Phillies-Mets: What you need to know

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Phillies-Mets: What you need to know

New York Mets (15-13) at Phillies (14-15)7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies finished a six-game divisional road trip through second-place Atlanta and first-place Washington 3-3. They lost a game in the standings to each team in the process.

Now, the Phils return to Citizens Bank Park for an eight-game homestand against beatable teams in the Mets, Padres and Astros. The Phillies play 14 of their next 16 games at home, where to this point they have played just 10 of 29 contests.

Starting Pitchers
Roy Halladay (3-2, 3.40) begins the homestand by opposing Mets lefty Jonathon Niese (2-1, 4.08).

Halladay has made 71 starts as a Phillie and this is the first one hell enter with an ERA over 3.00. That, of course, is because of his eight-run outing last Wednesday at Turner Field. In that game, Halladay blew a six-run lead for the second time in his career and saw his ERA skyrocket from 1.95 to its current 3.40.

Halladay has pitched at a high level in five of six starts in 2012, and he looked sharp through the first four innings last time out. But his strikeout and walk numbers are not what they were through this point in 2010 or 2011.

Through 37 innings this season, he has 10 walks and 24 strikeouts. Last season he had six walks and 39 strikeouts through 37 innings. In 2010 he had three walks and 28 strikeouts.

Niese has three quality starts in five tries this season with his best performance coming against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on April 14. Niese held the Phils to five hits over 6 23 shutout innings that day and allowed just two runners to reach scoring position.

Niese has handled the Phillies in the past with a 90-92 mile per hour fastball, a mid-70s curveball, a high-80s cutter and, on very rare occasions, a low-80s changeup.

Niese has relatively even lefty-righty splits over the last three seasons but same-handed batters are just 3 for 22 off him in 2012.

Previous games
The Phillies made a bit of news on Sunday night. Cole Hamels pitched a gem, but the start will be remembered for his first inning plunking of 19-year-old Nationals phenom Bryce Harper that resulted in a five-game suspension.

Harper proceeded to showcase his speed and baseball IQ by taking third on a single to left and stealing home when Hamels attempted a pickoff at first base.

After the game Hamels admitted that he hit Harper intentionally, leading to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo calling Hamels "gutless" and "fake-tough" (see story).

From an actual baseball, non-daytime drama standpoint, the Phillies lost two of three in Washington.

The Mets come to CBP winners of two straight after a four-game losing streak.

Head-to-head
The Phillies are 52-41 (.559) against the Mets since 2007, though theyve won just two of the last seven meetings.

Halladay is 9-2 in 11 starts vs. the Mets with a 2.88 ERA. Current Mets are 26 for 135 (.208) off Doc with four walks and 35 strikeouts. David Wright is 3 for 21 (.143) with 11 Ks.

Josh Thole, however, has hurt Halladay with seven hits in 16 at-bats. Those are the types of hitters that seem to do the most damage off Halladay slap-hitting bat-speed types like Thole and Jose Reyes.

Niese has frustrated the Phillies seven of the nine times hes faced them. In those seven outings, Niese has a 1.52 ERA in averaging just under seven innings. In two separate, disastrous starts in 2011, Niese allowed 14 runs in 10 innings. So there are at least signs that the Phillies can get to Niese when he doesnt have his best stuff.

Whos hot
Hunter Pence hit two bombs Sunday night to up his season totals to six home runs and 20 RBI.

Juan Pierre had two more hits Sunday, and despite the flaws many like to point out, is still hitting .333 after 78 at-bats.

Placido Polanco used a 3-for-5 night to raise his batting average to a season-high .268.

Storylines
- The Phillies need to make a dent in the standings over the next eight games. The Mets, Padres and Astros all come to Citizens Bank Park as majorly flawed teams, and thus far the Phillies havent taken advantage of weak foes.

- Halladay, too, needs to get on track after one of the strangest starts of his career. Shutting the Mets down for seven or eight innings to start a homestand would be an instant remedy.

- John Mayberry gets a rare start in the two-hole Monday night against Niese, whom Mayberry has homered off twice in 14 at-bats. Batting Mayberry so high in the order is an interesting tactic by Charlie Manuel. It figures to let him see Niese at least three times, and maybe that helps Mayberry run into a multi-hit game. He only has one this season April 23 in Arizona.

- If the Phillies go on a streak over the next week, Hamels beaning of Harper will likely be referred to as a spark. But really, it would have more to do with facing weak pitching and weaker offenses.

Sound off
1) What is your predicted Phillies record for the eight-game homestand against the Mets, Padres and Astros.

2) Was Hamels five-game suspension fair?

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."