Phillies-Rangers 5 Things: Phils Draw Yu Darvish, Strikeout-prone Offense - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Phillies-Rangers 5 Things: Phils Draw Yu Darvish, Strikeout-prone Offense

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    Phillies-Rangers 5 Things: Phils Draw Yu Darvish, Strikeout-prone Offense
    CSNPhilly.com
    Phillies-Rangers 5 things: Phils draw Yu Darvish, strikeout-prone offense

    Phillies (14-21) at Rangers (19-20)
    8:05 p.m. on TCN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

    The Phillies are in Texas for their third-ever road series against the Rangers and first since the opening series of the 2014 season.

    Let's take a look at the matchup:

    1. Next up: Texas
    The Phillies have lost all four of their series this month and have dropped 12 of their last 15 games.

    They were competitive against the Nationals over the weekend but again lost a couple close ones. 

    The Phils are finally entering a softer portion of the schedule. Their opponents over the next seven series have a combined winning percentage of .458. 

    The stretch begins with the Rangers, who have won six in a row after a 13-20 start. Texas' success over the last week has been fueled by the steadiness of Nomar Mazara and Elvis Andrus, as well as some power from Joey Gallo and Mike Napoli.

    Texas has also found some late-game stability in the bullpen with Matt Bush, who has three saves and a win in his last four appearances.

    The Rangers' bullpen ERA is 5.10; the Phillies' is 4.77.

    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. Phils draw Darvish
    The Phillies won't see Cole Hamels this week in Arlington - he's on the DL with an oblique strain that could keep him out through the All-Star break.

    They will, however, face Rangers ace Yu Darvish in tonight's series opener. 

    The 30-year-old Japanese right-hander has been a workhorse already for Texas, averaging 113 pitches over his last four starts and ranking fifth in the AL in innings. He's 3-2 with a 2.96 ERA this season and has struck out 52 while walking 21 in 51⅔ innings.

    For all of his strengths, Darvish can lose the strike zone at times. He's had three starts already with four-plus walks.

    Still, he's very difficult to hit. Darvish enters with a .204 opponents' batting average, and he's limited his opponent to two runs or less in five of his starts.

    Most American League aces dominate in interleague play and Darvish is one of them. In 13 career starts vs. the NL, Darvish is 7-2 with a 2.26 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 116 strikeouts to 27 walks in 87⅔ innings.

    He's never faced the Phillies.

    One of the many things that makes Darvish so tough is that he throws eight different pitches, though he uses only five of them regularly. His fastball averages 94.5 mph, but he can also slow it way down with a curveball in the upper-60s and lower-70s. That velocity difference between his fastball and curveball is the largest in the sport.

    4. Mid-order success
    In April, the Phillies had tremendous production from the 1 and 2 spots in the order. They got very little from their three- and four-hitters, who hit a combined .233/.312/.375 for a .687 OPS, fourth-worst in the majors in April.

    One of the only teams below the Phils in that regard in the first month was the Rangers, who had a .683 OPS from the three- and four-spots. 

    But while Texas' middle of the order has continued to struggle in May (.617 OPS), the Phillies have been much better, thanks in large part lately to Aaron Altherr and Tommy Joseph.

    This month, Phillies three- and four-hitters have an .883 OPS.

    Altherr (1.435) and Joseph (1.397) actually rank first and second in the majors in OPS this month.

    Until they cool off, there's no reason to switch up the lineup. Maikel Franco is not one of the Phillies' five best hitters right now and he's not going to reclaim the cleanup spot until he earns it.

    5. Strikeout-filled lineup
    The Rangers are a flawed offensive team with too many holes in the lineup. Carlos Gomez, Gallo and Napoli all have low batting averages and extremely high strikeout totals.

    Gomez has improved after a slow start but is still hitting .246 with 44 K's. 

    Gallo has 12 home runs but he's hitting .195 with 57 strikeouts.

    Napoli had a two-homer game last week but is hitting .165 with eight walks and 47 strikeouts.

    And second baseman Rougned Odor is at .197.

    Altogether, the Rangers have 335 strikeouts compared to their opponents' 252. They've struck out about 30 times more than the league average, which if you think about it, means a team like the Phillies could strike out for all 27 outs tonight and not catch them.

    Eflin has very good control, but this is a night he could benefit from throwing a few more pitches outside the strike zone to try to let the Rangers get themselves out.