The Phillies just wrapped up a three game series against the Marlins with two wins and so far are 4-2 on their current 9-game homestand. Their May schedule to this point has been somewhat soft as they faced the Marlins six times, Atlanta, and Cincinnati – winning all four of those series. While we’ve seen Pete Mackanin’s club jump out to a 24-17 start and surprise the baseball world, unfortunately it may not last. They have an extremely tough stretch in late May into the middle of June and I believe this run of games coming up will tell us if the 2016 Phillies are for real.
Detroit Tigers: 5/23-5/25
The Phillies travel to Detroit next week for a three game series. Detroit is off to a slower start than normal sporting an 18-21 record. So the Phils should take care of Detroit, right? Not so fast. Over the last 3 seasons the Phillies have a 22-38 record in interleague play. Grant it, the teams in the last three seasons have been sub-par but even during the glory days of 2008-2011 the Phillies have just a 29-37 record. The Phillies last played in Detroit in 2013, where they were swept by a combined score of 24-5 in the three game set.
Chicago Cubs: 5/27-5/29 & 6/6-6/8
The Phillies play the Cubs six times in a week and a half span. They will spend Memorial Day Weekend in Wrigley while the June series will be at CBP. The Cubs are the best team in baseball with a 27-10 record. Chicago plays an all-around game with their pitching, defense and hitting. They’re second in the majors in runs scored (216) and lead the league in walks with 191, 21 more than the next team. Still, it’s the Cubs pitching that may provide the toughest challenge for the Phils. They are tops in the majors in team ERA at 2.69 with their ace, Jake Arietta leading the way with a 1.29 ERA. Miraculously, Arietta is pitching in the game before BOTH series starts. Barring injury or weather delays, both teams will toss the same pitches in each series: Morgan, Eickhoff, Velazquez vs. Lester, Hendricks, Lackey (respectively). The Phils catch a break with seeing Hendricks and Lackey as they have have the two highest ERAs among Cub starters.
Washington Nationals: May 30-June 1 & 6/10-6/12
The Phillies should beware of the Nationals. The last time the Nats saw the Phils, they were swept out of their own ballpark and probably haven’t forgotten that. And I’m sure Bryce Harper hasn’t forgotten how well he rakes against the Phillies and at CBP. He has a .289 average with 14 HRs and 36 RBIs in 69 career games against the Phillies; and hitting .325 with 11 HRs and 23 RBIs in 31 games at CBP. In the three games at CBP in early April, Harper went 7-11 with 3 HRs and 7 RBIs. The Phillies plan to start Hellickson, Nola, and Adam Morgan in both upcoming series. Hellickson and Nola were each hit around at home but were dominant at Nationals Park which helped lead to the sweep.
Although it’s late May and early June, these two series will be amped up given the standings. It will be the first time we’ll see the Phils playing under some pressure. Let’s see how they handle it.
Toronto Blue Jays 6/13-6-16
The tough onslaught of good teams will conclude with a home-and-home series against Toronto. The first two will be in Toronto and the Wednesday/Thursday games will be in Philly. Toronto is underachieving as of late, but they should not be taken lightly. Not much stands out statistically, but they still have dangerous hitters that can go deep at any time. Guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Joey Bats, Edwin Encarnacion, and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson are the hitters that the Phils must keep at bay (much like they did with Giancarlo Stanton in the previous series). The Phils split a short two game series in Toronto last season, winning the first game. Adam Morgan came away with the win pitching 6 innings while giving up 2 runs. This Phillies team, specifically the pitching, is much better this season as they must keep those dangerous hitters off balance.
I suspect will see the real Phillies after this stretch of games. Every part of their game will be tested during this run, including their mental toughness. Let’s see if they can get over the psychological hump of interleague play on the road in Detroit. Can their timely hitting hold up against the best pitching in the majors against the Cubs? They could possibly be playing for first place in six crucial games with the Nats and not letting the dangerous bats hurt them against Toronto. It has the potential should be a fun stretch.