Phillies-Cubs 5 Things: Vince Velasquez Goes for Series Winner Vs. MLB's Best

Phillies vs. Cubs
1:05 p.m. on CSN

It won't be easy, but Vince Velasquez looks to follow Jerad Eickhoff's impressive performance and get back on track Wednesday afternoon against the Cubs.

Here's a look at the Phillies' series finale:

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1. Can Velasquez adjust?
Velasquez was despondent after his last start, a 6-3 Phillies win over the Brewers. He was provided a six-run lead but couldn't stay in the game long enough to earn a win, getting pulled after 94 pitches in 4 1/3 innings. He again ran deep counts, shied away from contact with two strikes and couldn't solve the command issues that have plagued him in his last three starts.

Velasquez (5-2, 3.67) has allowed 12 runs in 13 innings his last three times out, watching his ERA rise by more than a full run from 2.42. He's walked multiple batters in five straight outings, and he hasn't completed six innings since May 12 in Atlanta.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said last week that he thinks the three-hit, 16-strikeout shutout Velasquez pitched against the Padres in his second start of the year may have affected his approach. When Velasquez's fastball started getting hit more than it was early in the season, he adjusted by throwing more breaking balls and nibbling more. It clearly hasn't worked. 

The right-hander, who spoke in spring training about wanting to be less reliant on strikeouts, has seemed eager to strike everyone out, especially once he gets to two strikes. Velasquez himself said last Friday night that he needs to be better at finishing off hitters. He needs to trust his mid-90s fastball/curveball combination. A pitcher with his stuff doesn't need to spot everything perfectly.

Velasquez faced these Cubs on May 29 at Wrigley Field and allowed seven runs on nine hits and two homers over 4 2/3 innings. The first inning was fluky, with the Cubs scoring a run on some bloops. But Velasquez later allowed two long, loud home runs to Miguel Montero and Ben Zobrist. 

Lefties have victimized Velasquez lately, but for the season his splits are eerily similar. Lefties and righties have each hit .243 against him. They each have four home runs and 13 RBIs. Lefties have a .706 OPS; righties .707.

2. Another look at Lackey
John Lackey has apparently entered his prime in his late-30s. Lackey, 37, had a career-best 2.77 ERA last season with the Cardinals and has been every bit as good this season with the Cubs, going 6-2 with a 2.88 ERA and 0.97 WHIP through 11 starts.

Lackey, like Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, shut the Phillies down at Wrigley Field at the end of May, allowing one run on four hits over seven innings. He walked a season-high four and struck out six.

Lackey, one of the most fiery pitchers you'll see, has been a quality start machine in 2016 with nine in 11 tries and seven in a row. 

Lackey has five pitches: a four-seam fastball and sinker that each average 93 mph, a slider, curveball and changeup. He throws mostly fastball-sinker-slider vs. righties, but against lefties he uses all five pitches.

Current Phillies are 21 for 76 (.276) off Lackey with a double, four homers, five walks and 20 strikeouts. Two of the homers belong to Ryan Howard; Tyler Goeddel and Cody Asche hit the others.

3. First base production
Getting his first start in a week, Ryan Howard went deep on Tuesday night and nearly added a second home run with a 400-foot flyout to center. It was Howard's most productive offensive night in quite some time, the first game he reached base multiple times since May 3.

When you combine Howard's night Tuesday with what Tommy Joseph has done lately, you get these numbers from Phillies starting first basemen the last six games: 10 for 23 (.435), a double, three home runs and five RBIs.

Not bad. It only took two months for the Phils to get a week's worth of consistent run production from that position.

4. Adjustment time
Mackanin spoke Tuesday about the specific adjustments he'd like to see from various hitters (see story).

5. This and that
• The Phillies scored a first-inning run Tuesday. It was about time. They've done that in just eight of 59 games this season.

• Hector Neris has been shaky lately, allowing 10 baserunners over his last 3 2/3 innings.

• The Phillies are 8-14 against the NL Central.

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