Phillies should follow others' strategy: Avoid Stanton

Phillies should follow others' strategy: Avoid Stanton

April 11, 2013, 12:45 pm

The Nationals swept the Marlins to begin the season. The Mets followed by taking two of three. The Braves on Wednesday night completed their own sweep in Miami’s first home series.
 
Now it’s the Phillies’ turn to use Miami to boost its own record.
 
This is an historically bad Marlins team, and it took only nine games for the 100-plus loss speculation to start looking like a virtual lock.
 
The Marlins haven’t just dropped eight of their first nine games, they’ve been shut out in four of the nine losses. That ties a major-league record, and it’s something we haven’t seen since the 2004 Expos.  
 
When it was announced days before the season that Placido Polanco would bat cleanup in Miami’s lineup, it sounded like a joke. Polanco, whose .356 slugging percentage from 2010-12 ranked 209th out of 230 qualifying players, was set to become Giancarlo Stanton’s protection in the Marlins’ lineup?
 
Polanco has batted fourth four times so far. Greg Dobbs has done it the other five games. It’s not exactly a fearsome duo behind Stanton, and it’s the main reason the Marlins’ only legitimate offensive threat has gotten off to such a slow start.
 
Stanton, who hit 37 homers despite missing 39 games last season, has started the season 5 for 30 with eight walks and 12 strikeouts. He has no homers. He has no RBIs. He’s scored one run.
 
According to Baseball Info Solutions, Stanton has seen the fewest pitches inside the strike zone in all of baseball – 30.2 percent. That puts him on pace to see the fewest pitches in the strike zone since 2002, when the data first began. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the strategy to neutralize Miami’s only threat. Don’t pitch to him, and you won’t get hurt.
 
The Marlins have scored more than three runs in only one game this season, and even that came on a five-run outburst aided by a Mets error and passed ball.  
 
To put it very simply, the Phillies need to win this series. They really need to sweep, as the top two teams in the division have already done. A sweep would make the Phils 7-5. A series win would make them 6-6.
 
The pitching matchups for the weekend are John Lannan vs. Ricky Nolasco on Friday, followed by Cole Hamels-Jose Fernandez and Roy Halladay-Kevin Slowey.
 
Nolasco is the exact type of finesse pitcher who tends to give the Phillies fits. He has a 3.42 ERA against the Phils in his last seven starts, with a .253 opponents’ batting average and just two homers allowed in 47 1/3 innings.
 
Chase Utley has hit Nolasco well – 11 for 35, three extra-base hits – but few other Phillies have. Ryan Howard is a mixed bag – on the one hand he’s 6 for 30 with eight strikeouts, but on the other he has three homers, two doubles and eight walks. Jimmy Rollins is a .262 hitter off Nolasco, but six of his 11 hits went for extra bases.
 
In the middle game, the Phils see Jose Fernandez, the Marlins’ top prospect. Fernandez has a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s and a power curve. He struck out eight Mets over five innings in his major-league debut last week.
 
Fernandez jumped from High-A all the way to the majors this season, a move due in large part to the massive success he had on the farm. His combined minor-league numbers were: 14-2, 2.02 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, two home runs allowed, 165 strikeouts in 138 1/3 innings.
 
It could be tough facing someone they’ve never faced, but the Phillies do tend to do well against flamethrowers like Fernandez.
 
In Game 3 the Phils see Kevin Slowey, who is essentially another Jeremy Hefner. Slowey throws in the high-80s and was torched by the Phils the only time they saw him, allowing seven runs in 1 2/3 innings on two doubles, a triple and two homers.
 
This is the ideal weekend for the offense to continue its surge, but more importantly for Hamels and Halladay to get on track.
 
If they can’t against a team that has combined for two homers, a .217 batting average and a .569 OPS through nine games, the concern level in the city will rightfully heighten.

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