2017 Series Preview

Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies (43-72) vs. San Diego Padres (51-66), August 14—August 16

padres-logo-300x300.jpgPop your caffeine pills and stop worrying about the weather– we’re going to San Diego.

Expected to be one of baseball’s worst teams, if not the worst team, the San Diego Padres have been exceeding those expectations only in the sense that a few teams have worse records.

The record doesn’t tell the full story, though, and there is still an argument to be made that San Diego is baseball’s worst team. Their -155 run differential is the worst in baseball by a huge margin of nearly 50 runs. As a result, the Pads’ Pythagorean record is actually 43-74, two losses worse than the Phillies.

It hasn’t been a particularly pretty season for either team.

WHAT TO EXPECT

This might be a series fans feel comfortable sleeping through. West coast start times can be enough of a chore even against strong competition, but throw in two of baseball’s worst and suddenly sleep leaps up in priority.

Adding to the poor overall performances of each team is the fact that neither can score runs. The only team to score fewer runs than the Phils is the Padres, leading to the distinct possibility of 0-0 games being dragged into 100-inning contests of who can accidentally scratch one across when no one is looking. And, based on team records, no one will be looking.

The Phillies, at least, are better at preventing runs, giving them a leg up in the series. They’re around the middle of the pack, having allowed 554, but San Diego sit at 5th-worst in baseball with 602.

But if you’re really looking for reasons to watch, and you swear that you’re feeling okay and you’re not just saying that because you were in the heat for too long, you might look no further than newcomer Rhys Hoskins and the surging Odubel Herrera. Hoskins, who picked up his first major league hit and RBI in his debut series against the Mets, is still looking for his first long ball and some settling in at the plate. Herrera, meanwhile, has been perhaps baseball’s best position player since the All-Star break. That’s not an exaggeration. Don’t @ me.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Monday, 10:10 p.m., Jerad Eickhoff (4.45 ERA) vs. Travis Wood (6.71)

Eickhoff was supposed to be the stabilizing force of the starting rotation this year, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. He has quietly bounced back, though, and appears to be returning to form. A 3.94 second-half ERA isn’t dominating by any means, but it’s dependable enough. His second-half WHIP dropped by 20 points, from 1.51 to 1.31. By ERA, July and August have been his best months of the season, and by wOBA against, only April was better.

2017 has been hard on Travis Wood. The 30-year-old had a sub-3 ERA in 61 innings a year ago, building on a good 2015 and appearing to put a respectable resume together. Instead, the wheels fell off. He started the season in Kansas City, where he put up his career-worst ERA (6.91) and K-rate (6.26). In his 16 innings with the Padres, he’s had one quality start in three games. He lasted only 5 innings in both of the other starts, allowing 4 and 5 earned runs in them. It seems that hitters are taking a more patient approach against Wood this season, swinging at fewer pitches overall and chasing considerably less than they did a year ago.

Tuesday, 10:10 p.m., Ben Lively (3.80 ERA) vs. Dinelson Lamet (5:00 ERA)

This was slated to be Velasquez’s start before he left his last start with finger numbness and was put on the disabled list. Ben Lively is primed to take his place in the rotation in the meantime.

Lively’s 3.80 ERA in 42.2 major league innings is appealing but may also be misleading. His 1.38 WHIP means he allowed more runners to reach than desired, and his strikeout rate – 3.59 K/9 – has been low enough to be a caricature. He’s a contact pitcher, meaning he runs the risk of being lit up any day he can’t hit the corners or generate weak contact. Granted, there have been pitchers who have found success this way, but they have a harder time convincing onlookers to have faith in them.

Dinelson Lamet, who I’ve definitely heard of, might be having some opposite problems. He’s striking out 11.20 batters per 9 innings and has a FIP (4.19) that overperforms his ERA (5.00). Despite striking out so many hitters, which one would expect would allow Lamet to escape jams more easily, he’s stranding only 61.5% of the runners who’ve reached against him (compared to the average of 72%). His high walk rate and low rate of soft contact could be contributing to the high LOB%, but it could also signal that this is something that will self-correct with time, leading to better results.

Wednesday, 3:40 p.m., Nick Pivetta (6.09) vs. Clayton Richard (5.14 ERA)

Pivetta enters his next start coming off his worst back-to-back performances of his big league career. In his worst – a start against Milwaukee in which he allowed 9 earned runs – he bounced back with a 3-run, 5.1-inning outing against Miami. Now, he’s given up 5 or more runs in three of his last four starts and will be eager to find his footing against San Diego. There are questions about where Pivetta will end up for the Phillies long-term, whether in the rotation, the bullpen, or baseball purgatory, and keeping his cold stretch from going on too long would help him make a case for himself and potentially add another option to the 2018 roster.

Despite striking out more batters and walking fewer than he did in his successful 2016 campaign, Clayton Richard’s ERA has taken a major step backwards this year. The elevated BABIP – which grew from .338 to .362 – might be the result of bad luck, but he’s also generating less weak contact and seeing more hard contact. August has been a good month for him, however, including a 2.25 ERA and being the first month in which batters have hit below .280 against him.

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