Recent history says the Phillies are finished

ap-phillies-chase-utley.jpg

Recent history says the Phillies are finished

It's the third day of June and the Phillies are seven games under .500 (see story). At 24-31, they have their worst record through 55 games since 2002.

After dropping four of five to the Mets at home, the Phils are 6½ games out of first place in the National League East. For a few weeks, the talk was that despite the Phils' ineptitude on the diamond, no team in the division was running away with it and, because of that, the Phils were still very much alive.

But the first-place Braves have won three straight and the Phillies have lost three straight. The deficit is 6½ games, and that's without the Braves and Nationals playing up to their capabilities. The eternal optimist looks at this situation and says that deficit is not insurmountable. But realistically, Atlanta and Washington are bound to get hot. And there's a good chance the Phillies wasted their best opportunity to contend, missing out on a two-month window to gain leverage in the division.

Somehow, the Phils have looked even worse than their record. They've been outscored by 41, giving them the third-worst run differential in the majors.

Carlos Ruiz called Monday's 11-2 loss "embarrassing." The mood in the clubhouse was so somber that a drop of water from a faucet would have made heads turn (see Instant Replay).

We're not even close to magic number territory, but the Phillies sure look to be out of it.

Here's why:

The Phillies are seven games under .500. From 2008 to 2013, there were 44 teams at least seven games under .500 at the end of play on June 2. Only five of those 44 teams finished above .500.

Forget about making the playoffs ... 39 of those 44 teams failed to finish with a winning record.

So you're saying there's a chance?

Hardly. Those five teams were exceptions.

The 2013 Dodgers were one of them. They had a run of 42 wins in 50 games.

The 2013 Royals were another. They went on a nine-game run in the second half.

The 2012 Athletics were well under .500 on June 2. But right after the All-Star break, Oakland won 10 of 11. And for good measure, the A's won nine in a row at the end of August.

The 2010 White Sox won 11 straight in June.

And the 2009 Rockies won 17 of 18 from June 4 to June 22.

Have the 2014 Phillies done anything through the first third of the season to show they can go on such a run?

Their longest winning streak this season is three games. Barring a string of nine consecutive wins beginning Tuesday in Washington, the Phils will reach at least 230 games without being two games over .500. That number continues to grow.

The offense is stagnant. The starting pitching is mediocre. The bullpen has been better of late, but still lacks quality in the final few spots. The defense? Jimmy Rollins has still got it at short, Ruiz calls a game and blocks balls well, and Chase Utley and Marlon Byrd have above-average range despite their miscues Monday. Aside from that, every other spot is weak defensively.

Just doesn't have the makings of a winning team.

Utley said after Monday's loss that he thinks the Phillies "can get better at everything."

He's right. But the Phillies don't have four months to click. They have five or six weeks, and then it's trade season, one that looks like it will favor sellers.

Today's Lineup: Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi, Andrew Knapp all get starts

Today's Lineup: Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi, Andrew Knapp all get starts

Just mere hours after topping the Braves in dramatic fashion in the 10th inning, the Phillies will have a much different lineup take the field Sunday afternoon as they look for the sweep of Atlanta (see Sunday's game notes).

Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Andrew Knapp will all start Sunday's series finale.

Nava will bat fifth start in left field for the ailing Howie Kendrick, who's missed the last week with an oblique issue. Nava's sample size at the plate so far this season is small, but he's still 8 for 21 (.381 batting average) with two homers, two doubles and 7 RBI. So it makes sense that manager Pete Mackanin wants to get Nava some more at-bats.

Stassi bats sixth and gets the nod at first in place of Tommy Joseph, who had that odd sequence of events late in Saturday's win. First, Joseph had an ugly at-bat with the game tied in the ninth inning. Then in the top of the 10th, he caught a popped-up bunt and suddenly made an ill-advised throw to an empty third base, helping the Braves plate the go-ahead run. So today could be a day just to clear Joseph's head.

Both Nava and Stassi are left-handed bats against Braves righty starter Mike Foltynewicz.

Knapp will give Cameron Rupp the day-game-after-night-game breather behind the plate Sunday.

One note on Atlanta's lineup: Brandon Phillips, who drilled the game-tying homer off Edubray Ramos in the top of the ninth on Saturday, has been moved up to the second spot in the order for Sunday's finale.

Both teams' lineups can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
2. Aaron Altherr RF
3. Odubel Herrera CF
4. Maikel Franco 3B
5. Daniel Nava LF
6. Brock Stassi 1B
7. Freddy Galvis SS
8. Andrew Knapp C
9. Zach Eflin SP

Braves
1. Ender Inciarte CF
2. Brandon Phillips 2B
3. Freddie Freeman 1B
4. Matt Kemp LF
5. Nick Markakis RF
6. Kurt Suzuki C
7. Jace Peterson 3B
8. Dansby Swanson SS
9. Mike Foltynewicz SP

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies (8-9) vs. Braves (6-11)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies and Braves played quite the game Saturday night. 

