Phillies (36-42) at Miami Marlins (35-40)7:10 p.m. on PHL17
The Phillies follow a disappointing end to their 10-game homestand by traveling to brand new Marlins Park for the first time.
Miami is in its first year at its new home, which mercifully has a retractable roof to eliminate the many rain delays that used to take place at Sun Life Stadium.
The Phils moved ahead of the Marlins in the NL East standings earlier in the week but find themselves back in the basement after losing to the Pirates Wednesday and Thursday. The Phillies needed to use the 10-game homestand to make up ground in the NL East, but they went just 5-5 against Colorado, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh and are as many games out of first place (nine) as they were prior to it.
Now begins a nine-game divisional stretch leading up to the All-Star Game in Kansas City. The Phils have three this weekend in Miami, then an off day, then three with the Mets at Citi Field and a final three-gamer at home with the Braves.
Cliff Lee begins the Phillies important NL East stretch opposite Marlins righthander Josh Johnson.
Lee, 0-4 with a 3.72 ERA, is still looking for his first win. Per CSN producer Dan Roche, Lee has the second-longest streak since 1969 of winless starts (12) in which he has thrown at least six innings.
Lee is currently experiencing one of the worst runs in his Phillies career, having allowed 14 runs on 25 hits in his last 20 innings. His last quality start was four outings ago, on June 5 against the Dodgers.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of Lees recent struggles has been his high fly ball total. Lee, who has generated a ground ball rate of about 47 percent since the start of 2011, has induced just 20 grounders and 41 fly balls in his last three starts. Playing in the air can be dangerous, as evidenced by the eight extra-base hits Lees allowed in that span.
Johnson, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. His season numbers arent as stellar as usual hes 4-5 with a 3.96 ERA and a .284 opponents batting average but hes lowered his ERA by almost three full points in his last nine starts.
Johnson over that span has a 2.56 ERA and has averaged nearly seven innings per start. That is the Josh Johnson were used to seeing.
The Phillies have seen him plenty over the years 15 times in all and the recipe has always been the same. Johnson throws heavy sinker after heavy sinker. Its simply hard to drive a 93-95 mph pitch that dives as it crosses the plate. Johnsons thrown his main pitch about 64 percent of the time for his career, but hes gotten away from it a bit this year in favor of a curveball. He also throws a slider and a change.
At 9-17, the Phillies are 27th in baseball in June. The Marlins were a major-league best 21-8 in May, but are a major-league worst 6-18 in June.
Offense has the problem for the Fish, who are last in either league with 79 runs this month. Miami is hitting .226 with a .290 on-base percentage in June... so essentially the entire team is performing like Pirates outfielder Jose Tabata.
Pitching has been the Phillies issue. They have a 4.77 ERA this month, sixth-worst in baseball.
Howard taking the field
Not for the Phillies, but for the Lakewood BlueClaws. Howard made his first minor-league rehab appearance Thursday at Single A Lakewood, going 2 for 4 with three RBI as DH (see story).
On Friday, Howard will play first base in a competitive game for the first time since last October.
Any time you face Jose Reyes team, priority numero uno is to keep him off the basepaths. But that might not be as much a problem this weekend as it has been in past years. Reyes is hitting just .269 this year and hasnt attempted a steal in his last 22 games.
Last season at this time, Reyes was hitting .349.394.528.
The Marlin that Lee has struggled most with is catcher John Buck, who is 13 for 41 (.317) with three homers and three doubles.
As for current Phillies, theyre hitting a surprising .297 off Johnson, though with very little power. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are a combined 22 for 69 (.319) off Johnson. Chase Utley has seven singles in 27 at-bats (.259) with just one RBI against the 6-foot-7 righty.
Cliff Lee overunder: 7 wins
E-mail Corey Seidman at email@example.com