Phillies (11-14) at Mets (10-12)
1:10 p.m. – PHL17
Game 26 is finally here, which means the return of Carlos Ruiz from a season-opening 25-game suspension. Ruiz, who replaces the DFA’d Humberto Quintero on the Phillies’ active roster, will be an enormous addition to a lineup that was getting very little from the catcher position.
Phillies catchers ranked second-to-last in the NL in batting average and walks, and dead-last in on-base percentage. The average major-league catcher has a .735 OPS – Phillies catchers were at .567.
Erik Kratz, who just isn’t a starting catcher, hit .191 with 16 strikeouts and four double plays. He struggled to block balls in the dirt, and was behind the plate for a passed ball and four wild pitches. He was a nightmare in run-producing situations, driving in just four of the 43 men on base during his at-bats.
Ruiz will instantly improve the batting order by sliding into the five- or six-hole. It adds a patient, capable, powerful right-handed bat into the middle of the order. No, Ruiz might not hit .325 again with a .394 OBP and .540 slugging percentage – only four catchers since 2000 and 13 since 1900 have had a batting average, OBP and SLG that high.
But even if he performs up to his 2011 standards (.283/.371/.383), it is a tangible upgrade. Even when Ruiz isn’t hitting for power, he’s walking. From 2008-11, Chooch had 194 walks and 179 strikeouts.
It’s a battle of lefties: Cole Hamels (0-3, 5.40) vs. Jon Niese (2-1, 3.81).
Hamels has returned to form after two shaky starts to open the season. Had Hamels had two poor outings in mid-June, nobody would have noticed, but since his struggles came in his first two starts, time was spent analyzing why he wasn’t the Cole of old.
Well, he’s the same lefty. After allowing 13 runs, four homers and 21 baserunners in 10 2/3 innings in his first two starts, Hamels has allowed six runs, one homer and 21 baserunners in 21 innings in three straight solid starts. He still doesn’t have a win, even though he pitched brilliantly over eight innings against the Pirates on Tuesday.
We’re reaching “not again” territory with Hamels – he’s been given 3.13 runs of support per game. Cliff Lee was at 3.20 last season.
The Mets have never been a fun foe for Hamels to face. His 10 losses, 4.33 ERA and 1.44 WHIP against the New York are all the highest marks he has against any NL opponent. But he’s been better lately, going 2-0 with a 3.34 ERA and 40 strikeouts to seven walks in 35 innings in his last five starts vs. the Mets.
Keep the ball in play
Current Mets are hitting .256 off Hamels with seven walks and 56 Ks, which is a bit surprising given that this is such a patient New York team. For Hamels to be successful on Sunday, he’ll need to throw first-pitch strikes – like Kyle Kendrick did in Friday’s gem – and avoid a huge foul ball count.
Hamels has had 89 pitches fouled off in five starts. That’s an average of 17.8 per game, meaning he’s left about an inning per game on the field simply because he hasn’t been able to put hitters away.
Day & night
We’ve reached the point where the sample size is too large for us to believe it’s just some fluke. Hamels has a 3.13 ERA at night, but a 3.92 ERA during the day. His strikeouts are down during the day and his hits and walks are way up. Perhaps batters just see his changeup better during the day.
Just something to look out for.
Phillies know Niese
Niese has made more starts against the Phillies (13) than against any other team. He’s 5-5 with a 3.63 ERA. At Citizens Bank Park, he’s lost four of eight starts and put 70 men on base in 46 innings.
The only Phillie who’s had a lot of success against Niese is John Mayberry (9 for 28, three homers, two doubles). Ryan Howard is 1 for 15 with seven Ks and Chase Utley is 2 for 15.
The 6-foot-4 lefty throws a fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup. He likes to start the cutter in on lefties, especially with two strikes. The results haven’t been there yet – lefties are 7 for 14 off the cutter and righties are hitting .292.
The Phillies have hit Niese around three times, and all three times the onslaught began in the third inning.
In need of a sweep
The Phillies haven’t swept a team yet, and the inability to kick a team when it was down last season set the tone for a disappointing year. The Phils’ first three-game sweep last season didn’t come until July 25-27 vs. the Brewers.
A win would make them 12-14 and on pace for a close-to-.500 month after what appeared to be a lost April. A loss would give the Phillies their first 15-loss April since 2002.