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

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick out of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions that still must be answered:

How many spots remain on the bench? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. Will the Phillies go with a five-man bench, meaning there are two openings? Or will they go with a four-man bench, which opens the possibility for carrying eight relievers instead of the customary seven?

If the Phils go with a five-man bench, they will pick two from a group of four players that includes Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. The hunch is Coghlan will make the club, leaving the final spot down to Nava or Stassi. All three of those players are non-roster so the team would have to open a spot on the 40-man roster to accommodate them. Valentin has impressed -- and is already on the 40 -- but he might benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised the work of Coghlan and Stassi.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coghlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

If the Phils go with a four-man bench, Coghlan might be the only one to make the club. He is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Wednesday. If he wasn't going to make the team, he might be gone by now.

Going with a four-man bench would minimize the subtractions that the team would have to make from the 40-man roster. In that case, only one spot would have to be cleared.

A four-man bench means the Phillies could choose three relievers from a group of candidates that includes Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers could be coming on Tuesday.

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

A week before the season opener, it appears Andrew Knapp has won the Phillies' backup catcher competition.

The Phils on Monday released Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday, two veterans battling with Knapp for the backup spot to Cameron Rupp.

Knapp, 25, hasn't had an impressive spring, going 7 for 38 (.184) with 16 strikeouts, but the move makes sense because he's young and has at least a chance to contribute to the Phillies in the future, unlike Hanigan and Holaday. Plus, catcher Jorge Alfaro and first baseman Rhys Hoskins will likely open the season at Triple A, meaning Knapp would not have had an everyday spot with the IronPigs.

Knapp had his best game of the spring at the right time Sunday, hitting a two-run homer and throwing out two runners on the bases (see story).

"It's pretty obvious he seems to be the guy," manager Pete Mackanin said of Knapp. "Nothing's written in stone but if you read between the lines, it pretty much tells you something about it. No secret plans or anything like that. It is what it is right now."

At 25, Knapp isn't really a prospect anymore but rather a player the Phillies want to see sink or swim at the big-league level.

"He's not going to get 500 at-bats, but one of the things you can look at is any exposure to the big-league scene is valuable toward anyone's development," Mackanin said. "Let's say Knapp gets 200 at-bats, it's worth his while and our while to judge him, to give him a sense of confidence or knowing what he's up against.

"In that regard playing in the big leagues, even in a part-time role, is important."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round pick in 2013 out of the University of California. He broke out in 2015 by hitting .360 with a 1.050 OPS and more than an RBI per game in 241 plate appearances with Double A Reading.

Last season, the switch-hitting Knapp was an International League All-Star with Triple A Lehigh Valley, though he didn't have as impressive an offensive season, batting .266/.330/.390 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs.

"He's got a chance to be a pretty good hitter," Mackanin said. "And he's come along quite a ways defensively behind the plate to where I'm comfortable with him catching.

"Little by little he's shown improvement in the spring, even though he hasn't had the greatest spring offensively. He's had a lot of good at-bats and he's caught well."

Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp look like locks for the Phillies' bench. The final two bench spots are open with Brock Stassi, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin in the running (see story).

CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury contributed to this report.