Cardinals-Phillies: What you need to know

Cardinals-Phillies: What you need to know

April 18, 2013, 2:00 pm
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Phillies (6-9) vs. Cardinals (8-6)
7:05 p.m. – TCN

The Phillies did two things this week they hadn’t done since the mid-90s – went three straight games without a walk (1995) and got swept by the Reds (1996).

Now they return home, sour after three straight embarrassing losses. Defense and starting pitching were the culprits on Wednesday. But offense was the main problem all week in a hitter’s ballpark against three pitchers they had previously dominated.

Baseball without bats
The understatement of the month would be: The Phillies’ offense is not performing right now. They’re hitting .238 with a .287 on-base percentage.

They have the lowest walk rate in the National League.

Two regulars have an OBP over .283.

Phillies catchers are hitting .167, worse than their pitchers. Phillies centerfielders are hitting .194. Phillies rightfielders are hitting .191.

The 7-8-9 and leadoff spots are all hitting below .195, with 60 strikeouts. Nobody is hitting at the bottom, Ben Revere isn’t hitting at the top, and now Jimmy Rollins is in the midst of a 1-for-18 slump. Everything is being placed on Chase Utley and Michael Young, because Ryan Howard is still stuck on one home run.

It can’t possibly remain this bad. At least there’s that.

Situational struggles
Even with their offensive woes, Phillies pitching has put them in position lately to win games with one or two crucial hits. But those aren’t even coming.

The Phils are hitting .130 with two outs and a man on third base. In 61 plate appearances with two outs and a runner in scoring position, 12 runs have been driven in. Rollins, Utley, Howard, Laynce Nix and the catchers are 3 for 30 with two outs and RISP.

Looking at the splits, what sticks out is that the Phillies are doing the bulk of their hitting with one out, and very little with no outs or two outs. They’re not putting runners on to start innings, and they’re also failing to prolong innings.

With one out, the Phillies are hitting .325 with a .529 slugging percentage. With no outs or two outs, they’re hitting .184 with a .281 slugging percentage. Remove Young and they’re hitting .165 with two outs.

Cards also scuffling
The Cardinals are having similar offensive woes. Both teams have just 34 walks, but the Cardinals’ problem has been a surprising lack of power. St. Louis has just 11 homers and a .381 slugging percentage; the Phillies have 13 and a .375 SLG.

But Matt Holliday is just starting to get going, so those numbers could change drastically in the coming weeks. Holliday just had an eight-game hitting streak snapped -- one that raised his average from .176 to .250. He had three doubles and seven RBIs.

Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig have combined for one home run and a .226 batting average. That duo hit .286 with 54 homers last season.

St. Louis is over .500 because of contributions from its lesser known position players. First baseman Matt Adams, a player who was written off because of his body type but who has performed at every minor-league level, is 11 for 21 with three homers and two doubles.

Infielder Matt Carpenter is hitting .296 with a team-leading six doubles. Shortstop Pete Kozma has done his best work with men in scoring position.

And, of course, catcher Yadier Molina is the one who holds everything steady. On top of being the game’s best defensive catcher, he has a hit in eight of nine games and an RBI in four of five. Molina has destroyed very good Phillies pitching the last three years, batting .449 with three homers, seven doubles and 11 RBIs in 69 at-bats.

Battle of aces
We’ve gotten this far and haven’t even mentioned Thursday’s awesome pitching matchup: Cole Hamels vs. Adam Wainwright.

Hamels (0-2, 7.56) is coming off a rebound performance against the Marlins in which he allowed just one run over six innings. Hamels’ command was still shaky (three walks), and he couldn’t put batters away, inducing 18 foul balls. This is a much tougher lineup he’ll face, so if Hamels can piece together a decent outing we’ll know the Cole of old is making his way back.

Hamels didn’t face the Cardinals in 2012 but had a 1.96 ERA against them in 2010 and 2011, with 24 strikeouts and just 19 baserunners in 23 innings.

Wainwright (2-1, 2.05) pitched a four-hit shutout with 12 Ks against the Brewers his last time out. He struggled last season in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, posting a 3.94 ERA after pitching to a 2.53 the two seasons prior.

But the 6-foot-7 righty is back to his old tricks. In 22 innings, he has 24 strikeouts and no walks.

Wainwright comes at hitters with a sinking fastball in the low-90s, but it’s his unbelievable curveball that does the most damage. The opposition has hit .157 off the pitch since 2007, which has more vertical break than any curveball not thrown by Barry Zito or Brett Myers.

Batters are 3 for 20 with 10 strikeouts against Wainwright’s curve this season. They’re pounding his sinker (.438 BA), which explains why he’s thrown nearly as many cutters as sinkers. He also has a changeup he uses against lefties, but he hasn’t been able to throw it for strikes consistently this season.

Rollins has seen Wainwright well, with seven hits in 20 at-bats. Howard and Utley have not – they’re a combined 5 for 28 with one extra-base hit. Howard has walked six times, though.

Key to the series
The key to the last series was keeping the Reds' two-hole hitter off base. The Phillies couldn't do that, and they lost all three games, with Zack Cozart starting the Reds' Game 1 rally, scoring the winning run in Game 2 and opening the floodgates in Game 3 with a double.

The key to this series is getting to the St. Louis bullpen.

Cards starters have a 2.19 ERA, while the bullpen is at 6.08. Jason Motte is out, probably for the season, and Mitchell Boggs has been out of his element as the fill-in closer. Boggs has allowed eight runs and 15 baserunners in 7 1/3 innings. Five of seven St. Louis relievers have an ERA over 5.00.