The Philadelphia Phillies host the division rival Miami Marlins in a four game series, and the Fish feature baseball’s greatest current slugger.
The first series of the unofficial second half of the 2016 baseball season did not go the way the Phillies hoped. Pete Mackanin had alluded to the idea that he wanted his team to shoot for the stars and see if they could turn the Wildcard playoff dreams into a reality. The New York Mets had different plans however.
The Phillies could not muster enough offense in games one and three against the boys in blue. Bartolo Colon and Jacob deGrom did enough to harness the Phillies in the bookend games of the three game set. The two righties went a combined 14.2 innings (including a deGrom complete game, one hit shutout) giving up no earned runs at all.
The Phils will have to improve that offense going into their next series against the Miami Marlins. That chore will begin by facing one of the most exciting young pitchers in all of baseball when Jose Fernandez toes the rubber on Monday evening at Citizen’s Bank Park.
The Marlins come into this four game series at seven games over the .500 mark, tied for the final NL Wildcard berth. They have done it with an extremely balanced offense.
The Fish have different leaders in hits and average (Martin Prado), on-base percentage (Christian Yelich), runs scored (Marcell Ozuna), and slugging percentage, RBI, and homers (Giancarlo Stanton).
Let us not forget they also boast arguably the best international player in baseball’s history, Ichiro Suzuki. The outfielder is six hits shy of 3,000 for his MLB career, and the Phillies play him in seven of their next ten. We may see some history during this window.
In the short-term though, it was very difficult choosing only one player for the Phillies to focus on this coming week. With their balanced offense, I went with a guy I have seen hit more homers on to Ashburn Alley than any other. A player who got off to a rocky start in 2016, but who has come on hot recently, including a very entertaining MLB All-Star Home Run Derby performance.
Stanton has been one of the most prolific power hitters in today’s game. He continues to impress all fans with his towering shots into the sky on a nightly basis.
The clone of a Greek god is 14-38 (the .368 clip has raised his average from .219 to .234) with five homeruns, 12 RBI, and six walks over his last ten games. Keep also in the back of your mind as we continue that Stanton has also struck out 14 times in those ten games.
The 26-year old is in his seventh season as a big league ballplayer. He was taken in the second round as the 76th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft out of a California high school.
His minor league career seemed like a complete mismatch the entire way through. His AAA manager, Pete Wellman once told the The Florida TImes Union that Stanton “…looks like a 15 year-old playing on an 8 year-old’s Little League team.” The powerful right hander even hit a ball that landed close to 550 feet away from home plate.
Stanton has never hit fewer than 20 bombs in a season, including last year when he only played in 76 games and hit 27 long balls. He has hit more than 30 homers on three separate occasions.
Oddly enough, he has only knocked in more than 100 runs one time. Although that says more about the players hitting in front of him then what it says about him. He is a three-time NL All-Star (2012, 2014, 2015), a 2014 Silver Slugger, and NL Home Run champion.
Stanton has had strikeout issues his entire career. A hitter who hits the home run ball as often as he does will see high strikeout totals though.
The totals are mind numbing with 166, 140, 143, and 170 Ks in past seasons and already 110 through his 78 games and 286 at bats. Read that again. Stanton has struck out 110 times in 286 at bats. He has struck out in 38% of his at-bats and 50% of the outs he has made.
Despite those strikeout numbers, the Marlins have put an enormous amount of stock around Stanton’s potential. They believe he is the guy they want to build the franchise around for now and the future.
If Miami’s ownership group had any concern about his prolific strikeout numbers, there would not have been a 13 year $325 million contract placed in front of him. And since he signed it, he will always sit under the microscope of baseball and Miami fans alike.
So how do the Phillies slow baseball’s version of the Incredible Hulk? Easy right? Strike him out. The Phillies will trot out a refreshed Aaron Nola, Vincent Velasquez, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jerad Eickhoff. And…they will shift him. Stanton has hit four balls on the ground to the right side of the field all season.
How do you pitch him? Inside, inside, and more inside. Stanton wants pitchers to throw their stuff away because he likes to extend and drive the ball to centerfield.
It will be important for Nola and Hellickson to establish their fastballs, because their location will impact how successful Stanton is this week.
Velazquez will certainly challenge him inside and Eickhoff has been extremely successful this season with pitching hitters backward. All four have the secondary stuff to continue building Stanton’s strikeout numbers.
However, if he is hitting this week, forget it. His power has always impressed. But the Phillies can’t afford to let him continue his recent surge. It will make a deep and effective Miami lineup even more dangerous.
Opposition Roadblock Grades
Neil Walker: 1-11 with a homer, three RBI, a run scored, and three strikeouts
My Grade: Man, was I off or what? This was tricky. No Yoenis Cespedes really hurt my choice here. However, I take the bad grades too. He had one hit and although devastating, his one hit did not decide a game or the series and the Phillies still could not win. Grade: D
Phillies Grade: They stopped him for the most part. He had one hit, albeit a major one. However, he did not do enough to impact the series the way I predicted. They held him in check, but still lost two of three and allowed for the “Let’s go Mets” chants to surround the stadium. Grade: C+