Phillies-Nationals: 5 things you need to know

philsnats.png

Phillies-Nationals: 5 things you need to know

After a week that felt like an early All-Star break, the Phillies (13-13) are back on the field Friday night to open a three-game home series against the Washington Nationals (16-12).

The Phils were off Monday, delayed by rain on Tuesday, rained out on Wednesday and off Thursday. It’s been an uneventful week that has derailed some of their momentum from the West Coast road trip, where they won six of their final eight games.

The benefit of all the down time, though, is the Phils' ability to set up the rotation the way they want. They’ll start Cliff Lee on Friday, A.J. Burnett on Saturday and Cole Hamels on Sunday, which is probably the way it would go in a playoff series. Division games are important whether it's May or September, and if maximizing the starting pitching production allows the Phils to win this series, it could be very important in a few months.

1. Lee’s sixth start
Lee (3-2, 3.29) allowed eight runs in the Phillies' season opener in Texas, but because that game was March 31, his ERA for the month of April was 1.75.

It’s a new month now and Lee will begin it by taking on the Nationals, against whom he’s 6-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 11 starts. Lee’s allowed 78 hits and struck out 78 in 78 1/3 innings against Washington and has surrendered an uncharacteristically high 11 home runs. He’s been taken deep three times by Danny Espinosa, who is a .368 career hitter against him.

Lee has limited the walks this year, as he always does. He enters Friday night with 40 strikeouts and just four bases on balls. But he’s given up 52 hits and righties are batting .333 off him in 129 at-bats.

2. Watered-down Nats
Bryce Harper is out until July after undergoing thumb surgery, and the oft-injured Ryan Zimmerman isn’t close to returning from a thumb injury of his own. That leaves the Nats without two of their top three hitters.

The Nats have some outfield depth to replace Harper with Nate McLouth and former Phillie Kevin Frandsen, who has played some left field. Expect to see the right-handed Frandsen in the lineup Friday.

Zimmerman’s absence has shifted Anthony Rendon from second base to third base and provided Espinosa the opportunity to reclaim a starting job.

Both have hit well. Rendon leads the Nats with a .316 batting average and 10 doubles and is tied for the team lead with four home runs. Espinosa has hit .288 with an .828 OPS.

3. Dealing with Strasburg
The Phillies draw Stephen Strasburg (2-2, 4.24) for the first game of the series.

Strasburg allowed 10 runs (seven earned) in 10 1/3 innings in his first two starts, but in three of his last four outings he’s gone at least six innings and allowed two runs or fewer.

Strasburg is second in baseball with 53 strikeouts, trailing only Jose Fernandez of the Marlins, who has 55. Between those two, Matt Harvey, Jordan Zimmermann, Zack Wheeler, Nate Eovaldi and Mets super-prospect Noah Syndergaard, the Phils will have their hands full for a very long time against young, team-controlled starting pitching.

Strasburg has owned the Phillies in six starts. His 2-1 record and 2.65 ERA are decent but don’t tell the whole story. The Phillies have hit .186 against him with five walks and 42 strikeouts. As MLB veteran-turned-MLB Network analyst Mark DeRosa put it Wednesday night, “When you face Strasburg, you drive to the stadium knowing you’ll punch out at least once and probably twice.”

Strasburg’s velocity has never been what it was his rookie season, when it averaged 97.3 mph. In fact, it’s down this season from his 95.7 mph career average to 94.2. But it’s still an elite heater made better by his nasty curveball and 88 mph changeup.

Ben Revere and Tony Gwynn, Jr. are each 2 for 3 off Strasburg, and Carlos Ruiz is 3 for 8 with a homer and a double. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, however, are a combined 3 for 27 (.111) with eight strikeouts. Oddly enough, Ryan Howard has never struck out against Strasburg.

4. Brown beyond due
It was May 2013 when Domonic Brown finally broke out. He hit .303 with 12 home runs last May, which was really the only month of his career he’s looked like the prospect he was hyped up to be.

Brown has done very little so far this season. He enters the Nats series hitting .253 with a .314 on-base percentage and .316 slugging percentage. He has just four extra-base hits on the season -- a homer and three doubles.

