At 3-6 and already in the cellar of the NL East, the Phillies already find themselves in a free-fall that they can ill-afford. After going .500 through their first two series and being a few bounces away from a respectable mark after their first six games, the Phils were outclassed in their first home series of the season. The Milwaukee Brewers outscored Philadelphia 25-8 while handing the home team three consecutive losses. Starter Cliff Lee, who has been far from impressive in his first three starts, put it best following the team’s Thursday night defeat.
Cliff Lee says he is not panicking. But he says Phils have to turn it around now
— John Clark CSN (@JClarkCSN) April 11, 2014
They will get a chance to do so right away over the weekend, as the Miami Marlins come to town. The Phillies were 12-7 against the Fish last season and, though many see them as a much improved club, the young Marlins are dealing with a swoon of their own. After storming out of the gates to a 5-1 record which saw the team score five or more runs in all but one of the games, Miami has dropped four in a row scoring a combined 10 runs. After being swept in our nation’s capital by the Nationals, one has to imagine a team anxious to right that wrong heading up to Citizen’s Bank Park.
Make no mistake about it, the Marlins are teeming with young talent and seem a season or two away from legitimate playoff contention. The Phillies will have their work cut out for them from the opening pitch Friday as they attempt to veer their season back on course. Unfortunately, they are faced with an extremely tall order in the opener, as Marlins ace and Cy Young front-runner Jose Fernandez takes the hill for the first time since the Marlins last win (a 5-0 decision over the Padres). The 21-year old righty is coming off a Rookie of the Year season and, so far in 2014, has managed to look even better. For a team like the Phillies, who are struggling across the board, facing one of the game’s top 3-5 pitchers isn’t exactly a recipe for a bounceback.
Fernandez was 1-0 in three starts against the Phillies last season, surrendering just one earned run and striking out 16 along the way. If the Phillies want to avoid their first 0-4 start at home in seven years, they will have to find away to scratch across a few runs against a pitcher who has given up just one in his two starts so far this season.
The Marlins lineup also is starting to round into the form of a unit capable of doing some damage. They have five players with at least 10 hits on the season and, even at 5-5, have outscored their opponents 50-43. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton, long the apple of Ruben Amaro Jr.’s eye, is the headliner of the bunch. The 24-year old is tied for the NL-lead in RBI with 13, and can hit the ball further than perhaps anyone in the game. Stanton is also batting .293 on the year and, unlike most power hitters, is a complete threat at the plate and must be approached as such.
The rest of the Marlins young core appears to be progressing at an impressive rate. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria leads the team in hitting at a .350 clip. Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, two more impressive talents in their early-20s, are already producing at a rate well beyond what is to be expected from two players with a combined 150 games played over their careers. Veterans Casey McGehee and Jarrod Saltalamacchia provide experience and balance to a lineup that, while talented, is prone to the occasional slump. Phillies pitching will have to tread carefully and try to avoid big individual innings against a team that can do serious damage at the plate.
A bigger part of this series from the Phillies perspective is for them to stop shooting themselves in the foot. The Phils have the second-most errors in the NL (10) and are not a good enough team elsewhere to roll with the punches so many self-inflicted wounds. Ben Revere‘s struggles in center field continue to mount and one has to wonder how much patience the organization has with a player who brings so little to the table in terms of his entire game.
A.J. Burnett will get the nod in the opener facing off against his first major league team. After a very strong showing in his debut against the Rangers, a game that the bullpen would cost the starter a win, Burnett was roughed up against the Chicago Cubs in the first of the team’s four-straight losses. The veteran righty needs to set a tone in the opener. It is unreasonable to ask him to try and go toe to toe with a Cy Young contender like Fernandez. However, it is not outside the realm of logic to expect him to keep the Phillies within striking distance. Philadelphia has gotten better at taking more pitches and, should Fernandez’s control be off in any capacity, the Phillies could get to the bullpen with a chance at an unlikely win. Still, Philadelphia will have to try to muster any and all they can against Jose, as he will be looking to take on the ‘stopper’ role for the floundering Marlins.
The second game of the set will pit Nathan Eovaldi (1-1) against Jonathan Pettibone (making 2014 debut). The finale will see Henderson Alvarez (0-2) go up against Kyle Kendrick (1-1). If the Phillies want to make any noise in the division, they will have to show a capability to hit good pitching. The trio of starters heading to the hill for Miami are a good taste of the type of gauntlets Philadelphia will have to try to topple against their NL East foes. It is early on in the season, but with an impatient fanbase and a group trying to string together an improved season, these are the types of series the Phillies must have. Though it might be unfair to ask of them, maybe a win against an ace like Fernandez could give the lineup a shot of confidence that it needs going forward. The silver-lining to the Marlins coming to town? No more Ryan Braun.