Phillies-Astros: 5 things you need to know

Phillies-Astros: 5 things you need to know
August 5, 2014, 12:30 pm
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Phillies vs. Astros
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies entered 2014 with a payroll of approximately $178 million. The Astros entered 2014 with an estimated payroll of $51 million.

Through 112 games, the Phillies are 49-63. The Astros are 47-65. 

How sad is that? Or ... how sad is the fact that the Phils have scored 13 fewer runs than Houston, which, by the way, plays in the toughest division in baseball?

With those depressing numbers out of the way, let's look ahead to the opener of the teams' three-game series at Citizens Bank Park:

Kendrick needs this
Kyle Kendrick (5-11, 4.92) has been awful lately. Since June 22, his ERA is 6.61 in eight starts. His opponents have hit .291 with seven homers in 196 at-bats.

Kendrick will be a free agent after the year. Early in the season, he was positioning himself for a nice, multi-year payday. But if he keeps pitching this poorly, a one-year contract might be all he finds.

Kendrick has the third-highest ERA among all major-league starters since the beginning of 2013. Edwin Jackson is last, at 5.26, then it's Edinson Volquez at 4.99 and Kendrick at 4.79. Kendrick also has the lowest strikeout rate in the NL over that span (5.52 Ks per nine innings).

This will be a new experiene for KK, facing these Astros. Active Astros have just eight combined at-bats against him.

Houston's unlikely hero
Jose Altuve was never regarded as a top prospect. In the era of oversized players who have jaw-dropping athleticism, the 5-foot-6 Altuve was (literally) hard to see.

But the second baseman just keeps growing and growing as a player, and enters this series leading the AL in batting average (.339) and stolen bases (43).

A two-time All-Star, Altuve has 40 extra-base hits this season. That's 12 more than Ryan Howard and 17 more than Domonic Brown.

Since May 10, Altuve has hit .372 with 22 doubles and 32 steals in 73 games.

Who is Dallas Keuchel?
The Phillies take on Houston's 26-year-old lefty Dallas Keuchel (last name rhymes with cycle).

He's come out of nowhere this year to be the 'Stros' ace, going 10-7 with a 2.97 ERA in 20 starts. Keuchel leads the AL with four complete games and has struck out 104 batters while walking just 33 in 136 1/3 innings.

Keuchel is coming off one of his most impressive outings of the year, a complete game four-hitter over the Athletics. He's allowed just one earned run over his last 16 innings.

Keuchel entered the year 9-18 with a 5.20 ERA in 239 major-league innings. The key to his success in 2014 has been his slider. His opponents have hit .159 against the pitch and swung and missed at it 45 percent of the time. It's his go-to pitch with two strikes against both lefties and righties.

Home cookin'
It's what Chase Utley and Howard need after combining for two hits in 45 at-bats on the seven-game road trip.

Utley could use a day off or two. He's had just five true days off this season, playing 107 of the Phillies' 112 games.

Howard ... what is left to say? He's hitting .215 with a slugging percentage seven points higher than Ben Revere's.

Howard, who is in the lineup against the Astros' lefty, needs to bat lower in the order. The six- or seven-holes make more sense at this point for Howard, who has been dismal with runners in scoring position and clogs the bases when he does get on.

Then there's this: Howard has hit .131 in 137 at-bats from the seventh inning-on this season.

Perhaps a return to CBP provides a jolt for one or both players. It certainly can't get worse, for them or for the team. The Phillies are 22-33 at home.

Checking up on old friends
Former Phillies prospects have not had much success with the Astros this year, though they're all still very young.

Jon Singleton, the first baseman who was a centerpiece of the 2011 trade for Hunter Pence, has hit .195 in 53 games with 10 homers, 30 RBIs and 73 strikeouts in 185 at-bats.

Shortstop Jonathan Villar, dealt to Houston in 2010 for Roy Oswalt, has hit .200 with a .255 OBP and 14 steals. He was demoted to Triple A in late June.

Outfielder Domingo Santana, the player to be named later in the Pence deal, had a cup of coffee with the Astros earlier this summer and went 0 for 13 with 11 strikeouts.

Starting pitcher Jarred Cosart went 9-7 with a 4.41 ERA in 20 starts with Houston before being traded to Miami at the deadline.

And in 23 relief appearances, Josh Zeid had a 6.97 ERA. The former Phillies farmhand had season-ending surgery on his right foot last Wednesday.

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