What's going on with the Phillies?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not always sunny in Philadelphia. Most Mets fans knew that already, as the team was rained out during its last trip to the City of Brotherly Love. That's why we're playing five games during this series, with the fifth game coming on Monday night, when the Mets and Phillies were supposed to each have an off day.
From a baseball standpoint, things aren't very sunny for the Phils either. Just like the Mets, not much was expected of the Phillies this season, and just like the Mets, they haven't done much to surprise anyone. Sure, Chase Utley is having a great season and Ben Revere shocked the world by hitting his first career home run the other night, but the offense is being held back by a big letdown season from Domonic Brown as well as the continuing power decline of Ryan Howard.
However, with Jimmy Rollins playing like the second best shortstop in the National League, the offense hasn't been as big a problem as Philadelphia's pitching. The staff is suffering through a surprisingly pedestrian Cole Hamels season, and Cliff Lee just went on the disabled list with an elbow injury. Can the Phillies compete this summer without their two aces being healthy and operational at the same time? Their chances don't look too good, but until someone in the NL East pulls apart from the pack, everyone has hope.
Who are these guys?
Cesar Hernandez is Philly's third baseman now that Cody Asche is on the DL with a hamstring strain. The Phils could do a lot worse considering that Hernandez is ranked as the team's No. 8 prospect, but his walks-and-contact bat would play much better at a middle infield spot. There are none of those available in the current Philadelphia lineup, so the team will have to hope that the three home runs Hernandez hit at Double-A Reading this season are less of a mirage than they appear to be. Even if he never develops power, though, Hernandez can make himself useful by displaying the skills that he used to post a .375 on-base percentage and 32 stolen bases at Triple-A last year.
Oy, what happened to Domonic Brown? He's actually striking out and walking at the same rates that he was in 2013; the problem is that his BABIP and isolated power have sunken to levels that make him nearly useless as an offensive player. Last season, Brown was hitting home runs on a crazy 19.3 percent of his fly balls, but in 2014 that rate is down all the way to 7.0 percent. Both of those figures were extreme, so Brown will probably hit for a little more power this year, but it won't be enough to make him useful if he doesn't find a way to reach base more often.
Who's on the mound?
Thursday: Zack Wheeler vs. David Buchanan
Buchanan is a rookie out of Atlanta who is coming off his first career start last Saturday. That outing went pretty well, with Buchanan allowing just two runs in five innings against a potent Dodgers lineup. Based on that small sample, he should be able to completely shut down the Mets, but Buchanan's decidedly unsexy strikeout and walk rates from Triple-A this season show why he isn't considered a top prospect in the Phillies' system.
Matching up against the rookie should give Wheeler a decent chance to lead the Mets to victory. Last time out he failed to do that despite striking out seven Diamondbacks batters and walking only one in six-and-two-thirds innings. That was Wheeler's longest start of the season so far, and it'll be fun to see how deep he can go if he continues to keep his walks down.
Friday: Rafael Montero vs. A.J. Burnett
Just like with the Mets and Bartolo Colon, the Phillies were hoping to capture some of last year's brilliance when they signed the aging Burnett this winter. The former Mets prospect earned 7.0 fWAR during his two seasons in Pittsburgh, but he's been more of an industry standard innings eater with the Phils. Compared to last year, his strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and he's not even getting as many ground balls. This version of Burnett can survive in the big leagues, but recently he's pitched more like a back-of-the-rotation guy and less like the savior that led Pittsburgh to the playoffs.
Last time I previewed Montero, I was pretty negative and said he could be ticketed back to the minors if he doesn't get his walk rate down. Well, in his start against the Diamondbacks, Montero still walked three batters in six innings, but he was otherwise dominant, which was great to see. With 10 strikeouts and just one run allowed, Sunday's outing was a big step forward for Montero, who previously didn't look like he had the stuff to consistently strike out big league hitters. We're still waiting for that advanced command to show up, but if he can punch out a batter per inning, Montero is welcome to stick around a while longer.
Saturday: Jacob deGrom vs. Kyle Kendrick
Should we be waiting for the other shoe to drop with deGrom? On Memorial Day against Pittsburgh, he shut out the Bucs for six innings, but he also had five walks compared to just four strikeouts. The rookie is now totaling 14 strikeouts and 10 walks in 19.2 innings, and those aren't rates that normally lead to major league success. A .200 BABIP and 100 percent strand rate probably have more to do with deGrom's success than his stuff does so far, but his minor league rates indicate he should at least be able to get the walks under control in due time.
Ugh. It feels like I'm always writing about Kendrick. And he's not the most exciting pitcher in the world. Compared to last year, his strand rate is higher and his BABIP is lower, which has led to a better ERA even though his strikeout and walk rates are nearly identical to those in 2013. For a guy who doesn't miss too many bats, Kendrick's ground ball rate of 48 percent isn't good enough to make him an above average pitcher. At least he's a relatively durable innings eater who can go deep into games when his command is on.
Sunday: Jon Niese vs. Cole Hamels
Save for his games against the Mets, Hamels has been a consistently great pitcher over the years, so it shouldn't be surprising to hear that this season's 4.43 ERA is mostly due to bad luck. His three walks per nine innings are pretty high for him, but Hamels is also featuring a strand rate that is seven percent below is career average and a BABIP that is 32 points above his career average. Compared to recent seasons, Hamels is hurling more fastballs and less of his signature changeup in 2014. That's kind of surprising, because you'd think that more fastballs would lead to less walks, which hasn't been the case. Still, Hamels should continue to be a steady if not excellent member of the Phillies' rotation for years to come.
Niese isn't as flashy a pitcher as Hamels is, but he may be just as important to the Mets and their future. Even when he doesn't have great stuff, like during his last start against Pittsburgh, he manages to keep the Mets in the game by holding the opponent to two runs in five-and-two-thirds innings. By keeping batters off balance with his cutter and curveball, Niese has made a friend of the BABIP fairy this season. His .267 rate is well below his career average of .310, but FIP doesn't hate Niese as much as I figured it would. Thanks to only four home runs allowed, Niese's FIP of 3.35 is just a tad higher than his 2.74 ERA.
Monday: Bartolo Colon vs. Roberto Hernandez
After a tumultuous month of April, Hernandez has been pretty awesome during his last four starts. In those games, he's actually walked one more batter than he's struck out (15 to 14), but he's allowed just five runs total. How's he getting it done? A few ground balls here, a little strand rate magic there... you know, the old Fausto Carmona formula for success! He let the Mets have a healthy dose of the old potion back on May 9 when he held New York to just one run in five innings. Hopefully the spell will be broken this time around.
Oh Bartolo! His two-seam fastball was unhittable against the Pirates on Wednesday... or maybe it was just invisible since the Bucs barely ever bothered to swing at it. Either way, the big man's superior command continues to look like a solid investment for the Mets, even with an ERA north of 4.00 and the potential to get blown up by the home run ball. Colon has understandably been more effective in the friendly confines of Citi Field, so he could be due for an explosion in Philly. On the other hand, if his two-seamer is as good as it was last time out, we could be in for another treat.
What about some GIFs?
Ruben Tejada capped an awesome Mother's Day comeback with a walk-off single.
Earlier in the game, Ryan Howard showed surprising nimbleness to avoid this Anthony Recker tag attempt.
During the Phillie Phanatic's birthday celebration earlier this month, Clammy Sosa devoured an umpire.