With Marlon Byrd striking out more than ever and the Phils getting next to nothing from third base, Brown needs to be the player who produces for the bottom of the Phillies' order.

5. Stay away from Werth
In 28 career at-bats against Lee, Jayson Werth has hit .357 with a double, a triple, two homers and a 1.023 OPS.

Against the Phillies last year at Citizens Bank Park, Werth hit .342/.409/.579 with three homers and eight RBIs in 10 games.

In his last eight games overall this season, Werth has hit .371 with three doubles and a homer.

In other words, let anybody else beat you Friday night.

Tonight's Lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

Tonight's Lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

After scoring five first-inning runs on their way to a 7-5 win against the Braves on Thursday, Pete Mackanin decided not to tinker with the Phillies' lineup too much.

In fact, the only change will be at catcher. The struggling Cameron Rupp will get the start on Friday and bat sixth after Carlos Ruiz was behind the plate on Thursday. Rupp, who was one of the few bright spots for the offense in the first half, is just 5 for 31 since the All-Star break. On the season, Rupp is still batting .271 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Aaron Altherr came off the DL with a bang, tallying three hits, including a two-run homer on Thursday. Mackanin has said Altherr will get a long look in right field and Thursday night was a glimpse of why. 

With Altherr's regular presence in the lineup, Cody Asche has been put on notice. After going on a tear from early June to early July, Asche is batting .094 (5 for 53) in his last 17 games. With Altherr and Odubel Herrera entrenched in right and center, Asche will have to get hot to stave off prospect Nick Williams, who seems to be finding his groove at Lehigh Valley.

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P

Marlins acquire SP Andrew Cashner from Padres

Marlins acquire SP Andrew Cashner from Padres

MIAMI -- The Miami Marlins acquired the pitching reinforcements they sought in a trade that cost them four players, including two minor leaguers.

Right-handers Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea were sent to Miami by the San Diego Padres in a seven-player deal.

The Marlins, eager to shore up their rotation for a playoff push, will also receive pitching prospect Tayron Guerrero for right-handers Jarred Cosart and Carter Capps and two minor leaguers, pitching prospect Luis Castillo and first baseman Josh Naylor.

Cashner is 4-7 this year with a 4.76 ERA in 16 starts, and has a career record of 30-49 with a 3.73 ERA in seven seasons. Rea, who is in his second major league season, is 5-5 with a 4.98 ERA in 19 games this year.

Cashner has a $7.15 million contract and becomes a free agent after this season. Rea, 26, has a salary of $510,200 and is under team control through 2018.

The prize in the deal for the Padres might be Naylor, 19, a left-handed power hitter taken by the Marlins in the first round of the 2015 draft. He is batting .269 with nine home runs this year for Single-A Greensboro.

Cosart went 13-11 in 2014 with Houston and Miami but has struggled since. This year he's 0-1 with a 5.95 ERA in four starts with the Marlins, and 3-4 with a 4.09 ERA in 10 starts for Triple-A New Orleans.

Capps, a hard-throwing reliever, underwent Tommy John surgery in March and is expected to be ready for opening day 2017.

The Marlins are in contention for their first playoff berth since 2003 despite a shaky rotation. Aside from ace Jose Fernandez, their starters are 23-24 with an ERA of 4.40.

Miami's rotation was further depleted last week when left-hander Wei-Yin Chen went on the disabled list because of a sprained elbow. Cashner and Rea will join Fernandez, Tom Koehler and Adam Conley.

The trade is the second between the teams this summer. In June, the Marlins acquired All-Star reliever Fernando Rodney for a minor league pitcher.

Phillies-Braves 5 things: New-look middle of the order settling in

Phillies-Braves 5 things: New-look middle of the order settling in

Phillies (47-57) at Braves (35-67)
7:35 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

Fresh off Thursday's 7-5 win at Turner Field, the Phillies will try to get a win streak going when they battle the Braves on Friday night in the second game of a four-game set in Atlanta. Let's take a closer look at the matchup with five things to know before first pitch.

1. Power alley
When your offense is slumping this season, there's nothing like a trip to Atlanta to face the MLB-worst Braves to get your bats going again. That's just what happened to the Phils on Thursday night at Turner Field.

After scoring just five runs total during their three-game series in Miami earlier this week, the Phillies exploded for seven runs in the first five innings against the Braves on Thursday before holding on for the victory.

