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Series preview: St. Louis Cardinals (31-37) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (22-46), June 20-22

saint_louis_cardinals_logo.jpgAnother series, another sweep. The Phillies are coming off a weekend where they were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks and have now lost 11 of their last 12 games. Three of those loses were at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals ten days ago, who are now in town for a three-game series.

What to expect

With every passing game – and every loss – it seems as if there is no end in sight. But if there was ever a time for the Phils to string a couple of wins together, it would be now. Despite sweeping the Phillies less than two weeks ago, the Cardinals are 2-5 since then and are just 1-9 on the road this month.

While the Phillies have had their fair share of offensive troubles, scoring just 33 runs in the past two weeks, it’s the pitching that is causing nightmares across the Delaware Valley. Their team ERA of 4.92 is fourth worst in the majors and hitters are batting .278 against them. Combine that with the Cardinals recent offensive outburst, scoring 57 runs in their last nine games, and it could spell trouble for Phillies pitchers.

Good news though! Cards’ pitching has been just as bad with the starting rotation carrying an nine-plus ERA over the last seven games. Don’t expect any pitching duels in this one.

Probable starters

Tuesday, 7:05 p.m., Mike Leake (5-6, 3.14 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (5-5, 4.91 ERA)

The last few weeks have not been kind to Leake. After starting the season with an ERA below 2.00 through the first nine games, Leake has lost his last four starts where he gave up 17 runs in 24 2/3 innings. He didn’t face the Phils when they were in town at the beginning of the month but in four starts at Citizens Bank Park, Leake is 1-1 with a 4.55 ERA.

Speaking of pitchers who have been on a downward spiral, Hellickson will look to bounce back after giving up six runs in five innings against the Red Sox last week. He hasn’t lasted more than six innings since April 21 against Atlanta and hasn’t won a game since May 19. He suffered the loss against St. Louis on June 9, but it was one of his better outings of the season, giving up three runs over six innings. If there is any possibility of Hellickson getting traded at the deadline, he needs to turn it around starting now.

Wednesday, 7:05 p.m., Michael Wacha (3-3, 4.78 ERA) vs. Nick Pivetta (1-3, 4.46 ERA)

Remember when I said this wasn’t going to be a series full of pitching duels? Wacha has only pitched more than four innings once in his last five starts which was – unsurprisingly – against the Phillies on June 9. Despite giving up just two runs in that game, Wacha’s ERA over his last five starts is 8.86. Rumors were swirling the Cardinals were thinking about moving him to the bullpen but they’re throwing him back out there at least one more time.

Nick Pivetta is coming off the best start of his career and best start of the season for a Phillies starter after throwing seven scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox. While he lost his start against the Cardinals a little more than week ago, he didn’t pitch terribly. Like many of the Phils’ starters, Pivetta just couldn’t get the shutdown inning needed, giving up four runs in the fourth inning.

Thursday, 1:05 p.m., Carlos Martinez (6-5, 2.86 ERA) vs. Aaaron Nola (3-5, 4.76 ERA)

Martinez has been the saving grace for Cardinals pitching this season. He has only given up more than three runs three times this season and has struck out at least eight in his last five starts. He pitched a complete game shutout against the Phils earlier this month so expect his nasty slider to give the Phils’ hitters some trouble in the afternoon sun.

In his start against the Cardinals, Nola pitched well until the fifth inning. He made a costly decision when he threw a fastball over the plate to Dexter Fowler with runners on first and third. Fowler, in turn, scorched the ball to right field to give the Cards the lead for good. Since returning from the DL, Nola’s season has been full of ups and downs, lasting only three innings against the Marlins on May 31 followed up by eight innings of one-run ball against the Braves on June 6.

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