Phillies (49-50) at Cardinals (59-37)
8:15 p.m. – PHL17
Eight days away from the trade deadline, the Phillies still don’t know whether they’re buying or selling. But starting with Tuesday’s game, the 100th of the Phils’ season, they’ll play six straight against the two teams with the best run differentials in baseball – the Cardinals and Tigers. That should help decide things.
The Cardinals are red-hot heading into Tuesday’s series opener, having won nine of their last 12.
Battle of rookies
The Phillies won’t have the fortune of turning to Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels against the NL’s best offensive team. Both pitched – and lost – in New York over the weekend and won’t start again until the first two games of the Detroit series.
Instead, Tuesday will be a battle of rookies Jonathan Pettibone (5-3, 3.89) and Shelby Miller (9-6, 2.92).
Pettibone has had a second wind, going 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA over his last five starts. Several of those came against tough opponents, too – Pettibone beat the Braves and Pirates and made a quality start against the Dodgers.
He’s held the opposition to a .223 batting average over those five starts, down 123 points from his five previous starts.
But this is Pettibone's first start against the Cardinals, and the Cardinals are a different animal than any NL team. They’re stacked with patient, powerful, productive hitters who don’t give away at-bats. More on that later.
Miller, the favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, has hit a bit of a lull after looking Matt Harvey-like over his first dozen starts. Through 12 games, Miller was 7-3 with a 1.91 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. He had 81 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings.
In the six starts since, he has a 5.52 ERA and has allowed six homers in 29 innings.
Still, he’s a formidable foe, one the Phillies haven’t seen. (We all know how the Phils tend to fare against pitchers they’ve never seen.) The 22-year-old former first-rounder has held righties to a .183 average, and his success is even more pronounced at home, where he has a 1.93 ERA in nine starts.
Miller’s fastball averages 94-95 mph and reaches as high as 97. He’s mostly a two-pitch pitcher, going four-seam fastball and curveball (80 mph), but on rare occasions he’ll mix in a changeup to a lefty. He simply hasn’t needed much else – opponents are hitting .214 against his fastball and have just five extra-base hits in 92 at-bats off his curve.
Miller loves to throw the high fastball to righties, who have proved equally incapable of connecting and laying off the pitch. They’re 8 for 66 (.121) on pitches at the top of the zone.
The Phillies will have to lay off that high fastball, as they couldn’t do last Saturday against Mets righty Zack Wheeler. Right-handed opponents of Miller’s have swung and missed at 49 percent of his pitches high and out of the zone, according to Brooks Baseball.
Historically clutch Cards
The Cardinals enter the series with a mind-boggling .338 batting average with runners in scoring position. That’s 50 points higher than the next-best team in baseball (Detroit). It’s also 26 points higher than the major-league record set by the 1950 Red Sox.
Indeed, St. Louis is on pace to shatter the major-league record, and it’s not just one guy doing it. Allen Craig is hitting .489 with RISP. Carlos Beltran is hitting .418. Matt Carpenter’s at .403. Yadier Molina’s hitting .395, Matt Holliday’s batting .368 and even light-hitters Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso are at .345 and .324, respectively.
The Phillies, comparatively, are at .252 with runners in scoring position. They have three guys hitting over .300 – Ben Revere, Jimmy Rollins and Delmon Young. Eight Cardinals have a higher batting average with RISP than the best active Phillie.
Carried by Chase
The Phillies need Chase Utley’s hot streak to continue. The days off during the All-Star break seem to have rejuvenated him, as he hit .417 against the Mets with two homers and a triple. He drove in six more runs in that series than he did in his 13 prior games.
Utley has always hit well at the new Busch Stadium – in 19 games he’s batted .351/.440/.506 with seven extra-base hits, 12 RBIs, 16 runs and more walks than strikeouts.