For Phillies, beating up on Marlins is a must

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For Phillies, beating up on Marlins is a must

The Phillies enter the X Factor portion of their schedule when they travel to Miami for a three-game series against the Marlins on Friday night.

You know the story by now. Marlins ownership had another one of its infamous fire sales in November. Shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle were traded away in a purge that reduced the team’s payroll by $60 million. The stripping down of the Marlins came a year after they spent lavishly on talent in preparation of their move into a new ballpark, and it created ill will among the fans/taxpayers who helped pay for that stadium.

“It’s not right, plain and simple,” Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said of the Marlins’ strip down.

In the wake of the controversial dismantling, the Marlins have been left with a JV team that has been forced to use light-hitting Phillies’ castoff Placido Polanco as a cleanup man in four of nine games. The Marlins, who have the worst record in the majors, have won just one of those nine games. They have scored just 16 runs and been shut out four times.

Despite winning two in a row, the Phillies are off to a middling start at 4-5. The Marlins are a team that the Phils could get well against in a hurry. But here’s the hitch: Every team in the NL East could profit against the Marlins this season. They are the division’s X Factor team. Beating up on them won’t guarantee a team’s winning the NL East, but it can certainly help.

“You’ve got to play them and you’ve got to beat them,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “They’re not going to roll over and give you anything. If they beat you, yeah, that could cause you a lot of problems in your division. I think right now, where they set and who they are -- if you think you’re going to win your division or go somewhere, you have to take care of your business against them.”

Washington and Atlanta has already taken care of some business against Miami. Both have posted an early-season three-game sweep of the Marlins. Now it’s the Phillies’ turn to see how much hay they can make in the first three of 19 games against Miami this season.

The Phils will send John Lannan, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay to the mound against Ricky Nolasco, rookie Jose Fernandez and Kevin Slowey in the series.

Plenty of good seats remain available.

The Marlins drew just 14,222 and 13,810 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the two smallest crowds at their year-old stadium. They could get a bump when Cuban-born pitcher Fernandez starts against Hamels on Saturday night. The 20-year-old right-hander struck out eight Mets in five innings in his big-league debut Sunday. This weekend’s series finale will have a huge Phillies subplot as the struggling Halladay tries for the third time to pitch beyond the fifth inning.

Road-to-nowhere teams like the Marlins have given the Phillies problems in the past. Last year, the Phillies’ late run at an NL wild-card spot suffered a gaping wound when they lost three of four to 107-loss Houston, the worst team in the majors, in mid-September.

The Phillies have to expect to beat the Marlins.

But they can’t assume they will.

“Washington, Miami, New York, Atlanta -- we have to win all these games,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “You have to win your division games. On any given day, any team can beat another team. This is different than other sports. You saw what Houston did to us last year.

“We have to play good baseball, and we have to play with energy whether there’s four people in the stands or 40,000.”

The Marlins drew 34,439 on opening day, but not all of those fans had their happy, new-season faces on. There are hard feelings toward owner Jeffrey Loria, who has stripped down his club twice in a decade. One fan wore a shirt that said, Marlins baseball: Helping other teams get better since 1998. A couple of protesting fans were asked to leave.

Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t been so lucky. The Marlins’ mega-talent, who expressed his displeasure with the Marlins’ purge this winter, remains part of the team largely because he’s inexpensive at $537,000 this season. Stanton, 23, has averaged 37 homers and 86 RBIs the last two seasons. As his salary climbs, he could be the next big name out the door. And, yes, sources say the Phillies have let it be known that they’d like to talk to the Marlins once they put a For Sale sign on Stanton.

Rollins said the Marlins’ way of operating was a topic of conversation among Team USA players at the World Baseball Classic last month. Stanton was on that club and Rollins was able to take the young slugger’s temperature on the topic.

“He’s going to be OK,” Rollins said. “For his sake, I wish he was somewhere where he could shine and be a star. In a situation like that, the season can get long on you. But he’s going to be OK.”

Stanton hits third in the Marlins’ lineup, a challenging task without a formidable cleanup bat behind him (see story). He is off to a slow start, hitting just .167 (5 for 30) with two doubles, no homers and no RBIs.

The Phillies hope Stanton stays cold this weekend as they look to beat up on a team that they should beat up on.

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A

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Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci, who it seems like has been in the organization forever, was promoted Thursday from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Tocci, who turns 22 on Aug. 23, has been in the Phillies' organization since he was 16 years old. He's taken some pretty big steps forward offensively the last three seasons as he's gained muscle and experience, and this season he's hit a career-best .307/.362/.398 in 474 plate appearances.

Recent promotions to the majors of Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and Cameron Perkins have created openings in the Lehigh Valley lineup. Tocci will likely play center field, where he's committed just one error in 801⅓ innings this season.

