Phillies-Cubs 5 Things: Getting Vince Velasquez Back on Track

Phillies (26-23) at Cubs (33-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies have lost back-to-back games to the MLB-best Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and on Sunday afternoon, they'll look to salvage a victory in the series finale.

Here are five things to get you ready for the ballgame:

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1. Avoiding a sweep
Phillies fans had losing shoved down their throats for long stretches last season. This season has been much different … at least until the last three series.

With Saturday's loss, the Phils have lost three consecutive series for the first time in 2016 and will look to avoid their first sweep since their opening series in Cincinnati. The 4-1 victory by the Cubs was the Phillies' fourth loss in five games. They haven't lost five of six since September 2015. 

Meanwhile, the Cubs have won four straight games after losing eight of 12 games in mid-May. A win Sunday would give Chicago its fourth win streak of at least four games already in 2016. 

If that doesn't underline how tough a task the Phillies have ahead of them, Sunday's starter will do the trick.

2. Solving Lackey
John Lackey doesn't have the pizzazz of a Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester, but the veteran righty has been a consistent force in the Cubs' rotation. Coming over from the rival Cardinals in free agency, Lackey has a 4-2 record with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts in 2016.

However, the underlying numbers have been even better. He's completed six innings in all but one start and has seven quality starts. He has 61 strikeouts compared to just 13 walks and 45 hits in 61⅓ innings. 

Lackey has been a workhorse for the Cubs and has struck out at least five batters in each of his last four starts. 

The good news for Phillies fans? Despite Lackey's solid numbers, the Cubs have lost four of his nine starts.

3. Getting back on track
Given that he's just 23 years old, it's tough to expect Vince Velasquez to be an ace all season, even if he may fill that role at some point in the not-so-distant future. 

So Velasquez's relatively minor struggles over his last few starts shouldn't worry fans as a sign of things to come. In Detroit, the flamethrowing righty completed only four innings and allowed three home runs. While he struck out 10 and gave up no runs the start before against Miami, he went only five innings.

Those two starts came after consecutive outings in which Velasquez surrendered four runs in six innings. His last official quality start came May 1 against the Indians, when he threw six shutout innings.

While he's faced some strong lineups like the Mets and Nationals, the Cubs are a force Velasquez hasn't dealt with quite yet. He has no career numbers against the Cubs' probable starters, a group that has combined to be one of baseball's top offenses in 2016.

4. Who's on first?
Ryan Howard's final season in Philadelphia has been a grind to say the least. The veteran first baseman has just six hits in 58 at-bats in May and has just a .154 batting average this year. Howard's eight home runs have been a bright spot, but he doesn't have a homer since May 11.

Howard has three hits (two home runs) in 16 career at-bats against Lackey. But with right-handed first baseman Tommy Joseph excelling in his first big-league action, manager Pete Mackanin may turn to the rookie Sunday, as Howard tries to end his slump.

5. This and that
• Obubel Herrera is 3 for 4 in his only career appearances against Lackey. Maikel Franco is 2 for 3 against the righty.

• The Phillies are 3-0 in the final game of road trips this year … and 3-0 in the final game of homestands, too. 

• The Cubs have not swept the Phillies in Chicago since 1995.

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