Phillies-Cardinals 5 Things: Running Out of Time to Reestablish Hellickson's Trade Value

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Phillies (22-46) vs. Cardinals (31-37)
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After being swept for the eighth time this season and the fourth time in their last seven series, the Phillies were off Monday before opening a three-gamer tonight against the Cardinals.

Things have gotten out of hand for the Phils, who are on pace to lose 110 games. 

Could this week provide any sort of reprieve from the constant losing?

1. Just how bad is it?
No National League team has had a worse record than the 2017 Phillies through its first 68 games since the 2013 Marlins. 

It's rare to see the wheels fall off this dramatically and this fast in a season. 

Remember those Astros teams that lost 100-plus games three seasons in a row? 

They were three games better than the Phillies at this point in 2011, when they lost 106 games.

They were six games better than the Phillies at this point in 2012, when they lost 107.

And they were two games better than the Phillies at this point in 2013, when they lost 111.

The scary thing, at least record-wise, is that things could get even worse after the trade deadline if/when Pat Neshek and Howie Kendrick are moved. Neshek has been the Phils' best reliever and Kendrick's been their second-best position player after Aaron Altherr.

2. Hellickson's fading value
Jeremy Hellickson makes his 15th start tonight. He's 5-5 with a 4.91 ERA on the season and has already allowed 15 home runs in 77 innings.

Hellickson hasn't been able to command his changeup or fastball lately. For a pitcher who lacks strikeout stuff, that's a major problem. 

Over his last five starts, Helly is 0-4 with a 7.57 ERA. Over his last nine starts since May 1, he has a 6.89 ERA and his opponents have hit .310 with a .991 OPS.

All the good things he did in April are now a distant memory, as Hellickson's 2017 season is beginning to feel like Aaron Harang's 2015 with the Phils.

Hellickson's only quality start in his last five tries was June 9 in St. Louis when he allowed three runs on 10 hits over six innings with a season-high five strikeouts. That was also one of only two starts this season Hellickson reached 100 pitches.

Hellickson admitted after his last start that when a team is losing as often as the Phillies are, the starting pitchers inevitably take it upon themselves to try to be perfect. And we all know what usually happens when a pitcher tries to be too fine.

Current Cardinals have hit .258 off Hellickson in 62 at-bats. Shortstop Aledmys Diaz is 3 for 5 with a double and two homers. Matt Carpenter is 3 for 7 with a double and three walks. All other Cards are 10 for 50.

3. Who closes?
It hasn't mattered much lately who the Phillies' closer is. Hector Neris' blown save Sunday against Arizona was just his third save opportunity in the Phillies' last 46 games.

The Phils have cycled through four closers already this season in Jeanmar Gomez, Joaquin Benoit, Neris and for a few days Neshek. But Neshek feels most comfortable setting up and he'll likely be here only another five weeks. Neris is theoretically a part of the Phillies' future so it does make sense to continue running him out there in the ninth inning.

But it's clear that Neris just is not the same pitcher he was in 2016. His opponents have hit .246 against his splitter after hitting .158 last season. 

"His splitter is hot and cold," manager Pete Mackanin said. "For every two good ones he throws, he throws two bad ones. It's hard to figure out what he's doing."

It doesn't matter much in 2017, but it matters for the future because in Neris, the Phillies thought they had a shutdown reliever with a chance to be a closer. Now they don't know what they have.

4. Leake's best year
The Phillies face Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake, who is enjoying the best season of his eight-year career (time flies). Through 13 starts, Leake is 5-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

It's a far cry from what he gave St. Louis last season in the first year of his five-year, $80 million contract. He had a 4.69 ERA and 1.32 WHIP last season and his opponents hit .288, 46 points higher than they've hit this season.

Leake doesn't do anything fancy. He's a sinker-cutter pitcher who also incorporates a slider, curveball and changeup. Nothing is much harder than 91 mph. 

He likes to jam hitters with the cutter, a pitch that's held his opponents to a .143 batting average in 98 at-bats this season. 

Leake's groundball rate of 54.9 percent is the highest of his career and fifth-highest in the National League.

The Phillies did not face Leake in St. Louis earlier this month but they've seen plenty of him over the years. In 10 starts against them, he's 3-3 with a 5.40 ERA. 

Maikel Franco has hit him the best, going 5 for 9 with a double and two walks. Kendrick is 3 for 5. Michael Saunders is 1 for 1 with a two-run homer. Odubel Herrera is 3 for 12 with a double and a long ball himself.

5. This and that
• Neshek has allowed two runs in 27 innings. The only other pitcher in the majors this season to allow two runs or less in 20-plus innings is the Yankees' Dellin Betances (two runs in 21 2/3 innings).

• Aside from their three-game sweep of the Phillies June 9-11, the Cardinals have lost 12 of 14.

• St. Louis is 13-19 on the road; the Phillies are 13-18 at home.

• The Phillies' 27 one-run games are four more than any other team has played. They're 10-17 in them. 

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