Phillies have chance to gain ground in NL East against Rays

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 10: Scott Kingery #4 of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrates hitting a grand slam with Carlos Santana #41, Odubel Herrera #37, and Nick Williams #5 in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park on April 10, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Reds 6-1. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 10: Scott Kingery #4 of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrates hitting a grand slam with Carlos Santana #41, Odubel Herrera #37, and Nick Williams #5 in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park on April 10, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Reds 6-1. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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The Phillies climbed their way back into the picture in the NL East at home and now have a chance to gain ground on the division-leading Mets.

The Phillies opened the year by dropping four of five games on the road, putting themselves in last place in the division. Even the lowly Marlins were a half-game ahead in the standings at 2-4.

The team then returned home to Philadelphia and completely turned the season around. Facing two bad teams in the Reds and Marlins, the Phils won five of six games at home to bring their record to a more respectable 6-5.

After this homestand, Philadelphia has put themselves right back into the middle of the division. The Braves, Phils, and Nationals all sit within a game of each other at 7-5, 6-5, and 6-6, respectively. Any team can separate from the others with a series win over the weekend.

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Philadelphia may have the best chance to do that. They face the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-game series starting Friday night. They have been off to a poor start themselves at just 3-9.

This is nowhere near the 2008 Rays team the Phillies faced in the World Series. They made headlines during the offseason for a sell-off only rivaled by their neighbors in Miami. Franchise icon Evan Longoria was traded to the Giants for pennies on the dollar.

2017 All-Star Corey Dickerson was designated for assignment because his $5.95 million arbitration salary was just too high. Jake Odorizzi, who had a 3.82 ERA in 127 appearances, and his $6.3 million arbitration salary, were dealt to the Twins for their No. 31 overall prospect.

Unsurprisingly, the Rays have not done well to start the season. They won on Opening Day before losing eight games in a row. They took two of three games from another tanking team, the White Sox, bringing their record to 3-9 for the season.

Tampa Bay’s strength is usually their pitching staff, but that hasn’t been the case this year. Their 4.61 ERA is eighth-worst in the league, and their 1.443 WHIP is third-worst.

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Chris Archer, the team’s ace, has not pitched like one so far this year. He has allowed four runs in each of his first three starts, leading to a 5.94 ERA. His 4.19 fielding-independent pitching is better but still not up to his caliber.

24-year-old Yonny Chirinos has been the standout so far as he yet to allow a single run. He has 12 strikeouts compared to two walks in 14.1 innings. He leads the team with one win above replacement. However, he pitched Tampa Bay’s series finale with the White Sox Wednesday, meaning he won’t be facing the Phillies.

Alex Colome has recorded a save in each of Tampa Bay’s three wins but has also blown two leads this year.

Colome entered the game April 5 needing to preserve a 2-0 lead over the Red Sox but instead allowed them to tie the game. The Rays then had a 7-2 lead in Boston April 8 before Matt Andriese and Colome gave up six combined runs.

Tampa Bay’s offense hasn’t been particularly strong with a combined 82 OPS+ so far this year. Second baseman Joey Wendle and outfielder Carlos Gomez are the only players with an OPS+ above 100. Wendle, who was acquired from Oakland for minor-league catcher Jonah Heim, has a .310/.382/.552 line with one home run and four runs batted in so far this year.

Next: Is Gabe Kapler adjusting his pitching approach?

This is a series Philadelphia can certainly win at least two of three games considering Tampa Bay’s struggles so far this year. Considering how the Mets have started this season, they will need every win they can to gain ground or even just keep pace.

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