Phillies-Braves: 5 things you need to know

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Phillies-Braves: 5 things you need to know

Phillies at Braves
7:35 p.m. on CSN

The second half of the season is here. Following the four-day All-Star break, the Phillies resume their schedule with three games in Atlanta.

The Phils are 42-53 and 10 games behind the Braves (52-43), so even if they somehow sweep this series they'll still have a sizable deficit in the division.

That's not what the season is about anymore. The Phillies have a 0.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Fangraphs, and Bovada gives them 50-to-1 odds of winning the NL East.

This next week is important, however, for a different reason. That is the first of five things you need to know:

Boost that value
The Phillies would love for Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and a few other players to have a strong 10 days leading up to the trade deadline.

It's still early in trade season and teams won't begin really ramping up their efforts to improve until around this time next week. If any injuries arise for contenders, that would help the Phillies, a team that may have the best bat and best arms on the market with Byrd, Lee and Hamels.

Lee pitches July 21 at home against the Giants. That will be a meaningful start for him to reestablish his trade value, although it's looking more and more likely that he will be a Phillie at least until the winter.

Burnett on a roll
Burnett (6-8, 3.83) has made seven consecutive quality starts. Over that span he's pitched at least seven innings six times.

Since June 10, Burnett has averaged 7.4 innings per start and posted a 2.94 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. The walks are down, the hits are down, and the strikeouts are down, but that's OK because Burnett is inducing plenty of ground balls and soft contact. His opponents have hit .209 over his last seven starts.

Burnett could likely fetch a mid-level prospect and some salary relief by the trade deadline. Contending teams are always in need of starting pitching, and Burnett is a solid fallback option for the teams that don't have enough to pursue Hamels, Lee or David Price.

Impatience with The Piece
How much longer do the Phillies give Ryan Howard to correct this?

He's hit one home run over his last 101 plate appearances and went 5 for 53 in his final 15 games before the All-Star break.

Howard has hit .220 this season with a .300 on-base percentage and just 26 extra-base hits. He's not getting on base, he's not driving the ball with consistency, and given his issues running and fielding, he's not providing the Phillies much of anything in the middle of their order.

Ruben Amaro Jr. said a few weeks ago that if the veterans can't get it done, he'll find players who will. That would seem to include Howard, who is halfway through his $125 million contract but already looking like dead weight on a team with a bloated payroll.

The options with Howard are to leave him where he is, to move him down to sixth or seventh in the order (where he probably belongs), or to platoon him.

His OPS is actually 40 points higher vs. lefties (.711) than his mark against righties (.671), but Howard has walked less and struck out way more against same-handed pitching.

Santana for Atlanta
Starting for the Braves in this first game after the break is right-hander Ervin Santana, who is 7-6 with a 4.01 ERA in 17 starts.

Santana was great through mid-May, then stumbled to a month's worth of poor starts, raising his ERA from 1.99 to 4.10 in just five outings.

He's been better of late, however, allowing 11 runs on 30 baserunners over his last 27 innings with 24 strikeouts.

Santana has already faced the Phillies three times this season and gone 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.

This and that
• Ben Revere was the hottest Phillie before the break, hitting .391 in his final 17 games with three extra-base hits, six steals and eight runs scored. He's hit exactly .300 with a .327 on-base percentage in 173 games as a Phillie.

• Byrd has eerily similar home and road splits.

At home, he's 48 for 181 (.265) with 25 runs, 10 doubles, 10 homers and 12 walks.

On the road, he's 47 for 180 (.261) with 24 runs, 10 doubles, eight homers and 12 walks.

• Domonic Brown has been slightly more productive in July, hitting .273 with a double, a homer and eight RBIs in 35 plate appearances. Still, his batting average hasn't been as high as .230 since all the way back on May 10.

• The only player in baseball with more strikeouts than Howard is Braves centerfielder B.J. Upton. With all of the mistakes and disastrous moves the Phillies have made the last three years, could you imagine if they signed Upton before 2013? The Phils reportedly offered Upton five years and $55 million, which was $20 million fewer than the Braves gave him. The Phils' front office should feel lucky Atlanta took that potential monstrosity of a contract away from them.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, both struggling mightily through the first month of the season, will get Saturday night off when the Phillies take on the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Joseph is hitting .190 with one homer and 18 strikeouts in 18 games, while Rupp is batting .180 with one homer and 20 strikeouts through 15 games. Last season, Joseph had 21 home runs and Rupp 16.

Brock Stassi will spell Joseph at first base and bat seventh. Andrew Knapp takes over for Rupp behind the plate and will bat eighth.

Daniel Nava also receives a start, playing left field. The first-year Phillie is hitting .346 with a pair of homers and as many walks as strikeouts (seven).

Zach Eflin takes the mound in a meaningful start for the right-hander (see story). He opposes resurgent Dodgers righty Brandon McCarthy (see game notes).

Here are tonight's lineups:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Daniel Nava, LF
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Zach Eflin, P

Dodgers
1. Andrew Toles, CF
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Yasmani Grandal, C
5. Yasiel Puig, RF
6. Cody Bellinger, LF
7. Chase Utley, 2B
8. Chris Taylor, 3B
9. Brandon McCarthy, P

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies (11-10) at Dodgers (12-12)
9:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end out west Friday night. The beauty of baseball is that you have a chance to start a new streak a day later. Zach Eflin looks to avenge a poor performance from last season while the Dodgers send out veteran righty Brandon McCarthy at home.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening's game.

1. Two strong starts for Eflin
In his second season as a big-league starter, Eflin is off to a lot better start than last year. 

