Phillies (0-2) at Braves (2-0)
7:10 p.m. – TCN
Looking to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2007, the Phillies send Cliff Lee to the mound Thursday night in Atlanta.
The first two games of this Braves series have been thoroughly disappointing, with Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay getting hit around, Ryan Howard still hitless, Erik Kratz stranding runners left and right and the bullpen allowing six runs in 7 2/3 innings.
But still, it’s just two losses. The last two World Series winners started out 0-2. In fact, seven of the last 16 teams to start 0-2 made the playoffs.
That said, the Braves have looked much, much better than the Phillies through two games. The teams have the same number of hits (19), but Atlanta has five more homers. The Braves are hitting .288/.373/.621. The Phillies are hitting .264/.321/.375. It’s been a team full of Miguel Cabreras hitting against a team full of Cliff Penningtons.
But a win Thursday night can change the mood coming back to Philly for Friday’s interleague home opener against the Royals.
The Phils need a big performance out of Lee tonight because opposing starter Kris Medlen was the best pitcher in the game after the All-Star break last season and has a disappearing changeup that helped him hold lefties to a .208 batting average in 2012.
Lee is the right starter to turn to. While Halladay has an 11.57 ERA against the Braves in his last five starts, Lee has a 0.97 ERA against Atlanta over his last five.
Lee’s allowed just 30 baserunners in 38 innings over that span, striking out 37 Braves and walking just three. (Somehow, the Phillies lost two of those games.)
Avoiding the longball is the obvious goal, and if Lee’s track record is any indication, it’s one he should deliver on. Current Braves have just three homers off him in more than 180 plate appearances.
The Brave who has hurt Lee the most is fourth outfielder Reed Johnson (7 for 18, homer, two doubles). But it’s a tough decision for Fredi Gonzalez because starting him would mean sitting Jason Heyward or one of the Upton brothers.
The gut feeling here is that the lefty Heyward sits.
The last time the Braves lost a regular-season game started by Medlen was May 23. Of 2010.
That’s 1,047 days ago. Greg Dobbs, Juan Castro and Paul Hoover started for the Phillies that day. LeBron James was six weeks from making “The Decision.” Halladay’s perfect game was six days away.
After Tommy John surgery sidelined him for most of 2011, Medlen came back to go 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts for the Braves last season.
The 28-year-old righty had everything working, but most of all his changeup. Medlen threw 375 changeups last season, and 105 resulted in outs, according to ESPN Stats & Info. As a starter, he induced swings-and-misses on 49 percent of his changeups (league-average is around 30 percent). Lefties hit .167 or worse against the pitch in every zone except for middle-away, where they hit .250.
The Phillies have had success against Medlen, but he didn’t face them at all as a starter in 2012. Howard is 4 for 7 off of him with two homers. Chase Utley is 2 for 4. Jimmy Rollins has a pair of doubles in eight at-bats. Altogether, current Phils are 14 for 32 (.438) with a 1.238 OPS against Medlen.
They also tuned him up in the spring, scoring nine runs off him on 14 hits in five innings.
Breaking out against Medlen won’t be easy, but at least these Phillies have the confidence associated with past success.
The Phillies have 19 hits and six walks through two games, but they’re 4 for 21 (.190) with runners in scoring position and have stranded 17 runners in 18 innings.
A little help?
Utley’s driven in five of the Phillies’ seven runs so far on a single, double, triple and homer. He has 10 total bases. The Phillies’ other seven starters have combined for 14.
Aside from Halladay’s start, what has been the most troubling sign through two games?