Phillies (16-21) at Diamondbacks (21-15)
8:10 p.m. – CSN
A road trip that began with such promise has quickly turned into just another disappointing week for the Phillies. Three straight losses in which the Phils have totaled six runs have dropped them to five games under .500, matching their worst record of the season.
Through 37 games this season, it’s still a mystery as to what this team does well other than pinch-hit. When they pitch, they don’t hit. When they hit, the starters or bullpen fail. Defensive miscues and baserunning blunders have stood out all season. It just looks like a repeat of 2012, even with Howard, Chase Utley and Mike Adams in the fold.
Phillies in a nutshell
Ian Kennedy had far from his best stuff on Friday. He threw meatballs in the first inning and struggled with control all night, as he has all season. And yet the Phillies scored no runs after the first and somehow let him pitch seven innings. Most NL teams would have sent Kennedy to the showers after four.
Ryan Howard swung at ball four once and Domonic Brown swung at ball four twice. All three pitches were high and well out of the zone.
This is what it means when you hear analysts talk about the Phillies lacking plate discipline. Kennedy had three walks. He should have had at least six.
Baserunners matter. The game should have never even come down to Miguel Montero's home run.
Lee on the mound
Cliff Lee (3-2, 3.26) looks to end the skid Saturday night in Arizona against Trevor Cahill (2-3, 2.80).
Lee is coming off a masterful performance against the Giants in which he allowed two runs and three hits to Hunter Pence, but two hits and no runs to all other Giants in an eight-inning win.
Lee has been dominant against the Giants, but not so much vs. the D-backs. He’s allowed four runs to Arizona in two of his last three starts and six homers in 22 innings.
His numbers against current Diamondbacks are exceptional, however – they’re hitting .207 with three walks and 49 strikeouts. The only D-back who has gotten to him is Paul Goldschmidt, who is 2 for 6 with a pair of homers.
Cahill’s heavy sinker
Cahill is one of those comfortable 0-for-4 guys. The 6-foot-4, 25-year-old righty throws his sinker half the time and also mixes in cutters, changeups and the rare curveball.
Cahill lost weight over the offseason and has come back refreshed after a couple down years. He looks like he’s back to his 2010 form, when he went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA for Oakland.
Cahill has the fifth-highest groundball rate in the majors, at 56.3 percent, so expect one of those games unless the Phils can somehow lay off the low stuff and force him to elevate his pitches.
Utley has made at least a half-dozen mistakes in the field and on the basepaths this season, which is uncharacteristic of a player who has as high a baseball IQ as anyone this city’s ever seen.
On Friday he crushed a double over Gerardo Parra’s head in center field, hesitated for a long time rounding second, but still tried for third. He was thrown out. It was the first inning, after Jimmy Rollins’ first-pitch homer and before a few more hits. It cost the Phillies at least a run, and probably the game.
It’s not a matter of Utley losing a step. It’s just mental lapses that have hurt the Phillies. Maybe he’s trying to do too much because there is so little offense around him.
But these baserunning blunders have plagued the Phillies this week. Utley thrown out at third, Delmon Young and John Mayberry thrown out at second, Rollins caught stealing third down a run. Wouldn’t be a big deal if the Phillies were hitting homers or scoring five-plus runs a game, but they’re not.
Still waiting on Howard
A .775 OPS from a $25 million player just doesn’t cut it. Howard has six homers this season and double-digit flyouts to the warning track, so it’s hard to begrudge him much from a power standpoint. He’s been a bit unlucky, or maybe the Achilles injury really sapped him of just enough power.
But to watch him last night against Diamondbacks left-hander Tony Sipp, you really wonder if he’s capable of carrying this team on his back anymore. On a 1-1 count, Sipp threw Howard two middle-in, low fastballs at 92 mph, and Howard swung through both of them. Not a changeup, not a low-away slider, not even a two-seam fastball. These were straight four-seam fastballs that didn’t have much sink, and Howard swung over both of them.
One of the many issues with this offense is that it’s basically a six-inning team. Once the lefty specialists come on at the end of games, you might as well call it. Howard is 6 for 35 against lefties with 17 strikeouts. He and Utley are a combined 10 for 70 (.143).
Road trip from afar
The Phils are 2-3 this week. Few expected them to win more games than they lost in San Fran and Arizona. But if Lee can get the job done tonight, Kyle Kendrick is on the mound tomorrow and we all know what kind of roll he’s on.
Sunday’s finale pits Kendrick (4-1, 2.45) against Brandon McCarthy (0-3, 6.75). McCarthy has allowed more hits (61) than any National League pitcher. Only Joe Blanton of the Angels has given up more.