SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Phillies have taken a step in the wrong direction in their rebuild this year and look to be another couple seasons away from contention.
Down. For a brief stretch, it looked like the Phillies were on their way back up when they won four in a row last weekend. Since then, though, they’ve lost five in a row including a tough one-run game on Sunday. This is the second stretch in which they’ve lost five in a row, as they did the same right before their little four-game win streak.
6/12: (in Boston) Rick Porcello vs. Jerad Eickhoff, 7:10 PM ET
Porcello has been struggling of late, and he could really use an easy start to kick off a strong run like he had in 2016. This matchup against the Phillies should check that box, although we know that’s easier said than done. He hasn’t allowed fewer than seven hits in a start since May 1, and has allowed eight in each of his last six. Look for him to work the edges of the zone if he’s going to succeed.
Eickhoff was little more than a throw-in in the Cole Hamels trade a few years ago but surprisingly emerged as a legitimate rotation piece. At least, that was the case before this season. In his first 12 starts of 2017, the righty has a 5.15 ERA to go with a 4.18 FIP and a 6.79 DRA. The issue for the former Ranger farmhand this season has been an inability to limit free passes, as his walk rate has climbed from 1.9 per nine innings to 3.5. It’s not a matter of hitting the zone less, but rather failing to fool opponents on pitches that miss the zone. If the Red Sox can lay off his breaking stuff, they should have success. Speaking of which, Eickhoff features a fastball and a sinker — both in the low 90s — along with a mid-80s slider and a high-70s curveball.
6/13: (In Boston) David Price vs. Ben Lively, 7:10 PM ET
If you want to talk to Price, Tuesday will be the day to do so. More importantly, this is the day in which the lefty takes the mound. His first two starts off the disabled list were highly encouraging, with the second being downright impressive. His last time out against New York, though, did not go so well. It’s easy to dismiss that tough outing as facing a red-hot lineup in a hitter’s park, but a good performance against a lineup he should beat would ease our concerns.
Tuesday will mark Lively’s third career major-league start, and the righty has gotten very good results in his first two. He went seven innings in each start and has allowed a combined four runs between them. However, the peripheral numbers don’t really back that up as he has only three strikeouts to go with five walks. He leans mostly on a low-90s fastball and a high-70s curveball and appears to be a pitcher that is ripe for exploiting.
6/14: (in Philadelphia) Brian Johnson vs. Jeremy Hellickson, 7:05 PM Et
Johnson looked more like who he was supposed to be in his last outing than he did in his incredible complete game shutout. That’s not to say that he can’t get his command on a high level like that every once in awhile, but it shouldn’t be the expectation. With that being said, as I’ve said a million times by this point, this is a lineup against whom he should be able to have success.
Hellickson has been an interesting piece of the Phillies’ rebuild, as everyone assumed they’d deal him last year at the deadline. They kept him, then offered him a qualifying offer in the past winter and he accepted that. This series of events has once again been made him a candidate to be dealt at the deadline. Unfortunately for the Phillies, he isn’t having the same kind of success. Most notably, he hasn’t been able to miss any bats, striking out only four batters per nine innings. The Red Sox should have no problems making contact against Hellickson, and with his flyball tendencies they should be able to do real damage.
6/15: (in Philadelphia) Chris Sale vs. Nick Pivetta, 7:05 PM ET
Thursday is Sale Day, the best day of the week. The lefty, of course, last threw on Saturday against the Tigers and he struggled a tad as the game went on. Even with that, though, he still only allowed three runs and was able to ratchet things up in his final inning when he really needed it. This seems like an opportunity for the ace to get back to his otherworldly level from April.
Pivetta is another rookie in the Phillies rotation, and the righty has struggled in his first six starts. He hasn’t been able to go more than five innings in any of his outings, and he has pitched to a 5.52 ERA with a 5.24 FIP and a 7.42 DRA. Pivetta has been able to induce a fair number of strikeouts, but he’s had a problem keeping the ball in the yard and is struggling mightily with control. That is the type of pitcher the Red Sox should be able to dominate.
The Phillies have two old friends on their roster, and both were big parts of recent Red Sox teams. The first is Daniel Nava, one of the most beloved Boston players in my lifetime. We all know Nava’s story, going from independent league star to World Series champion, but his post-Red Sox career hadn’t gone so well coming into this season. This marks his first season with the Phillies, and he’s hitting well in a small sample. Through his first 78 plate appearances, the switch hitter is hitting .306/.436/.452 in a bench role with Philadelphia.
The other old friend is Clay Buchholz, who...has a complicated relationship with Red Sox fans. Many of you will not be surprised to learn that the righty is on the disabled list right now, and figures to be there for a while. He was placed on the DL with a forearm injury in April and may be out for the entire season, though he hopes to pitch again in September.
Howie Kendrick is in the middle of the Phillies lineup, and while he hasn’t been healthy all year he has been the best hitter on the team when he’s been in the lineup, though the success is almost totally fueled by a high batting average on balls in play.
The best hitter who has been around all year has been Aaron Altherr, who has been one of the bigger surprises in baseball in 2017. There’s some BABIP luck in his profile, but he’s also hitting for real power that looks like it could be sustainable.
Odubel Herrera is probably the most talented Phillie, but he’s taken a step back this year thanks to a dropoff in power and less success on balls in play than in the past. He’s still a threat atop the lineup, though.
Michael Saunders was supposed to be a sign-and-flip candidate for this rebuilding franchise but he’s done nothing but hurt his value with his poor performance in 2017.
There were big expectations for Maikel Franco at third base, as the former top prospect seemed prime for a breakout this year. Instead, he’s struggled in every area of the game and has been one of the worst full-time hitters in the game this season.
Tommy Joseph is a league-average hitter, which isn’t great for a first baseman, but he’s been on the upswing lately and is one of the legitimately dangerous hitters in this lineup.
The Phillies have had some problems in the bullpen this season, and recently made a change in which they put Pat Neshek in the closer role. He has a great sub-1.00 ERA, but he doesn’t have the big-time stuff typically seen from modern closers. Instead, he relies on impeccable control and a flyball tendency that hasn’t led to many home runs to this point.
Hector Neris is the former closer and is still in a setup role. The righty definitely has the talent to close again in this league, but he needs to get the ball on the ground a little more often to get back to his 2016 level. Joaquin Benoit is their other setup arm, and he’s been around in this league for a long time. Now getting up in age, he’s walking a lot more batters while also not inducing as many ground balls.
Adam Morgan is the only lefty in the Phillies bullpen, and he’s had major home run issues in his short major-league career.
I’ve already mentioned the Buchholz injury above, and that’s not even the biggest injury in the Phillies rotation. Vincent Velasquez is one of the most talented young pitchers in the game, although he hasn’t been able to put it together on a consistent basis in the majors. It’ll be a little while before he gets another chance to do so, as he’ll be out for a while with a flexor strain.
The only other injury on the Phillies roster is to Cesar Hernandez, who has quietly turned into a solid middle infielder in this league. The 27-year-old was just placed on the disabled list this past weekend, and he’ll be out until the end of the month with an oblique strain.
Monday is going to be a hot one in Boston, with temperatures reaching in the mid-90s during the day and staying the 70s and 80s at night. The ball should fly all around the yard in that one. Tuesday will be another warm one during the day, but some thunderstorms during the day should break the humidity and get temperatures back to the 60s in the evening.
After that, the series heads to Philadelphia for the last two games. Wednesday should be another hot and clear day, and Thursday will cool off with a chance of showers at night. However, at this point it doesn’t appear the rain will prevent the game from happening.
Some people would argue that this series is actually two different series. This is objectively wrong.