There has been a notable trend during the Phillies’ last few series: They lose the first two games - with one of those losses often coming in a heartbreaking fashion - before rebounding to win the finale. While they should be commended for their resiliency in avoiding sweeps, it would also be good if they could actually win some of these series. Taking one out of every three games is a .333 winning percentage, and teams that win games at that rate generally do not qualify for the postseason.
That may be easier said than done this weekend against the Cubs, who currently sit in first place in the National League Central. The Cubs did the Phillies a favor on Thursday night by beating the Braves, so the Phillies should repay that favor by sending them out of town with a series loss.
The Last Time They Met
The Phillies traveled to Wrigley Field in early June and lost two out of three. One of those losses was one of those gut punches that the Phillies have unfortunately become known for this season.
Quick Status Update on the Cubs
At 79-54, the Cubs have a 4.5 game lead in the NL Central. They are fighting off a furious charge from the second place Cardinals who have been red hot in the month of August.
They have the top scoring offense in the National League, and they do it in a manner dissimilar to the Phillies, in that they are not overly reliant on the home run. They’re only ninth in the NL in homers, but they’re tops in batting average and second in walks.
Who’s Hot on the Cubs
Anthony Rizzo has been the Cubs’ best hitter in August, with seven home runs and an OPS of 1.103 in the month. Javier Baez has also hit well over during that time with six homers and a .915 OPS.
Jason Heyward is having his best season since joining the Cubs, but he’s certainly not living up to his massive contract. It seems like the only time he comes through with a clutch hit is when he’s facing Adam Morgan.
Catcher Wilson Contreras made the All-Star team, but he’s slumped since then with a meager .324 slugging percentage in the second half.
Friday: Nick Pivetta vs. Jose Quintana
Like the majority of the Phillies’ rotation, Pivetta has been inconsistent in the second half of the season. Actually, that’s not entirely true. He’s found some level of consistency over his past two starts - he’s been bad in both of them. In his defense, in his last start he was probably left in at least one batter too long, and he pitched better than his line would indicate. It would just be nice if the results started matching up to his strong peripheral numbers.
Since making the All-Star Game in 2016, Jose Quintana has essentially been a mid-rotation starter. He strikes out a lot of batters, but he’s also prone to giving up a fair share of walks. He pitched well against the Phillies in June, striking out ten batters in his 5.2 innings of work.
Saturday: Zach Eflin vs. Kyle Hendricks
Zach Eflin is another starter who really needs to start giving the Phillies some quality outings. It would be great if he could recapture his magic from June when he limited the Cubs to one run in 7.1 innings.
In 2016, Kyle Hendricks was third in National League Cy Young Award voting, but his ERA has gone up in the two ensuing seasons. He struggled against the Phillies in June, giving up five runs in 5.1 innings.
Sunday: Aaron Nola vs. Jon Lester
The only things that can slow Aaron Nola down are the Phillies’ defense and bullpen. His previous start against the Cubs actually qualifies as a bad outing for him, as he gave up a whopping three runs in six innings. The Cubs would probably be thrilled if they were that successful this time around.
It wasn’t that long ago that Jon Lester was mentioned among the best starters in the league, but like his rotation mates, he’s not quite the same pitcher he was two years ago. He’s certainly not bad, and most days, he gives the Cubs an advantage in the starting matchup. But Sunday will not be most days.
The Phillies’ Bullpen: It Makes No Sense
The Phillies’ bullpen has had questionable moments all season, but for the most part, Seranthony Dominguez and Pat Neshek were two of the most reliable options. But both of those guys were involved in blown ninth inning saves over the past two weeks, while Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris seem like less frightening choices.
So who’s going to be called upon when the Phillies find themselves in a critical late-game situation? And will that pitcher be effective, or contribute to yet another heartbreaking loss? Your guess is as good as mine.
And it seems like the decision making process is going to get even more confusing soon because...
Expanded Rosters Ahoy!
As of Saturday, the calendar will flip to September, which means the major league rosters will be expanded. This is especially good news for the Phillies, as they will (presumably) not have to get by with only a four-man bench for the remainder of the season. In theory, we’ll avoid situations where a starting pitcher is used as a pinch runner and gets called out for leaving the base too early.
Of course, this will also provide Gabe Kapler with even more options out of the bullpen. And if Wednesday night’s game was any indication, Kapler will not be shy about utilizing as many pitchers as he feels is necessary to win a game. If you’re a fan of short games that aren’t interrupted by pitching changes, September may not be your cup of tea.
Cheer this Man
Cole Hamels is not scheduled to start this weekend, and that’s both good and bad news for Phillies fans. It’s bad because it won’t give the fans a chance to cheer a franchise great. But it’s good because Hamels has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since coming over to the Cubs in a late July trade.
Many people wanted the Phillies to pursue Hamels, but that desire seemed to have more to do with nostalgia than on-field performance. Hamels did not pitch well for the Rangers this season, and it was questionable if he’d provide an upgrade over what the Phillies already had in their rotation. Based on Hamels’ - and the Phillies rotation - performance over the past month, it is clear that Hamels would have been a tremendous upgrade.
I’m sure that despite not being scheduled to pitch, Hamels will poke his head out of the Cubs’ dugout at some point, and fans show him the appreciation he deserves.
Boo This Man
There are several reasons for disliking Daniel Murphy. If you are in attendance, pick whichever reason suits you best and let him have it.
Maybe one day the Phillies will break the “lose two, win one” cycle, but it won’t happen this weekend.