Tocci will likely be added to the Phillies' 40-man roster this winter to prevent another team from plucking him away in December's Rule 5 draft. The Phils may have to make a decision between Tocci and oft-injured Roman Quinn (see story), though there are several other replaceable players on the 40.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

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Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

Phillies (43-75) at Giants (48-74)
10:15 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After a rather pathetic series in San Diego, the Phillies move on to San Francisco for their final non-NL East road series of the season.

The Giants have had an unbelievably disappointing season, getting very little from key pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore and Mark Melancon and key hitters like Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence.

On most nights, the Giants struggle to score. This is shaping up to be another one of them.

1. Nola night
Aaron Nola's starts have become must-watches over the last two months. He's on a historic run of 10 straight starts with at least six innings pitched and two or fewer runs. 

It's the longest streak in Phillies history, and it's a longer streak than the following pitchers have ever had: Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Sandy Koufax, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Max Scherzer, and countless others.

This is a great matchup for Nola. On top of the Giants' offensive futility, AT&T Park is just an extremely difficult place to hit home runs. There have been just 82 homers hit there this season, which is 23 fewer than any other park and 70 fewer than the league average.

Nola (9-7, 3.02) has faced the Giants only once, last June when he was in the midst of a rough summer. Buster Posey, Denard Span, Crawford and Jarrett Parker went a combined 5 for 9 off of him, but Nola is a much different pitcher these days.

2. Outfield help wanted
The Phillies are in a precarious position heading into San Francisco. They don't know whether Odubel Herrera (hamstring) will be available to start this weekend, and Aaron Altherr remains on the DL with a hamstring injury of his own.

AT&T Park is the most difficult outfield to defend in all of baseball. It's 404 feet to left-center field and 421 feet to right-center. A centerfielder must have above-average range to succeed there.

In right field, there's the high brick wall that a rightfielder must learn. If a ball hits high off the wall and caroms past the rightfielder, it's an inside-the-park home run waiting to happen.

The Phillies cannot expect to play Rhys Hoskins in left field and Hyun Soo Kim in right field and get away with it in this series. Look for them to help Nola out tonight by putting a more experienced outfielder like Cameron Perkins in one of the corners, even though his bat is a liability.

3. Shark attack
The Phillies tonight face 6-foot-5 veteran right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who's having an interesting season. Samardzija is 7-12 with a 4.74 ERA, but he also has 160 strikeouts and just 23 walks in 155⅔ innings. Roy Halladay had only one season with a better K/BB ratio.

The issue usually with Samardzija is that he throws a lot of hittable pitches early in counts because he hates falling behind hitters. Two seasons ago, he allowed the most hits, earned runs and home runs in the league. And yet he's still regarded as a very good pitcher because on a pitch-by-pitch basis, he can be tough to solve.

Samardzija, like pretty much any pitcher who goes to San Fran, has been much better at home than on the road. He has a 4.35 ERA at AT&T Park and has allowed 0.79 home runs per nine innings. On the road, he has a 5.05 ERA and has allowed 1.65 home runs per nine.

Samardzija has faced the Phillies 10 times in his career but his numbers (26 runs in 27 innings) are immaterial because no current Phillie has ever faced him.

Samardzija has six different pitches: sinker, slider, four-seam fastball, curveball, cutter and splitter. His sinker and fastball average about 95 mph. A right-handed hitter rarely knows what's coming on the first pitch — Samardzija has thrown four different pitches at least 17 percent of the time on the first pitch.

4. Nothing from the corners
Any major-league team needs offense from first base and third base. That has been true as long as this game has been around. They're both premium offensive positions where you typically see a power hitter.

The Phillies have gotten so little this season, especially lately, from their corner infielders. Maikel Franco is hitting .223 and his .276 on-base percentage and is 70th out of 71 National League players. (Only Brandon Crawford is worse.)

In August, Franco has hit .186 with one home run and zero walks. Franco has 17 home runs, but it seems like everyone in the majors has 17 home runs this season. There are 89 players with more home runs than Franco this year, so the 17 homers are little solace.

Tommy Joseph is hitting .102 in 49 at-bats since Aug. 2. Combined, the two of them have two home runs in their last 190 plate appearances.

5. This and that
• I dug up a depressing stat Wednesday on the Phillies' struggles this season against bad starting pitchers. Clayton Richard, Brandon Finnegan, Martin Perez, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, J.C. Ramirez, Edinson Volquez, Adam Conley, Tim Adleman, Patrick Corbin and Ricky Nolasco have a 0.93 ERA vs. the Phils this season. They have a collective 5.22 ERA against the rest of baseball.

• The Giants' disastrous season hasn't affected Posey, who is having another dynamic season, hitting .316/.406/.473 with his typically elite defense.

• The Phillies' 6-20 record against the NL West is the worst record by any major-league team against any division this season.

• After sending Nick Pivetta to Triple A after his start Wednesday, the Phillies called up shortstop Pedro Florimon. Florimon, 30, will be available off the Phillies' bench tonight.