Phillies (14-22) at Rangers (20-20)
8:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App
The Phillies are fading fast, losing Tuesday night in Texas for the 13th time in their last 16 games.
This ugly stretch was preceded by a six-game winning streak that had some believing the Phils could approach .500 in 2017, but through mid-May, they're on a 63-99 pace.
Their three-game series with the surging Rangers continues tonight against a much more hittable starting pitcher.
1. Jumping on Cashner
The Phillies couldn't touch Yu Darvish last night, which was to be expected. Darvish has excellent numbers against National League teams and the Phils had never seen his diverse repertoire.
Tonight, though, there would be less of an excuse for offensive futility. The Phillies face journeyman right-hander Andrew Cashner, who seems to disappoint at each stop.
Cashner is 0-3 with a 2.43 ERA this season but he's been a bit lucky to keep his ERA that low. He has 20 walks and just 17 strikeouts in 33⅓ innings, peripheral numbers that foreshadow some regression.
Cashner intrigued teams for years because of his big body and blazing fastball. He was once traded straight-up for Anthony Rizzo. But his stuff has declined through the years - his fastball averaged better than 96 mph in 2015, 94.9 mph in 2016 and is down to 92.9 mph this season.
To account for this, he's throwing more sinkers than four-seam fastballs.
Cashner, who doesn't go deep into games, faced the Phillies three times last season and couldn't complete six innings in any of them. He gave up three runs in four innings, three in five innings, and also had his best start of the season against them (5⅓ shutout innings, nine strikeouts).
Current Phillies have gone 24 for 80 (.300) against Cashner. Odubel Herrera is 6 for 11 off of him with two home runs. Cesar Hernandez is 4 for 9 with a triple. Tommy Joseph is 3 for 5.
2. Another QS from Eflin?
Zach Eflin has given the Phillies a quality start his last four times out, keeping them in the game but getting a no-decision every time.
Eflin enters with a 2.81 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and .233 opponents' batting average. He's walked just four batters in 32 innings, including one in his last 27.
He struck out a season-high five his last time out against the Mariners, but that's not Eflin's game. He has just 17 K's in 32 innings and relies on the heaviness of his sinker to generate groundballs. He's induced 40 of them over his last three starts. His groundball rate of 47.6 percent is nearly 10 percent higher than the rest of the Phillies' pitching staff.
This won't be an easy outing for Eflin, having to deal with the DH in a hitter-friendly ballpark.
Handling a hot American League offense on the road would do even more for Eflin's confidence, which is high right now as is. It would represent another step forward for the Phillies' most consistent starting pitcher the last three weeks.
3. Too reliant on Altherr?
Aaron Altherr and Tommy Joseph have been on a tear this month, hitting so well that it's mostly overshadowed the lack of recent production from the rest of the lineup.
In the four games this month in which Altherr has driven in multiple runs, the Phillies have averaged 7.8 runs per game. In the other nine, they've averaged 3.2 runs.
Cesar Hernandez is 2 for 18 over his last five games, and he has just one extra-base hit this month after totaling 10 in April.
Odubel Herrera has a .271 on-base percentage in 13 games this month with one walk and 16 strikeouts.
Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders and Freddy Galvis have hit a combined .216.
As I said Tuesday night on Phillies Postgame Live, there are really three paths to victory in baseball: slugging your way to a win, pitching your way to a win, or clutch-ing your way to a win (i.e. picking up key two-out hits, winning one-run games).
The Phillies' offense is improved but still not good enough to win consistently by itself. The pitching staff has taken a major step back. And their production with runners on base hasn't been awful - it's pretty much middle of the pack, but again, that won't win you games on its own.
4. More on the pitching staff
The Phillies on May 17 last season had a 3.91 ERA. This season they're at 4.69, sixth-worst in baseball and a half-run higher than the MLB average of 4.18.
Whether it's a lack of command or concentration, Phillies pitchers continue to leave too many pitches in the middle of the plate for hitters to tee off. They've allowed 59 home runs - most in the National League and 12 more than the league average.
More startling has been their failures when ahead in the count. Mike Napoli's two-run, insurance home run last night in the eighth inning was the fifth the Phillies have allowed this season on an 0-2 count. No other National League team has allowed more than two.
5. This and that
• The Phillies had just four hits and one extra-base hit last night. It was their second-worst offensive game of the season, ahead of only Game 2 of the season when they were shut out by the Reds.
• The American League is 39-24 so far this season in interleague play, meaning AL teams have essentially played like a 100-win team against the NL, continuing the annual theme of interleague dominance by the Junior Circuit.
• The Phils' 2-8 record through their last 10 games is worst in the majors over that stretch, tied with the Marlins and White Sox.