Phillies (24-26) at Red Sox (31-20)
7:10 p.m. – PHL17
Needing a win to reach .500 for the first time in 38 games, the Phillies fell apart defensively in the late innings and put Cole Hamels on the hook for his eighth loss. In the process, they lost a crucial series to the Washington Nationals.
Now come four straight games -- two at Fenway, two in Philly -- with the Boston Red Sox, who are much improved from a year ago.
The Red Sox traded away plenty of high-priced talent last summer in Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, but they made several smart signings this summer.
Most importantly, though, they’re getting rebound seasons from Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, the two most important starters on the staff.
Last year those two had a combined 4.70 ERA, a .268 opponents’ batting average and allowed 50 home runs. This year, they have a 2.54 ERA and opponents are hitting .210. Lester and Buchholz have allowed just seven homers in close to 150 innings, and the Red Sox have won 17 of their 21 starts.
The good news for the Phillies is they won’t face Buchholz at all over these next four games (he was scratched from Monday’s start with a sore collarbone), and won’t see Lester until Thursday.
Cloyd’s toughest test
Tyler Cloyd makes his third start of the season, this one definitely set to be his most challenging.
Cloyd allowed two runs in each of his first two starts and enters 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA. Both of those starts were on the road, where he has thrived. In five career starts away from Citizens Bank Park, Cloyd is 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. At CBP, he’s 0-2 with a 7.80 ERA and 1.73 WHIP.
This road test is different, though. The Red Sox are the first AL team Cloyd will face, and since it comes in an AL park he’ll be faced to pitch to nine batters rather than eight. That’s rather meaningful considering Boston’s DH is David Ortiz and the Red Sox rank first in baseball in runs, doubles, homers, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage from their designated hitters.
The Fenway effect
The Phillies are 3-9 in their last 12 games at Fenway Park, but even that can't describe how thoroughly they've been dominated in Boston over the years. The Red Sox have averaged seven runs and outscored the Phillies 84-45 in those dozen games.
Aceves gets the start
Swingman Alfredo Aceves (1-1, 8.20 ERA) makes his fourth start of the year and 13th of his career. The last two years have been a nightmare for the 30-year-old Mexican right-hander -- he’s 3-11 with eight blown saves, a 5.87 ERA and an ugly home run rate of 1.5 per nine innings.
Aceves has an assortment of pitches -- a four-seam fastball, two-seamer, a cutter, changeup, curveball and slider. Nothing is harder than 92-93 mph.
Lefties destroy his fastballs -- they’ve hit .368 against them the last two seasons. This year, everyone is destroying him, really. Opponents are hitting .325/.409/.613 against Aceves, meaning he’s essentially turned every batter into Ryan Braun.
Aceves was solid in 2011 with the Red Sox, posting a 2.61 ERA. But he simply allows way more hits now than he did then.
The Phillies’ best chance of out-slugging the Red Sox will come in this series opener.
Shane Victorino will miss the week against his former team. He and Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks were placed on the 15-day DL Friday. Victorino has a hamstring strain and Middlebrooks is dealing with a sore back.
His right knee is sore and perhaps that’s why he’s done nothing for 14 games. Since May 8, Howard has hit .192 with no home runs and 19 strikeouts in 52 at-bats.
Howard is back in the lineup and in the field tonight (see story), and his bat needs to come around soon or this team won’t be in the playoff periphery for long.
Out of 20 qualified first basemen, Howard currently ranks 14th in batting average, 19th in OBP, 12th in slugging, 10th in homers, 14th in RBIs, 25th in walks (four first basemen who don't even qualify rank ahead of him) and fourth-worst in strikeouts. And his $25 million average annual salary is tops among first basemen.
Michael Young’s downward spiral has lasted a month. Since April 30 he’s hit .175 in 23 games with just four RBIs. His batting average has dropped from .352 to .268.
Even worse, his defensive shortcomings have come to the forefront. On Sunday he made a poor throw that could have started a double play but didn’t, and later in the game made another wild throw home that would have forced a runner out at the plate but instead went under Humberto Quintero’s glove, allowing a second run to score.
Those are the kinds of plays Placido Polanco, for example, makes. Polanco doesn’t have the bat Young has, but when Young’s not hitting these defensive miscues become much more difficult to defend.
With Howard and Young both struggling, it's not surprising that the Phillies rank last in the majors since May 8 in batting average (.192), OPS (.540) and RBIs (8) from their three- and four-hole hitters.
Phillies (24-26) at Red Sox (31-20)