If you remember his MLB debut, he gave up eight runs and retired just eight batters against a Blue Jays team that could hit the snot out of the ball … and did. Through two starts, Eflin had a 10.80 ERA and two losses to his résumé before coming into his own over the next two months.

This year has been just about the opposite. Eflin clearly looks comfortable on a major-league mound. He's turned Clay Buchholz's spot in the rotation into a positive. He's allowed just three runs and one home run in 12 innings, good for a 2.25 ERA.

The modern thinking is that an ideal pitcher strikes out a lot of batters, avoids walks and home runs, and induces weak contact. Eflin has done all but the strikeouts. His sinker has been marvelous and the Mets/Braves had little chance to do damage against it. Pete Mackanin described the sinker as a bowling ball. That just about says it all. The sinker won't induce that many swings and misses — thus the lack of strikeouts — but he can throw it in the zone and keep hitters off balance.

The Dodgers kind of ended Eflin's season last year. In reality, it was dueling knee injuries that did Eflin in (see story), but the Dodgers were the last team to take advantage of an ailing Eflin, hitting three home runs and scoring seven runs in just three innings Aug. 8. Even the outs in that game were generally line drives. Chase Utley, Yasmani Grandal and Corey Seager — all of whom could be in the lineup Saturday — took the now-23-year-old righty deep.

Being a righty against the Dodgers isn't all that advantageous as the team boasts those three hitters and Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Toles and Cody Bellinger as lefties who can put up disruptive plate appearances. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have a rotation full of righties and are unable to take advantage of the Dodgers' platoon issues.

2. Dodgers send out resurgent righty
The first two seasons of Brandon McCarthy's deal with the Dodgers essentially went by the wayside. Now, the 33-year-old starter is picking up where he left off in 2014.

McCarthy has long been one of the more entertaining and thoughtful players in baseball, as evidenced by his Twitter account. The veteran righty has also been a steadily average to occasionally above-average pitcher in 12 MLB seasons, bouncing around teams mostly on the west coast. He posted career-worst numbers with the Diamondbacks in the first half of 2014, but he rebounded in the second half with the Yankees, pitching to a 2.89 ERA in 90 innings despite the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

He parlayed that second half into a four-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers and that was almost immediately derailed by Tommy John surgery. Going into 2017, he had thrown just 63 innings and made only 13 starts in the first half of his contract. McCarthy was one of many Dodgers pitchers on the disabled list during a 2016 with a record-setting number of injuries for the club.

But now he's apparently back to form and, perhaps most importantly, he's healthy. He's made it through four starts unscathed this year and is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA to boot. He's allowed just 18 hits in 24 innings. Similar to Eflin, he relies primarily on a dynamic sinker that sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He also features a low 90s cutter and an 80 mph curveball, both of which grade out well this season.

Only three current Phillies have any history vs. McCarthy. With his history in the AL West with the Mariners, Michael Saunders has faced McCarthy plenty with sub-par results, going 2 for 13 with five strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 3 for 3 off the righty while Andres Blanco is 0 for 1.

3. How does the Dodgers' bullpen stack up?
Going into Friday's action, the Dodgers' bullpen had a 3.15 collective ERA, good for eighth in all of baseball and second-best in the National League. As a whole, the crew strikes out 10.29 batters per nine innings and has the highest wins above replacement of any bullpen in baseball.

Any conversation about the Dodgers' 'pen starts with Kenley Jansen, one of the premier closers in the game today. He overwhelms hitters with a cutter many consider reminiscent of Mariano Rivera. It isn't quite up to Rivera's level, but it is still wildly effective. He has a 2.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season, locking down six saves in six chances. He dominated the Phillies on Friday night.

Setting up for him primarily is righty flamethrower Pedro Baez. Baez pitches with a dreadfully slow pace but great results, striking out batters at a similar clip and takes a 1.08 ERA into the weekend. Righty Josh Fields and lefty Grant Dayton each hadn't allowed a run this year before Fields let one up in the eighth inning Friday while lefty Luis Avilan has been effective primarily vs. lefties. 

While Chris Hatcher and Ross Stripling, both righties, each has a loss this season, they've still achieved OK results pitching often in low leverage situations. The biggest disappointment for Los Angeles has been the offseason signing of former Giants closer Sergio Romo. The 34-year-old has a 10.57 ERA through 10 appearances and has walked as many batters as he's struck out. If the Phillies get to face Romo in a big situation this weekend, it'll be a tremendous opportunity to do some damage.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis takes a 10-game hitting streak into action on Saturday night. Not only does he have good numbers off McCarthy, he's also simply off to the best start to his career. The Phillies' shortstop has traditionally been a better second half hitter but he has a career-best .269 average and .487 slugging percentage thus far.

Dodgers: While he is currently playing corner outfield, rookie Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers' first baseman of the future. Currently the No. 10 prospect in baseball, he had five home runs in Triple A Oklahoma City and is projected to have legitimate in-game power at the major league level. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies went 2-4 vs. the Dodgers last season and haven't won a series at Dodger Stadium since April 21-24, 2014, when they took three of four.

• Frequent trade partners in recent history, the Phillies and Dodgers have teamed up for eight trades since the 2012 trade deadline. Eflin himself came to the Phillies in the 2014 Jimmy Rollins trade.

• McCarthy is typically at his worst in April. He has a 5.01 ERA for March/April in his career, his worst for any month. However, he pitched well the two times he faced the Phillies. He threw eight shutout innings in 2013 and gave up two runs while striking out 12 in seven innings during the 2014 season.