Phillies-Marlins: What you need to know

Phillies-Marlins: What you need to know

April 12, 2013, 11:45 am

Phillies (4-5) at Marlins (1-8)
7:10 p.m. – TCN

John Lannan (0-0, 3.86) vs. Ricky Nolasco (0-1, 3.97)

Fresh off of their first series win, the Phillies head to Miami to take on the worst team in the National League.

The Marlins have already been swept twice, shut out four times in their first nine games (tying a major-league record), and held to a .569 team OPS that ranks ahead of only the Pirates.

Sure, the Marlins’ offense is due to pick it up a little bit, but there isn’t enough talent in their lineup to win consistently or piece together big innings. Miami has scored multiple runs in just two of 81 innings.

Avoid Stanton at all costs

For the Phillies, the key to the series is not being beat by Giancarlo Stanton, the only legitimate power threat in the Marlins’ lineup.

Had Stanton not gotten hurt last season, he was on a 49-home run pace. In nine games this year, he has no homers, no RBIs, just one run scored and a .167 batting average.

Teams are following the formula many analysts outlined prior to the season –- they aren’t giving Stanton anything to hit. Just 30.2 percent of pitches Stanton has seen this season have been in the strike zone, according to Baseball Info Solutions. Not only is that the lowest mark in the game, it’s by far the lowest the mark since 2002, when pitch location data first became available.

With Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs batting behind Stanton in the lineup, there is simply no reason for the Phillies to throw him quality strikes unless they have a sizable lead and the bases are empty. The game plan should be that simple, especially for tonight’s starter.

Lannan’s second start

In his Phillies debut last Saturday, John Lannan showed exactly how effective he can be when he keeps the ball on the ground. Lannan made 18 of the 27 Royals he faced hit the ball on the ground, and 14 of those 18 were thrown out.

Lannan is not a strikeout pitcher, so he needs to keep the ball low to be successful.

Dodging Stanton should be the objective for all Phillies pitchers, but especially Lannan. Stanton is 5 for 11 off the lefty with three doubles and a homer.

Placido Polanco also has hit Lannan well, with seven singles in 17 at-bats.  

Lannan has a 5.04 career ERA against the Marlins, winning just once in his last seven starts. He has turned in three straight quality starts vs. Miami, though.

Nobody watches the Fish

After trading away every high-priced player on last year’s roster, fan interest in Miami has again waned, even if the new stadium is only a year old.

Miami is averaging 20,823 fans per game, which ranks dead last in the NL. It’s a dip of 11,000 fans per game. And nobody is watching this team on TV, either. The Fish are being viewed by fewer than 20,000 people on average, according to the Miami Herald (via HardballTalk).

Force Nolasco into fastball counts

Friday’s game should be the toughest of the series for the Phillies, who tend to bring out “Good Ricky Nolasco.”

The righty had a 4.68 ERA from 2009-12 -- 13 percent below league average -- but a 3.58 ERA against the Phillies over the same span.

The thing with Nolasco is that he’s either really good or really bad. There tends to be no middle ground. In his eight best starts against the Phils he has a 1.43 ERA and held them to a .157 batting average. But in the other seven starts he has a 6.17 ERA and the Phillies hit .304.

Chase Utley has hit Nolasco well, going 11 for 35 (.314) with three extra-base hits.

Ryan Howard is just 6 for 30 off Nolasco, but that includes three homers, two doubles and as many walks (eight) as strikeouts.

Nolasco goes fastball-slider-curveball-split, and nothing is harder than 90-91 mph. The splitter is his out pitch against lefties and he goes to the slider when he has two strikes on a righty.

In his career, the opposition has hit .331 off his fastball but just .256 on sliders, .238 against the splitter and .214 vs. the curve.

The key is forcing him to throw the fastball, and the way to make him do that is to get ahead in the count. He throws the fastball 50 percent of the time when he’s behind, but not as much when he's ahead or even in the count. And even though he uses the fastball half the time on the first pitch, it's not always a quality strike for hitters. Of the 47 batters Nolasco has faced this season, only 12 have swung at the first pitch.

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