Phillies at Giants
10:15 p.m. on CSN
The Phillies' brief West Coast road trip reaches its second leg Friday night when they travel to perhaps the game's best-looking stadium, AT&T Park in San Francisco.
The Phils are 53-68, losers of three in a row and five of six.
The Giants are 63-57, 5½ games out of first place in the NL West but just ½-game off the wild-card pace.
Here are five things you need to know about the series opener:
Here comes Cole
Cole Hamels carries baseball's best second-half ERA into Friday's start.
Since the All-Star break, Hamels is 3-1 with a 0.73 ERA in five starts. He's put 30 men on base in 37 innings and struck out 38.
The run of dominance has been long and unlike any we've seen from Hamels in his already storied nine-year career. He's 6-6 with a 2.37 ERA on the year, but remove his first three starts of the season and he has a 1.76 mark in 18 games.
Hamels has allowed three runs or fewer in 17 of those 18 starts and two earned runs or fewer 13 times.
One of the best outings of this stretch came against these Giants, back on July 24 at Citizens Bank Park, when Hamels gave up one run over eight innings and struck out 10.
AT&T Park is a spacious place where it's much easier to leg out a triple than hit a home run, but Hamels has not fared well there in five career starts. He has a 4.76 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in San Fran.
Lefty aces duel
Hamels takes on Madison Bumgarner in a battle of the NL's second- and third-best left-handed pitchers. (Clayton Kershaw obviously tops that list.)
Bumgarner, 25, is enjoying another Cy Young-caliber season. He's 13-9 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 25 starts. He's struck out 158 batters in 162 innings and walked just 37.
Since 2011, Bumgarner ranks 11th in the NL in ERA (3.14), ninth in WHIP (1.13), 10th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.81) and 10th in opponents' batting average (.232).
Hamels has been slightly better in each category over that span, posting a 3.01 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, a 4.00 K/BB ratio and a .228 opponents' batting average.
Bumgarner has pitched 17 innings over his last two starts, following a two-hit shutout of the Mets on Aug. 3 with eight innings against the Royals in last Friday's loss.
Very strangely, he's been ineffective at home. At AT&T Park, Bumgarner is 4-6 with a 5.60 ERA and a .309 opponents' batting average. On the road, he's 9-3 with a 1.72 ERA and a .206 opponents' average.
Current Phils have hit .241 against him. Domonic Brown took him deep once. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are a combined 1 for 11 with five strikeouts. Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd are a combined 5 for 29.
The role of spoiler
It's mid-August, but we're already at the point where the Phillies can do nothing in the standings except prevent other teams from improving their playoff chances.
Of the Phils' next nine series, eight come against team with postseason hopes. They take on the Giants, Mariners, Cardinals, Nationals, Braves, Nationals again, Pirates and Marlins between tonight and Sept. 14, with the only meaningless series being a three-gamer at Citi Field against the Mets to close out August.
While that could mean frustration for contending teams, it could also equal plenty of losses for the Phils, who are already on pace for 91. If they don't steal some of these upcoming games, a 95-loss season for a team with a $180 million opening payroll looks likely.
Free Darin Ruf
Not sure what the Phillies' plan is here. Ryne Sandberg is taking a short-term approach with his lineups, attempting to win each day. It's hard to tell a baseball lifer not to do that.
But it's also hard to comprehend why the Phillies are more concerned with winning meaningless games than giving regular playing time to Darin Ruf or Domonic Brown.
The Grady Sizemore experiment has worked, but what has that accomplished? If Sizemore remains healthy and keeps hitting, all he's doing is making himself more expensive to re-sign in the offseason. That serves him well, but does nothing for the Phils.
Ruf and Brown probably won't be able to prove over these final six weeks that they are everyday players. But they can at least gain some confidence and valuable experience against big-league pitchers.
Thinking so much more about the now than the future has gotten the Phillies to this point. When, if ever, will this regime learn from its mistakes?
Friday night offers Ruf an opportunity to play, either at first base or a corner outfield spot. You might wonder how he'd hold up in left field at AT&T Park, but if Mike Morse can do it…
This and that
• Buster Posey is 8 for 14 with four doubles and a homer against Hamels.
• Giants centerfielder and offensive catalyst Angel Pagan returned from a two-month DL stint last week and has hit in all six games.
• Rollins, born in the Bay Area, hasn't hit much in San Francisco. He has a .222/.262/.386 career batting line in 39 games at AT&T Park.