Phillies-Cubs 5 Things: Closing the Book on a Frustrating Road Trip

Phillies (12-14) at Cubs (15-12)
2:20 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Frustration has defined the Phillies' seven-game road trip to Los Angeles and Chicago, which ends this afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The Phils look to even their series with the Cubs and avoid finishing the trip 1-6.

1. Close but no cigar
The Phillies have led at some point during all five of their losses during this road trip, a trend you can look to positively because it means they're competing against top teams, or negatively because it means they can't finish.

Four of the losses on this trip were decided by a combined six runs.

The Phillies are dropping a lot of close ones. They've played the most one-run games of any National League and they're 5-7. 

Interestingly, only four NL teams are over .500 in one-run games: the Rockies (8-0), Nationals (5-2), Mets and Diamondbacks (4-3).

2. Eflin's turn
Lost in Saturday's epic ninth-inning collapse was another strong night from Zach Eflin.

Through three starts, Eflin has a 1.89 ERA, a .149 opponents' batting average and has allowed 13 baserunners in 19 innings. 

Eflin has as many seven-inning games in the last 11 days as Vince Velasquez has in his last 27 starts.

This past Saturday at Dodger Stadium, Eflin took the same mound where his season ended in ugly fashion in 2016 and he dazzled, allowing just two runs on solo homers in the first and seventh innings. He had three 1-2-3 innings and three innings with just one baserunner.

Eflin really had his sinker and slider working in his last start. He threw a season-high 58 sinkers and 20 sliders after averaging 38 sinkers and eight sliders in his first two starts. He induced 13 ground balls in L.A.

In these first three successul starts of 2017, Eflin has consistently kept his pitches low in the zone, which is his best path to success. He's thrown 55.3 percent of his pitches in the lower-third of the strike zone or below, and he's gotten the opposition to chase three of every 10 pitches outside the zone.

This is Eflin's first time facing the Cubs.

3. More luck vs. Lackey?
The Phillies face 38-year-old right-hander John Lackey, who beat them twice last season, limiting them to one run on seven hits in 14 innings.

Lackey, who breathes fire out on the mound and uses intimidation as a tactic, is 2-3 with a 5.10 ERA so far this season. Like Jake Arrieta, he's been hurt by the longball, allowing seven homers in his last four starts.

Lackey is a workhorse - I've often said I expect Jerad Eickhoff to have similar career numbers to him - and this season he's pitched exactly six innings in all five starts. He's allowed four runs or more in all but one of them.

Lackey's best pitch is his slider, which opponents hit .137 against in 227 at-bats last season and .216 against since 2007.

He'll attack right-handed hitters with a 90-92 mph fastball, a slider and sinker. Occasionally, he'll throw a curveball or changeup to them.

Against lefties, his rate of curves and changeups doubles.

Current Phils are 12 for 54 (.222) off Lackey with just one extra-base hit (a Freddy Galvis double), one RBI, one walk and 13 strikeouts.

Odubel Herrera has had the most success, going 4 for 10.

4. Important development for Franco
Maikel Franco needed the night he had Wednesday when he went 3 for 4 with a pair of opposite-field, run-scoring singles. 

As Ricky Bottalico pointed out on Phillies Postgame Live, it was an important development because it will make pitchers think twice about just peppering him with outside pitches. They'll need to come in more if he continues to show a willingness to hit the ball where it's pitched and go to right field. 

And if that happens, he'll see more pitches middle-in, which will lead to more extra-base hits.

Franco is hitting .222/.295/.374. He's on pace for 25 home runs, 143 RBIs and 62 walks. He won't come close to that RBI total, but he does seem genuinely committed to seeing more pitches. Franco is averaging 3.88 pitches per plate appearance after seeing 3.57 last season.

5. This and that
• I saw a lot of Freddy Galvis slander last night because of his errant throw to the plate which hit the mound and allowed the Cubs' winning run to score. It seemed to go overlooked that Galvis made a tremendous diving stop up the middle to even be in position to nail the runner at the plate. So he made a bad throw. He gets a pass because he plays Gold Glove defense 98 percent of the time.

• Eickhoff's line last night was as deceiving as it gets. He cruised for most of the night, was victimized by soft, seeing-eye hits in his final inning, and the two inherited runs Joely Rodriguez allowed didn't help.

• With two more first-inning runs last night, the Phillies tied the Brewers for the major-league lead with 28. They lead the majors with a .340 batting average in the first inning and are second with a 1.009 OPS. It's a shame 24 more outs are required.

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