The teams went back and forth in the final two innings, culminating in Maikel Franco's walk-off single. What do they have in store for Sunday? Zach Eflin will take the hill for the Phillies opposite Mike Foltynewicz, a matchup of developing right-handers in their 20s.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game.

1. Eflin back to form
Promoted to the majors at the beginning of the week, Eflin looked back to form in his first MLB start of 2017.

Eflin had the unfortunate problem of needing to rehab two knee surgeries this offseason, but clearly has not lost much in terms of his stuff. He looked a lot like the Eflin who produced five quality starts in a stretch of six appearances last summer, not the one who gave up 20 runs in his last 13 innings.

While he threw just five innings against the Mets, he limited New York to just two runs while working around six baserunners. Both runs came in the first inning and he retired 13 of his last 15 batters faced. 

The 23-year-old righty lives off his low-90s fastball and sinker while mixing in a slider and curveball. He was sinker heavy in his first start of 2017 and it was effective at Citi Field.

One of his best starts last season came against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Eflin needed just 92 pitches to throw a six-hit complete game with just one earned run allowed, a solo homer by Ender Inciarte. He didn't walk any Braves batters and struck out six in a quick game (2:08 in duration). Atlanta slugger Freddie Freeman went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and no batter got more than one hit.

2. Foltynewicz vs. the Phils
Foltynewicz hasn't had an ideal start to the season. His first start came in inclement weather vs. the Pirates, then he had to come out of the bullpen with a series of off days, which allowed the Braves to skip their fifth starter.

His most recent appearance came back in the rotation on Tuesday and he held his own against the Nationals, who were without a few key veterans but still had Max Scherzer on the hill. Foltynewicz held the Nats the just two runs over seven innings, scattering nine baserunners while striking out three batters. He walked four batters and has a paltry 8/7 K-BB ratio this year. 

In his three seasons with the Braves, the 25-year-old righty has a sub-optimal 4.85 ERA over 222 2/3 innings. However, his ERA got much better from 2015 to 16 (5.71 to 4.31) and his 4.26 ERA thus far in 2017 isn't half bad. 

Foltynewicz lives off his mid-90s fastball that has touched 97 this season. He mixes in a slider that draws a lot of groundballs, a sinker and a changeup. His velocity is down a little this season, which could explain his poor strikeout rate.

Folynewicz is 2-1 in four appearances against the Phillies in his career but has a 6.00 ERA, allowing five homers and 12 runs in 18 innings. Franco and Tommy Joseph each have one of those home runs while Odubel Herrera has three hits off the right-hander.

3. Ryan Howard: Braves minor leaguer
Believe it or not, Ryan Howard could be playing for another NL East team this year. The former Phillies slugger made his debut Saturday night for the Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta's Triple-A affiliate. 

Howard had himself quite a night, going 2 for 2 with two singles, an RBI, a hit-by-pitch and a walk, which was intentional. For someone signed so recently to a minor-league pact, it was an encouraging showing, although it's unlikely he'll be called up anytime soon.

There are two major obstacles to Howard making it back to the show with the Braves. The first is Freddie Freeman. With Freeman, the Braves already have a lefty slugger at first base for the foreseeable future. The other issue is Howard isn't on the Braves' 40-man roster. Atlanta has little incentive to add Howard to its 40-man because they're in full rebuild mode and need to prioritize their prospects.

Still, there may be something left in the tank for Howard. He still hit 20 home runs last season and was quite effective in the second half, particularly as a platoon bat. Even if the Braves ultimately don't need Howard, his opportunity in Gwinnett is a chance to audition for other teams as well. Veterans on minor-league deals often have opt-outs or could be granted their release if another team shows interest. 

If you're curious, Howard doesn't play Lehigh Valley, the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate, until July 17-19 and doesn't play in Lehigh Valley until a week later.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis struck out twice on Saturday, but he also extended his hitting streak to six games with a double. It was just his second extra-base hit since April 7.

Braves: Freddie Freeman has raised his average to .400 on the season. His .400/.507/.850 batting line won't last, but he looks to have brought his game to another level this year.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are on a three-game winning streak, including two straight over the Braves. Despite finishing ahead of Atlanta in the standings in 2016, the Phillies lost their last seven games vs. the Braves last season.

• The Phils have won two extra-inning games in the last five days. They haven't done that since April 17 and 20 of last season.

• Aaron Altherr has a six-game hitting streak going and has raised his average to .379. He has doubled in consecutive games and has two hits in three straight games. For good measure, he's added stolen bases in two of Phillies' last three games.