Series 36 Preview: Cubs at Phillies

Ruf

Darin Ruf has been on a tear for Philadelphia. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

The Phillies are aging before everyone’s eyes, and so far, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has seen his team suffer the consequences of sitting idly by. The team’s big offseason acquisition was infielder Michael Young from the Rangers. Though he’s had a bit of a bounce-back season at age 36, his on-field decline over the last several years is obvious. Ryan Howard, 33, is merely an average first baseman now—and one the team is stuck with through 2016. Second baseman Chase Utley, 34, still provides a lot of value when healthy, though he too is on the natural decline player’s experience after their typical late-20s peak. They’ve also been without 36-year-old ace Roy Halladay since May, and he was a disaster before going down with a torn rotator cuff. But never have things looked as dire as they have the last couple weeks: The Phillies have lost 13 of 14 games, scoring 2.4 runs and allowing 5.8 per contest. They’re now 50-61 and 17 games back in the one-horse NL East.

HITTING: 3.8 Runs Scored/Game (14th in NL)
Out are Howard (knee), Dom Brown (concussion) and Ben Revere (foot), leaving the Phillies to throw left fielder Darin Ruf and third baseman Cody Asche into the fire. The former has been on a tear, while the latter has struggled mightily. With Michael Young, Howard and Utley—as well as catcher Carlos Ruiz and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, both 34—all on downward paths, it’s the trio of mid-20s outfielders that was hoped to round out some of the lineup’s rough edges. Only the 25-year-old Brown has fulfilled his promise, and even he has mixed a torrid few weeks in late May/early June with plenty of slower periods. The 20th-round pick in 2006 struggled with low batting averages in auditions the past three seasons, but he finally earned a starting role with a good spring and has been the team’s most valuable offensive player (.271 AVG/.316 OBP/.531 SLG) outside of Utley. Brown is far from a perfect player, however. He’s hacking away more than ever—with 76 strikeouts to 25 walks—and all 24 of his home runs have been pulled. Center fielder Ben Revere, the 25-year-old speedster acquired from the Twins, had an empty .305/.338/.352 line before going down with a fractured foot.

PITCHING: 4.6 Runs Allowed/Game (T-15th in NL)
The Cubs will miss the still-excellent Cliff Lee this series, instead seeing Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels and young prospect Ethan Martin take the mound. Kendrick has seen his ERA spike above four for the first time in three years, as the pitch-to-contact sinkerballer has seen more ground balls squeeze through. He won’t issue many free passes or hangers over the plate, however, so Cubs batters will do well to go with pitches and piece together runs. Hamels also has seen his ERA spike, from right around three the past few years to 3.87. Like Kendrick, he’s seeing more balls in play find holes, and the results have been similar to his off-year in 2009. But still armed with one of the game’s most deceptive change-ups, Hamels is performing significantly better than his 4-13 record would suggest. Coming of an inauspicious major league debut against the Braves, Martin is a promising arm acquired in a 2012 trade deadline deal that sent Shane Victorino to the Dodgers. He has a huge fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s as well as a sharp curve and hard slider. But Martin struggles with his command and has historically gotten hit fairly hard by lefties in the minors due to a weaker change-up. Veteran closer Jonathan Papelbon closes things out, set up by a few young, promising arms in lefty Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus.

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