Phillies-Cardinals: What you need to know

Phillies-Cardinals: What you need to know

April 19, 2013, 1:15 pm
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On Monday, Roy Halladay went on the DL for the second straight season. (USA Today Images)

Phillies (6-10) vs. Cardinals (9-6)
7:05 p.m. – CSN

As disappointing as the 2012 Phillies were, they only had two losing streaks of five-plus games. Tonight, the Phils look to avoid a five-game skid that would drop them to five games under .500.

It won’t be easy. The Phils are hitting .228 with a .263 on-base percentage in their last seven games. In their last four games they have 30 strikeouts and no walks.

And tonight the Phillies get left-hander Jaime Garcia, who has completely baffled them in five of six meetings (see story).

In years past, Roy Halladay would be the savior on nights like tonight. Struggling offense, desperately needing a win, you’d turn to the ace of aces to end a skid. But this is obviously a much different situation, and Halladay’s start is important for reasons that go beyond avoiding a 6-11 start.

Halladay’s follow-up

It was funny watching the reaction to Halladay’s start against the Marlins. Heading into it, the consensus was he needed to dominate a dismal team to prove he had something left.

And then he did. And then the consensus was that it didn’t matter.

Of course it mattered. Regardless of who he was facing, Halladay’s issue heading into that start was an inability to throw quality strikes early in the count. His pitch count was soaring because he wasn’t trusting the cutter and sinker enough, was nibbling and getting behind hitters, who were then teeing off when ahead in the count.

He mostly rectified that problem against the Fish, needing just 89 pitches to throw eight innings. The strikeouts weren’t there, but Halladay’s already shown us he can still miss bats. He needed to show us in Miami that he could still go deeper than four innings.

This is a much tougher task.

The Cardinals have a deep lineup with talented hitters who work counts. Carlos Beltran has given Halladay fits (.326 BA, 3 HR), and Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina are threats every time they step to the plate. There might have been one player in Miami’s lineup that would start for St. Louis.

Keep an eye on Halladay’s curveball usage tonight. He threw 20 hooks against the Marlins, getting away from a cutter that just wasn’t working. Halladay’s now thrown more curves than cutters or changeups this season. He threw cutters 40 percent of the time last season and 47 percent the year before. In 2013, just 23 percent of his pitches have been cutters.

The curve has been working, especially with two strikes. The opposition is 1 for 13 off it with eight strikeouts. Against the cutter, they’re 8 for 15 with two doubles and two homers.

Righties need to step up

The Phillies are hitting a major-league worst .131 vs. lefties this season with a major-league worst two RBIs and a major-league worst .370 OPS.

Struggles vs. southpaws are nothing new, but what is new is the inability of the Phillies’ right-handed hitters to hit lefties.

Right-handed Phillies are batting .175/.214/.225 against lefties. The league-average line for a right-handed batter vs. a lefty pitcher is .250/.320/.370.

The Phils have actually been a respectable 9 for 36 against lefty starters. But against left-handed relievers? Try 2 for 48 with 20 strikeouts.

Walks vs. production

Ruben Amaro Jr. said several months ago in a radio interview that walks aren’t the concern, production is.

When asked Thursday about the team’s zero walks in Cincinnati, he replied, “…It's about not just walks, but producing, and we haven't done that.”

It’s time we all recognize how important walks are, especially when a team ISN’T hitting.

The Phillies have no walks over their last four games. Their opponents have 11. And those 11 walks directly led to 10 runs.

It’s not walks vs. production. Walks in many cases EQUAL production. Or at least lead to chances to produce.

(UPDATE: 3:13 p.m.)

Howard, who is 1 for 15 with nine strikeouts against left-handed pitching, is off tonight against Garcia (see story). Kevin Frandsen gets his first start of the season at first base.