Phillies-Cardinals: What you need to know

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Phillies-Cardinals: What you need to know

Phillies (23-23) at St. Louis Cardinals (25-20)
8:15 p.m. on CSN

In the Phillies most impressive offensive showing of the season, they scored six early runs and continued to pile on for insurance even as the Cardinals came back to tie the game at seven. The result was a 10-9 win that moved the Phils back to .500 and further accentuated their month-long offensive surge (see story).

On Friday, the Phils aim to move back over .500, where theyve spent just four of 46 games.

Starting pitchers
Cliff Lee takes the hill at Busch Stadium in search of his first win since Sept. 2011. Lee, 0-2 with a 2.66 ERA, is opposed by Cardinals righty and former Phillie Kyle Lohse (5-1, 2.91).

Lee has been brilliant this season but has little to show for it. He had a 1.95 ERA before allowing five runs over seven innings in his last start. He hasn't won despite pitching 10 shutout innings, eight innings of one-run ball (with 10 strikeouts) and a two-hitter over six innings. The Phillies have scored a grand total of 10 runs in 44 innings with Lee in the game.

Lohses command in 2012 has been excellent. Hes walked one or no batters in eight of nine starts and on the season has a 36-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

But he is currently on a trip back to earth after a torrid start to the season. Lohse was 3-0 with a 0.99 ERA through four starts, but has a 4.76 ERA in his last five outings.

Lohse has gotten a bit lucky this season. Hes allowed 40 line drives for a rate of 23.3 percent, a career-high. Yet hes allowing fewer hits than his career average.

The 33-year-old righty is a three-pitch pitcher. This season hes thrown a high-80slow-90s fastball 55 percent of the time, a mid-80s slider 24 percent and low-80s changeup about 17 percent. The remaining pitches have been curveballs.

Bullpen boost
The Phillies bullpen in the last seven games has a 1.86 ERA, a .174 opponents batting average and 25 strikeouts to just two walks.

Raul Valdes, Chad Qualls, Jacob Diekman, Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon combined to produce 14 outs on Thursday after Joe Blanton was pulled after 4 13 innings.

Key matchup(s)
Lance Berkman is out 8-10 weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Take his bat out of the equation and current Cardinals are 10 for 57 lifetime off Lee for a .175 batting average.

But Lee, as accurate as he is, has walked Matt Holliday four times in 10 plate appearances. Holliday looks like hes heating up he has four homers and nine RBI in his last 10 games, including a mammoth blast to left field on Thursday so Lee should be extra careful.

Rafael Furcal is 2 for 3 in his career off Lee with a dinger.

Current Phillies are batting .299.356.452 off Lohse in a whopping 261 at-bats.

Hunter Pence is 13 for 41 (.317), Juan Pierre is 6 for 12 with a double and a triple and Placido Polanco is 10 for 28 (.357).

The combination of Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz, though, is just 15 for 71 (.211).

Victorino is seeing the ball better now than he has all season. Hes 11 for 23 over his last six games with five doubles and a homer.

Note of interest
After Thursdays 18-hit outburst, the Phillies lead Major League Baseball in May with a .286 team batting average.

Sound off
Will Friday be the night Lee finally wins?

E-mail Corey Seidman at cseidman@comcastsportsnet.com

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."