Sure, the Braves are terrible, to put it bluntly. But there's no way to not be encouraged by how the middle of the Phillies' order produced on Thursday. The 3-4-5 hitters - Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Aaron Altherr - combined to go 6 for 14 with six RBIs. That includes a homer from each player.

Altherr is the key here. His wrist injury cost him the first 102 games of the season. Yes, just one game of his 2016 season is in the books, but he'll be locked into one spot in the middle of the order for the next little bit as the Phillies will want to see if he can produce like he did toward the end of last season when he hit five homers and drove in 22 runs in 39 games. If Altherr can produce, the Phils will have a legitimate middle of the order for the first time in what seems like forever and will allow Franco and Joseph to see more pitches as opposing pitchers won't have the option to work around them anymore.

No better way to for this new-look middle of the lineup to settle in than with four straight games against these Braves.

2. Vince on the road
Let's take a quick, bare-bones look at Vince Velasquez's numbers this season.

He's sporting an 8-2 record with a 3.34 ERA. Pretty good, right? Right.

But let's take a deeper look at his numbers, more specifically, his road numbers. Away from Citizens Bank Park this season, the 24-year-old flamethrower is 4-1 but has a 4.89 ERA. The record is great, but the ERA, well, not so much. His ERA at home this season is a razor-thin 1.50.

In his last start, Velazquez labored through six innings, giving up four runs while throwing 107 pitches in a 5-4 loss in Pittsburgh last week. It was a continuation of a road trend for Velasquez this season that sees him throw a ton of pitches in a limited amount of innings. In nine road starts this season, Velasquez is averaging 92 pitches in just over five innings per start.

He's only averaging just over two walks in his road starts, so location hasn't been too much of an issue. But teams are averaging just under seven hits a game against Velasquez on the road. An average of seven hits against in five innings a game is a lot.

Velasquez has to start putting hitters away on the road. Facing a Braves offense that's tied for second-worst in the majors (with the Phillies and Rays) with a .240 average could be a good way to get back on track.

3. Hello again, Mr. Jenkins
Friday night's matchup in Atlanta marks the second time the Phillies will see Braves starter Tyrell Jenkins this season.

Jenkins, a 24-year-old righty who was a first-round compensatory pick of St. Louis in 2010 and then was acquired by the Braves in the 2014 deal involving Jason Heyward and Shelby Miller, made his first career start when he took the hill at Citizens Bank Park on July 6. In that game, Jenkins gave up a run in 4 2/3 innings pitched. He only threw 64 pitches, but the Braves didn't want to overwork him because he had pitched out of the bullpen in his previous five appearances. The Phillies went on to win that game when Freddy Galvis hit a go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth inning.

He's a ground-ball pitcher known for having a fastball in the 92-95mph range. He'll be looking for his first big-league win on Friday night. Last time out, he was shelled by the Rockies when he gave up seven runs in 3 1/3 innings at Coors Field. Not many have a nice Coors Field debut.

4. Keep an eye on...
Phillies: Let's go with Cody Asche. With Andres Blanco and Peter Bourjos both now on the disabled list, Asche could be the most tradeable Phillie not named Jeremy Hellickson as we inch toward the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline. That fact comes even more into focus as Nick Williams continues to tear the cover off the ball in Triple A while starting the majority of the last few weeks in left field (see this week's Future Phillies Report), which just happens to be where Asche plays. But Asche isn't doing his trade value any favors lately as he's hitting just .100 (4 for 40) with two RBI since the All-Star break.

Braves: There isn't much to write home about when it comes to these Braves, but Freddie Freeman continues to burn Phillies pitching. In 104 career games against the Phils, Atlanta's first baseman is batting .297 with 13 homers and 63 RBI. He went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI on Thursday night.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have won six consecutive games against their NL East rival from Atlanta. It’s their longest win streak against the Braves since winning eight in row from July 2011 to May 2012.

• Ryan Howard has 22 career home runs at Turner Field, most of any visiting player in the ballpark’s history. It remains to be seen when the next time Howard will get a chance to extend that record.

• Cameron Rupp has batted just .101 since the All-Star break, but he’s hit .304 against the Braves this season.