Phillies-Cardinals Series Preview: Can Moniak give the struggling offense a shot in the arm?
After the baseball gods (mercifully) decided the Philadelphia lineup didn’t have to face Jacob DeGrom, a rain delay turned the Phillies eyes to a three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals, back home at Citizens Bank Park. Maybe the fans can boo the sense into the bats because the Phillies offense has been not great to start the year. That’s not major news, but a look at the stats surprised me, and here are their ranks in major categories:
Batting Average: .232 (15th)
On Base Percentage: .295 (24th)
Slugging Percentage: .386 (23rd)
Team OPS: .665 (24th)
Total Bases: 138 (26th)
That’s bad. By all measures, the Phillies aren’t even an average offense, and can’t score enough to keep themselves in games. It’s not that they’re getting unlucky with hard-hit balls either. When a ball is hit in play, the Phillies as a team have a .306 batting average, good for 10th in the major leagues. An outrageously high average on balls in play means you're getting lucky and your production will slow down soon. But the Phillies problem is the opposite: They’re not making hitting the ball enough. Sometimes, baseball really is that simple. The Phillies are 26th in the league in BBE. Their BBE and their average on balls in play tell us one thing, that the Phillies are good when they’re able to make contact, but simply can’t do it consistently, which isn’t a good sign for a talented lineup that needs to start performing like one.
Game 1: Eflin vs Martinez
Instead of taking the mound against pitching deity Jacob DeGrom, Eflin will square off with Carlos Martinez, which should be a matchup they can take advantage of. But again, I feel like I say that in every one of these previews and it never, ever happens. Over the past two seasons, Martinez has pitched 30 innings, so let’s see his totals.
Home Runs: 8
That is baaaaaad. Imagine if on average, your starting pitcher gave up more than one run every inning, and just started handing batters hits when they walked up to the plate. Eflin comes into this matchup with 13 innings completed on the year, allowing 11 hits, 5 runs, and striking out 10, and on average only has one baserunner every inning. If there was ever a definition of a ‘get right’ game, this is it. It’s also a big game for Mickey Moniak, who was called up to try and bring some juice to the number 8 spot in the lineup. With a strong performance in this series, he might go a long way into cementing an everyday role. And this get-right game isn’t just for him, as the whole lineup other than one or two guys are underperforming expectations. But, Eflin also needs to do his share. The Cardinals come into this game at 6-6, but they’re winless when held to three runs or less. It’ll be no easy task for a lineup that’s struggling like the Phillies are, but this should be a win if they want to turn the corner and start to put the barrel of the bat on the baseball.
Game 2: Moore vs. Kim
Another Matt Moore start? I'm kind of 'out' on him. Yes, his starts this year came against the Mets and Braves Lineups, but in 8.1 innings pitched he’s allowed 13 hits, 7 runs, walked four and surrendered two home runs. Baseball is all about averages, and I wish I could tell you this is crazy for him like it’s crazy to see Mike Trout playing bad. But it really isn’t. In 2017, he led the NL in losses and Earned Runs. He followed that up with an earth-scorching 2018 with a 6.79 ERA and 128 hits allowed in 102 innings. The best way to predict the future is to look at the past, and what that tells me is that Moore is a pitcher who on his best stretches is average and at his worst looks un-rosterable.
I’d honestly be shocked if he proved me wrong, and if Moore somehow goes 7 innings and allows 2 runs or less in this start, I will personally write a heartfelt apology to him. My faith in him is that low.
And now that my feelings about Moore are public, let’s look at the other side of this matchup in the Cardinals Kwang Hyun Kim. He’ll make his debut in his second MLB season in the second game in Philly, and he's 32 due to him throwing 12 years overseas. In 2020, his only MLB action so far, he faced 154 batters over 39 innings. He allowed 28 hits, gave up 7 earned runs, 3 home runs, walked 12, and struck out 24 to the tune of a 1.62 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. And the advanced metrics back him up; he’s a strong option, especially with Matt Moore pitching to the Cardinals lineup. The lineup will need to be firing on all cylinders and with a strong bullpen performance, Philly absolutely has a shot here. It just comes down to Matt Moore limiting the damage.
Game 3: Nola vs. Gant
Is it time to be worried about Aaron Nola?
Nah, I’m just kidding but we should at least be monitoring his performance. After pitching an overall strong first start, he’s pitched 9 innings, allowed 13 hits and 4 runs. And in his last start, he allowed 7-line drives, which with some worse luck could very easily turn into 5 or 6 hits if he’s not careful. And on the Cardinals' side, this should again be another matchup the ENTIRE Phillies lineup needs to take advantage of. Over his past 103 batters faced, John Gant (St Louis.’ starter for this one) has been solid for the Cardinals but has failed to pitch past the 5th inning in each of his starts this year.
Other than the Matt Moore start, the Phillies should feel confident about their chances in 2/3 games out of this series. If Eflin and Nola can live up to their billing and deliver their best stuff, it’s up to the Phillies lineup to deliver. Hey, maybe Mickey Moniak is the next Ken Griffey Jr. and provides a much-needed spark. But in seriousness, the lineup will determine every game of this series. In Games 1 and 3, it’ll test whether they can succeed against mediocre pitchers after not succeeding against any pitchers so far. In Game 2, the Phillies lineup will be tested by having to provide run support for Matt Moore. Yeah, I’m not thrilled about it either. But if I had to guess, I think the Phil’s take 2 out of 3 for the home fans, and their one loss is the Matt Moore game.