A chance of showers and thunderstorms before 2am, then a slight chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 66. South wind around 6 mph becoming calm in the evening. Chance of precipitation is 30%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Partly sunny, with a high near 85. Light and variable wind becoming southeast around 5 mph in the afternoon.
A chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 67. Chance of precipitation is 40%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.
Showers and thunderstorms likely. Some of the storms could produce heavy rain. Cloudy, with a high near 79. Chance of precipitation is 70%.
INJURIES / DISABLED LISTS
|5/29||Michael Blazek, P||Sore right elbow (on 15-day DL)|
|5/26||Chris Capuano, P||Left elbow soreness (on 15-day DL)|
|5/19||Domingo Santana, RF||Right shoulder strain (on 15-day DL)|
|4/3||Matt Garza, P||Right lat strain – out 4-6 weeks (on 60-day DL)|
|4/1||Corey Knebel, P||Strained left oblique (on 15-day DL)|
|3/25||Yhónathan Barrios, P||Right shoulder surgery (on 60-day DL)|
|3/25||Zack Jones, P||Right shoulder soreness (on 60-day DL)|
|3/25||Rymer Liriano, RF||Facial fractures (on 60-day DL)|
|3/25||Sean Nolin, P||Left UCL sprain (on 60-day DL)|
|4/29||Dalier Hinojosa, P||Right hand contusion (on 15-day DL)|
|4/24||Charlie Morton, P||Torn left hamstring – out for season (on 60-day DL)|
|4/2||Aaron Altherr, LF||Torn tendon in left wrist (on 60-day DL)|
|4/2||Matt Harrison, P||Lower back inflammation (on 60-day DL)|
|4/2||Mario Hollands, P||Recovery from left elbow surgery (on 60-day DL)|
|3/25||Cody Asche, LF||Strained right oblique (on 15-day DL)|