Phillies (16-13) at Marlins (15-12)
7:10 p.m. on TCN
The Phillies move on to Miami after losing three of four in St. Louis and falling silent in their series finale, a 4-0 loss.
The Marlins have quietly been playing very good baseball the last two weeks, so this won't be an easy series for a Phils team looking to get back on track.
1. Miami on fire
The Marlins were 5-11 when they lost their second game in a row in San Francisco back on April 23. They're 10-1 since, having swept the Dodgers in a four-game series in L.A., winning two of three in Milwaukee and sweeping the Diamondbacks at home this week.
Miami's pitching has been exceptional during this stretch save for a 14-5 loss to the Brewers. The Marlins have held their opponents to three runs or fewer in seven of their last 11 games.
And, of course, Giancarlo Stanton's bat has come alive. Over the last 10 games, Stanton is 14 for 35 (.400) with three doubles, six home runs, 12 RBIs and 10 walks. In those 10 contests he's raised his batting line from .193/.288/.368 to .272/.387/.609.
The Marlins have also gotten season-long offensive contributions from Martin Prado and Christian Yelich. Prado is hitting .374 (third-best in the NL), while Yelich is batting .330 with a .443 on-base percentage. Yelich is third in the NL in OBP, four points behind Odubel Herrera. (Cubs CF Dexter Fowler leads at .462.)
2. Vinny's turn
Vince Velasquez is back on the mound after pitching six shutout innings against the Indians Sunday. Velasquez enters 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP and the second-lowest opponents' batting average in the NL at .164, behind only Jake Arrieta.
Velasquez has allowed five hits or fewer in all five starts this season. The Indians' Danny Salazar (who Velasquez faced Sunday) and the Cubs' Jason Hammel are the only two others to do that in 2016.
Velasquez's control has been better than advertised to this point. He has 39 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 31⅓ innings. And despite coming over from Houston with a reputation for running deep counts and lacking pitch efficiency, Velasquez has averaged 15.1 pitches per inning, which isn't too shabby.
No player on the Marlins' roster has ever faced Velasquez.
As Velasquez continues to impress with the Phillies, the Astros are struggling to even find a role for Ken Giles, the player he was traded for. Giles failed to win the closer's job with Houston out of spring training despite the haul they gave up to acquire him, and last night he was used in the seventh inning. Giles allowed two more runs in that spot. In 14 appearances, Giles has a 9.26 ERA, a 1.89 WHIP and has allowed four home runs.
3. Another lefty opponent
The Phillies tonight face 30-year-old Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (2-1, 4.26).
Chen was a free-agent pickup from the Orioles this past offseason, an underrated one at that. The last two seasons with Baltimore, Chen has flown under the radar but delivered a 27-14 record and 3.44 ERA in 62 starts. He's been durable and has thrown a ton of strikes, walking just 1.8 batters per nine innings.
Chen dominated the Phillies in a start last season, pitching eight shutout innings, allowing just four hits and striking out nine. Cesar Hernandez had two of the four hits, including a double. All other active Phillies are 1 for 18 against Chen with seven punchouts.
Chen has five different pitches and he uses all of them with frequency. This season, he's thrown his four-seam fastball - which averages 91 mph - 46 percent of the time, his two-seamer 17 percent, his slider and curveball 13 percent each, and his changeup 12 percent.
4. Franco will return
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin gave Maikel Franco a full day off Thursday, not even using him as a pinch-hitter with two men in scoring position in the ninth inning. He wanted Franco to enter the weekend series in Miami with a clean slate.
Franco has been slumping badly since showing power at Miller Park, going 2 for his last 24. His batting average is .243 and his OBP is all the way down to .295.
Franco has just been chasing too many bad pitches and getting himself out. That was always going to be the big test for him in Year 2: Could he lay off the slop opposing pitchers throw at him? Could he recognize that teams are game-planning around him now and trying to not let him beat them? Could he adjust by being patient?
So far, Franco hasn't. But he has no choice but to adjust, because if not this is going to be a long, long year for him.
The pitch in particular that has given Franco the most trouble is the low-and-away breaking ball. He's seen more pitches low and off the plate than in any other location, and he continues to swing through them or swing over them. When you're going bad, it seems like every count starts 0-2 or 1-2. That's been the case lately for Franco.
Hopefully, facing two lefties this weekend in Chen and Justin Nicolino will be good for the Phillies' third baseman.
5. This and that
• The Phillies are hitting just .224 this season against four-seam fastballs. That's second-worst in the majors, ahead of only the Twins (.222). The MLB average is .271.
• The Phils also have the majors' second-worst batting average against changeups at .195.
• Stanton is a career .266 hitter against the Phillies with 17 homers, 38 RBIs and an .856 OPS in exactly 300 plate appearances. He's been better against the rest of the league than he's been against the Phils.
• Prado has been a Phillie-killer through the years, hitting .303 against the Phils in 455 plate appearances.
• Marlins Park opened in 2012, right when the Phillies' decline began. The Phils are 17-20 in Miami during that time despite going 25-13 against the Fish at home.
• Darin Ruf will likely start at first base tonight against the lefty. He's hitting just .149 on the season with two doubles, three RBIs, three walks and 17 strikeouts. Ruf is 2 for 13 against left-handed starting pitchers.
• The Phillies are 4-2 this season when facing a lefty starter, but they've hit a major-league worst .174 against them.