2017 Series Preview

Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies (23-48) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (46-27), June 23-26

arizona-diamondbacks-logo.jpgThe Phillies hit the road after Thursday afternoon’s win against the Cardinals to open a road trip with a 4-game series in Arizona.

Fans might remember the Diamondbacks as holding the distinction of “most recent team to sweep the Phillies,” meaning Phillies players have more to dread about the series than just the dry Arizona heat. According to a cursory search, by the way, Chase Field will reach temperatures as high as 115 degrees this weekend, which is probably illegal.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Other than an unspeakable dread nibbling at the edges of the soul, viewers would be reasonable to expect the Phillies to be outmatched this weekend.

The Diamondbacks hold baseball’s best home record (26-9) and have scored more runs at home than any other team (227). In fact, they’ve scored almost as much in those 35 home games as the Phillies have in all 71 games they’ve played (275).

The Phillies have struggled on the road as much as the D-backs have succeeded at home, including a 9-28 record away from Citizens Bank Park. Arizona’s .743 winning percentage at home probably isn’t sustainable, but it’d be a shocker if the Phillies are the ones to challenge it.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Friday, 9:40 p.m., Mark Leiter, Jr. (4.74 ERA) vs. Patrick Corbin (5.19 ERA)

Leiter pitched out of the Phillies bullpen for a minute this season with somewhat unimpressive results. In 19 innings, he struck out 5.68 batters per 9 innings and walked 6.63 per 9. His 4.74 ERA, which is sub-optimal to begin with, was aided by an unsustainably pitcher-friendly .164 BABIP. In the same amount of time in the minors, he has the same ERA, but with a .392 BABIP that was unsustainable in the other direction. Regardless, Leiter doesn’t look like the kind of pitcher that will put the team on his back, so the best thing to expect from him is innings.

Patrick Corbin will be the most vulnerable pitcher Arizona sends out this series, but that didn’t keep him from putting up a quality start in his last outing against the Phillies. He allowed 5 hits and 2 earned runs over 6 innings, striking out 5 and walking none. Still, his ERA in May and June is 7.59, with hitters putting up a .380 wOBA so far this month.

What to watch instead: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.

Saturday, 10:10 p.m., Ben Lively (3.33 ERA) vs. Robbie Ray (2.87 ERA)

Ben Lively has been a pleasant surprise for the Phillies, providing quality pitching in addition to much-needed length in games. In June, he’s thrown more innings (27) than any other Phillies pitcher, and each of his 4 starts have been quality starts. Among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, he’s generated the lowest K/9 (3.67) and fourth-lowest swinging strike percentage (6.9), meaning he doesn’t miss bats and will have starts where he walks a tightrope.

Robbie Ray has also exceeded expectations this year, posting an ERA (2.87) more than half of a run better than his previous career best (3.52). What makes this an interesting matchup is that he is, in some ways, Lively’s opposite, striking out 11.70 batters per 9 innings but walking 4. The Phillies got to him last week, plating 4 and knocking him out of the game after 5.1 innings. He walked 4 and allowed 2 longballs in that span, so the team should return to the approach they used in that game.

What to watch instead: Suicide Squad (25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), 8:55 – 11:00 p.m.

Sunday, 4:10 p.m., Jeremy Hellickson (4.61 ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (3.14 ERA)

I remarked previously that Jeremy Hellickson, who up to that point boasted a 3.44 ERA, had peripherals that gave reason to believe regression was coming. Since then, he’s allowed 24 runs in 35.1 innings. Not great. That stretch raised his ERA to 4.61, which is still outperforming his 5.81 FIP. Suddenly, what was once a movable and moderate one-year contract has become a regret, with fans lamenting that he wasn’t traded at last year’s deadline. On the bright side, his last start was one of his best this season, as he scattered 6 hits across 7 innings and only allowed a run on a solo homerun.

The Phils avoided Greinke last series, but they won’t be so lucky this time around. It might not mean much given sample sizes and roster turnover and so on, but the Phillies have slashed .195/.236/.326 against Greinke in his esteemed career. In general, this has been another solid year for the righty, who struck batters out at a higher rate than now (10.26 per 9) only once in his career and who has already been worth 2.5 fWAR.

What to watch instead: embarrassing home videos filmed by relatives you don’t like

Monday, 3:40 p.m., Nick Pivetta (4.46) vs. Taijuan Walker (3.43 ERA)

Oh, the glee of the four-game series. Fortunately, Nick Pivetta has made the Phillies watchable in his last two starts, which have included a combined 13 innings and 3 earned runs. He struck out 19 batters in those appearances, leading to excitement from the broadcast booth that included calling him a future front-line starter. While that may be the premature rantings of a crew desperate to finally feel something again amid the gangrenous wound of the 2017 Phillies, Pivetta’s classification as a prospect makes him at least worth watching, especially for the “call everyone up and see what happens” crowd. It’s worth paying attention for how he adjusts, improves, and looks to continues his success.

Taijuan Walker was hailed for years as a young breakout candidate, but he couldn’t seem to put it together. Since being sent to the Diamondbacks this past offseason, though, things are starting to look up. His 140 ERA+ nearly matches his previous career best (141), which came when he threw only 38 innings in 2014. According to PITCHf/x, he’s throwing a two-seam fastball significantly more and his four-seam significantly less than ever before, which may be helping him to keep batters off balance.

What to watch instead: footage of an unpleasant surgery

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