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Series Preview: Red Sox at Phillies

A look at the quick two-game set in Philadelphia

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation Blog

The Good Phight

The Opponent in one sentence

The Phillies are a bit ahead of schedule in their contention cycle and find themselves in a tight divisional race with the Braves thanks to good pitching and a solid, though inconsistent, offense

Record

65-52

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 1, Phillies 1

Trend

Down. Philadelphia has been struggling a bit of late, having lost each of their last two series and four of their last six overall. They did four in a row against the Marlins immediately after leaving Fenway a couple weeks ago, but dropped two of three out west to the Diamondbacks then the Padres.

Pitching Matchups

8/14: Rick Porcello vs. Nick Pivetta, 7:05 PM ET

The Red Sox could really use some consistency from Porcello, as they are looking for their strong number three behind Chris Sale and David Price. Talent-wise, I would argue Eduardo Rodriguez is the best bet for this role, but it’s still not clear when exactly he’ll return from injury. We know Porcello has that potential as well, and he has shown flashes of that all year. They just haven’t come on a consistent basis. Two starts ago, he tossed a complete-game one-hitter against the Yankees with nine strikeouts and just one walk. He followed that up by allowing seven runs to the Blue Jays while recording just 12 outs. The key for Porcello is his control. If he’s commanding the edges of the strike zone he can shut anyone down, but his stuff just doesn’t play up enough to work around his bad days right now. Look for him to get ahead in counts on Tuesday to hopefully get back on track.

Depending on your pitching metric of choice, Pivetta has been decent, good or great. His 4.51 ERA certainly doesn’t jump off the page, and clocks in at a below-average 92 ERA+. However, the underlying statistics say he’s been better. He strikes out more than 11 batters per nine inning, walks a solid 2.5 per nine and has allowed 17 homers in 24 outings (23 starts). That last number isn’t great, but in today’s environment it’s not disastrous either. He has a 3.43 FIP and a 2.97 DRA on the year, which point to his true-talent level being much better than his ERA. Pivetta has been hurt by a .340 batting average on balls in play, and while he’s posted high BABIPs in both of his major-league seasons, he also plays in front of a rough defense that hurts him. Like Porcello, he has been up and down this year, though he’s allowed just two runs over 12 innings in his last two starts. Pivetta features a mid-90s fastball along with a curveball and a slider.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

8/15: Brian Johnson Nathan Eovaldi vs. Vince Velasquez, 7:05 PM ET

Johnson has done everything the team has asked from him, and that includes coming out of the bullpen. He hasn’t done much of that lately, though with the relief corps being worked a ton in the last week or so, he came out for an inning over the weekend. That caused him to be moved back a day in the rotation, but he’ll make the start on Wednesday in Philadelphia. Since joining the rotation in late June, he hasn’t really blown up and has pitched to a 3.50 ERA, though he has also allowed five runs in each of his last two starts. It’s worth noting in the last one, however, that he looked good for most of his outing before getting hit around at the end of his night. This should be a fun night for Johnson, as he loves to hit (he was a top two-way player in college) and he’ll be able to do so in Philadelphia.

Welp, I got this wrong. I was using the wrong source for probable pitchers this week and I won’t make that mistake again. Anyway, it will be Eovaldi making the start on Wednesday, and he is in a similar position to Porcello. After dominating in his first two starts with the Red Sox, including one against the Yankees, he looked awful in Toronto and was never able to turn it around in that outing. It was only out start, of course, and throwing a good on on Wednesday can get fans back in his corner in a hurry. If he struggles again, well, panic may ensure, right or no.

Velqasquez has been one of the more intriguing young arms in the game for a few years now, and in his age-25 season he’s starting to look more refined. That’s not to say he has been great, and there are still some issues, but he has an above-average ERA and is keeping the ball in the yard better than ever. His strikeout stuff is his best quality, as he consistently sets down more than a batter per inning. His control will always be an issue, but he’s gotten his walk rate down to a more manageable 3.4 per nine innings this season, and thanks to that both his FIP and DRA see him as being significanty better than his 3.98 ERA. Velasquez has been particularly great since the end of June, pitching to a 2.17 ERA over 37 13 innings, and he’s allowed two or fewer runs in six of his last seven starts. The righty will feature a pair of mid-90s fastballs along with a curveball and a slider.

Note: The rest of this preview is mostly copied/pasted from the series preview ahead of the series these two teams played in Boston two weeks ago.

Old Friends

Gabe Kapler will forever be a fan favorite in Boston as a member of the 2004 team. He spent a grand total four years with the Red Sox and then later was a manager in their minor-league system. Now, he’s in his first year as the Phillies’ manager. Things got off to an awful start for the first-year skipper, but he’s righted the ship in a big way since then and seems to be doing a great job with his new team.

Notable Position Players

Rhys Hoskins is far and away the most fearsome bat in this Phillies lineup. The young slugger as legitimate power and is going to be a threat to leave the yard every time he comes to the plate in this series. He also combines that with a very good eye at the plate that does more than enough to balance out his relatively high strikeout rate.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Cesar Hernandez is one of the more underrated second basemen in baseball. He won’t hit for much power, but provides value on the bases and in the field while also getting on base at a high clip (.374 OBP in 2018, .373 OBP over the last three years) atop the lineup.

Odubel Herrera can go hot and cold and is a very aggressive hitter, but he’s a blast to watch. There’s real pop in the bat and he’s a great athlete that shows it off in the field and on the bases.

Carlos Santana was a potential Red Sox target in free agency this past winter, but he’s had a disappointing year. His plate discipline is on point as always and he’s had good (though not great) power, but he’s getting killed by batting average on balls in play.

Asdrubal Cabrera was just picked up via trade a few days ago and was a speculated target for the Red Sox. His plate discipline is only average at best, but he has very good bat-to-ball skills.

Maikel Franco has had a bit of a disappointing start to his career, but he’s had a solid year in 2018 showing off good power with an aggressive approach.

Jorge Alfaro is a boom-or-bust catcher with loud tools but also a ton of swing and miss and a very aggressive approach.

Nick Williams is in the same mold as Franco and Alfaro in terms of aggression and power, though it’s to less of an extreme.

Bullpen Snapshot

Seranthony Dominguez has emerged as the top arm in Philadelphia’s bullpen, combining strikeouts, a lack of walks and ground balls at just 23 years old. Kapler doesn’t hold him to just the ninth, but he’ll be in if there’s a late-and-close situation against the top of the Red Sox order.

Victor Arano, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter are a strong trio of right-handed set-up men who come at you from different angles and velocities.

Adam Morgan is the Phillies top left-handed option, though he’s not a true difference maker.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries

Wilson Ramos was acquired from Tampa Bay before the trade deadline, but he’s currently making his way back from a hamstring injury. He’s currently rehabbing and should be back within the next week or two, but the catcher is not expected back for this series.

Jerad Eickhoff has been a solid starter for a few years now, but he’s missed this entire season with a shoulder injury. He could be back by the end of the year, however.

Pedro Florimon has been out since May, but he could be back at some point in the next few weeks.

Weather Forecast

It’s going to be hot and humid in Philadelphia for this two-day stretch, but they should be able to get these games in. The only issue, if there is one, is that there are thunderstorms in the area on Tuesday. It shouldn’t result in a cancellation, but there could be a delay or two in the first game.