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Cincinnati Reds at Philadelphia Phillies Series Preview

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Two of the expected worst teams in baseball open up a three game weekend set. But, are the Phillies actually... good?

Brotherly love.
Brotherly love.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Game Times and Probable Pitchers

Friday, May 13, 2016 @ 7:05pm: LHP Brandon Finnegan vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson

Saturday, May 14, 2016 @ 7:05pm: RHP Tim Adleman vs. RHP Aaron Nola

Sunday, May 15, 2016 @ 1:35pm: RHP Dan Straily vs. LHP Adam Morgan

You might remember, if you allow yourself, that it was one Jeremy Hellickson as the opposing pitcher all the way back on Reds Opening Day. It was a day in which Hellickson had everything working, allowing only one unearned run through six innings, striking out six. He hasn't been that good sense, of course, as he's now the proud owner of a 4.91 ERA, including getting shelled for six earned in 5.1 innings pitched against the Cardinals in his second to last start. Look for him to go seven strong tonight, is what I'm saying.

The real bright spot here is Aaron Nola, who appears to be the realest of deals. Nola is leading all Phillies with a 1.2 bWAR and is currently sporting 3.13 ERA with an even shinier 2.32 FIP and a WHIP that leads with a 0. He's striking out nearly 10 per 9 and walking less than 2. It's a bit of a surprise; Nola's never been described as a guy with ace-like potential. He's always been regarded as more Mike Leake than Johnny Cueto. Regardless, he's getting it done so far this year (46 IP), and he's doing it with stuff, like his amazing curveball, that some are already calling the best in the game. He's likely to regress a bit, but don't look forward to it happening this Saturday.

Sunday's starter is Adam Morgan, the only left hander in the Phillies rotation. He'll be making his 4th start of the year, fresh off a 7 inning beatdown of the similarly lowly Atlanta Braves. Before that, he'd only been able to muster 4 and 5 inning starts against the Indians and Cardinals respectively. There's an opportunity here, but considering he's a young, nondescript lefty, I'm positive he'll shut the Reds down on Sunday afternoon.

Lineup

(Based off of playing time, probable lineup from Baseball Reference)

C Cameron Rupp
1B Ryan Howard
2B Cesar Hernandez
SS Freddy Galvis
3B Maikel Franco
LF Tyler Goeddel
CF Odubel Herrera
RF Peter Bourjos

The real danger here is second year player Odubel Herrera, who's been tearing the cover off the ball this young season. After posting a nearly 3 bWAR last year as a rookie, Herrera has screamed out of the gate to a 1.2 bWAR which ties Nola, but is far and away the best on the offensive side of the ball. The explosion is highlighted by a .432 OBP fueled by Herrera's new found ability to take a walk. Herrera, a solid everyday player at the major league level in his rookie season, walked just 5.2% of the time in 2015. That rate has ballooned to 17.1% in 2016, a mirror image to his K% (which happens to be down seven points this year as well).

Not bad for a kid the Phillies plucked in the Rule 5 draft just one year ago, huh?

The same cannot be said for 2015 Rule 5 Draft number one pick Tyler Goeddel, who currently sports a -9 OPS+. But, hell, at least they're giving him a shot, right? (glares at Reds who know I'm glaring about Jake Cave).

Outside of that, there's not a lot of bright spots on the Phillies offense. Ryan Howard can still run into one from time to time, but I'd imagine that the Phillies front office has a countdown clock running for the end of that contract. Maikel Franco has struggled to get on base this year, posting a lowly .291 OBP. Watch out for 37 year old backup catcher Carlos Ruiz, who's in the midst of a resurgence season: his full slash looks like .288/.362/.519 in 58 PAs.

Bullpen

Jeanmar Gomez
Hector Neris
David Hernandez
Elvis Araujo
Brett Oberholtzer
Andrew Bailey
Colton Murray

Jeanmar Gomez currently leads the league in saves with 12 and, maybe just as impressively when viewed through a "Reds fan" colored glasses, he's only blown one opportunity. In 19.2 innings pitched, he's racked up a 153 ERA+. He's not overwhelming people (6.9 K/9), but nevertheless, the job is getting done.

The real fireballer here is Hector Neris, who has gotten the most innings in the Phillies bullpen and has done everything he's needed to do with them. His allowed only four runs in 20 IP, good for a 0.810 WHIP and an ERA+ of 245. He's currently striking out 12 per 9, so basically he's blowing everybody away. He's in the midst of a major league breakthrough assuming he stays the course.

Outlook

I buried the lede here, I think. You see, the Philadelphia Phillies are...

I don't know what the Phillies are, exactly. I wrote "good" there a couple of times, deleting it over and over again. But that isn't right. What they are, is 20-15, 1.5 games out of first in a division that includes the defending National League champions and the team with Bryce Harper. It's mid-May, but they're in the hunt.

But, are they good? The aforementioned Herrera is the only one you would consider that in their everyday lineup. Franco is floating around the mid-90s in OPS+, while 30-somethings Ruiz and Andres Blanco are hitting in limited action. The next best regular batter? Ryan Howard's .243 OBP and 75 OPS+.

They're second to last in the league in OPS+. They're last in the league in OBP. They're second to last in the league in runs scored per game. They've given up 138 runs to their 108 runs scored. Pythagoras says the Phillies should be 13-21. What in the hell is going on?

The pitching has been good. They lead the league in strikeouts per 9, sixth in BB/9, leading to a top ten in WHIP. Even then, they're only 11th in ERA+. Nola's obviously been great, and Vincent Velasquez has gone scorched earth through his first six starts, good for a 2.17 ERA with a 192 ERA+ through 37.1 innings. But the other starters have ERAs over or closer to four than three.

The bullpen, despite what you may remember, has been great. Other than Brett Oberholtzer, basically every reliever that's been used has an ERA+ over 130, led obviously by the aforementioned Gomez and Neris. The save stat is what it is, but when you compare the Phillies bullpen with the Reds bullpen, they simply don't compare. Does not compute.

In a lot of ways, the Phillies are the anti-Reds, which is notable considering they're supposed to both be mentioned in the same breath when it comes to the League's worst. Chances are, especially with the play of the offense and the unexpected greatness of some of the pitching, the Phillies will finish closer to the Reds than they do the eventual NL pennant winner. But right now, it's working for them.

Hopefully, it starts regressing this weekend.

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