Phillies-Cardinals: What you need to know

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Phillies-Cardinals: What you need to know

Phillies (22-23) at St. Louis Cardinals (25-19)
8:15 p.m. on PHL17

The Phillies hit the road for seven games beginning Thursday night and the first stop is St. Louis.

The Phils lost the 2011 NLDS to a Cardinals team that looked markedly different than this one. Gone are Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. Shelved are Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman.

In for St. Louis, though, is Carlos Beltran, who is having an MVP-type season through his first 42 games. Beltran is batting .292 with a .400 on-base percentage and a .618 slugging percentage. He has 14 home runs and 37 RBI, eight more than any Phillie.

The Cardinals also have the services of Matt Holliday, who was available for just 10 weak plate appearances last October because of injury. So pretty much everything about that particular series can be thrown out.

The Cards have played at a very high level so far in 2012 because of a stacked offense. St. Louis has scored 231 runs to lead the NL, and the closest team (Atlanta, with 221) has played one more game.

Perhaps the scariest part about St. Louis is that it's scored plenty of runs and won plenty of games without Holliday performing up to his standards. He has a .817 OPS this season compared to .925 for his career. The Cards used a hot April from David Freese (who is batting .176 in May) and the rejuvenation of .339-hitter Rafael Furcal to make up for Holliday and the loss of Berkman, which has reached 30 games already.

Starting pitchers
Joe Blanton (4-4, 3.74 ERA) faces Jake Westbrook (4-3, 2.41).

Westbrook is on pace for the best season of his career, but his luck could change at any time. The notable differences in the 34-year-old sinkerballer are his reduced walk rate hes walking 2.2 batters per nine innings compared to 3.3 in 2010-11 and avoidance of home runs. Westbrook allows 18 home runs per season; hes on pace for fewer than 12 this season.

Westbrook throws his 90 mile per hour sinker 64 percent of the time and a slider 18 percent. The remaining 18 percent of his pitches are curveballs, changeups and straight four-seam fastballs.

The Phillies have seen him three times in the regular season, and Westbrook is 1-1 with a 3.52 ERA. Westbrook shut the Phils down last May, allowing one run over seven innings despite just one strikeout. Then in September, his control eroded and he walked five batters in addition to allowing five hits over 3 13 innings. The Phils won that game, 9-2.

Blanton struggled in his last start at home to the Red Sox, but has been very consistent so far in 2012. He has the Phillies only complete game and shutout, and has five quality starts (with one near-miss) in eight tries.

Key matchups
Blanton has gotten Beltran out throughout his career, but he hasnt particularly dominated him. Beltran is 3 for 16 off Blanton but only two of those 13 outs were strikeouts.

Holliday, meanwhile, is 3 for 8 off Blanton with two doubles and a home run.

Its all going to begin and end, though, with Furcal. If Blanton and the pitchers that follow him can keep Furcal off the bases, the Phillies have a significantly higher chance of winning this series. The Cards are eight games over .500 when Furcal reaches bases and three games under when he doesnt.

For the Phils, a key matchup is Hunter Pence vs. Westbrook. Pence is 7 for 12 in his career against Westbrook with six singles.

Jimmy Rollins, who will be available for Thursdays game after missing three games while on paternity leave, has also thrived vs. Westbrook. He is 5 for 9.

Overall, the Phillies are batting .324.401.453 off Westbrook.

Notes of interest
-The Phillies are 9-15 in games against teams .500 or better, and 13-8 against teams under .500. Theyll have to start winning some games against good teams, as the next 17 are against clubs with winning records.

-St. Louis has a 3.23 starters ERA and a 4.26 bullpen ERA. Forcing Westbrooks exit prior to the seventh inning is a key.

Sound off
Which team do you think is the best in the National League right now?

E-mail Corey Seidman at cseidman@comcastsportsnet.com

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.