Phillies-Pirates 5 Things: Phils' Bats Hoping to Be Road Warriors

Phillies (44-53) vs. Pirates (49-46)
7:05 p.m. on NBC10

After losing five of seven to begin the second half, the Phillies hit the road, going across the state for a matchup with a team in the thick of the National League wild card race. Zach Eflin will take the mound for the Phillies, opposing Gerrit Cole.

Here's what you should look out for to start the Phillies' roadtrip.

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1. Road warriors?
For most teams in any sport, home field advantage is a real thing. While certain homestands and roadtrips may have unexpected results, teams expect to be better at home than on the road over the course of a full season.

The 2016 Philadelphia Phillies aren't most teams.

The Phils have been a disaster at home recently, particularly on offense. They are 23-28, five games under .500 at home, as compared to 21-25 on the road. Their road record isn't sterling (20th best in baseball), but their home record is better than only six teams. 

Their pitching staff has pretty similar road and home splits. They've given up 22 more home runs at home than on the road (where they've played five fewer games), but opposing teams bat 24 points higher against them and have a higher slugging percentage when the Phillies are on the road.

As stated before, offense is where there's a real difference. Citzens Bank Park is a park that certainly favors home run hitters, yet the Phillies have cleared the fences five more times on the road than at home, in fewer games. Their OPS+, a general measure of how someone's (or a team's) on-base percentage + slugging compares to league average when adjusting for certain factors, is just 67 at home while it is just one point below league average (99) on the road. The Phillies are a generally fine hitting team on the road, so a trip to Pittsburgh may be the perfect solution to wake up their bats. 

Count Odubel Herrera, Tommy Joseph and Ryan Howard among the Phillies hitters with better numbers on the road than at home. Maikel Franco has the biggest split, with a .594 OPS at home compared to a .955 OPS on the road.

When the Phillies are real contenders in the future, they'll need to make CBP more of an advantage. For now, it's an interesting fact which makes a road series a relief. 

2. Eflin away from home
For a rookie seven starts into his MLB career, Zach Eflin looks great. That needs to be said first when discussing Eflin in the rotation. 

After his downright horrible debut, Eflin hasn't given up more than three earned runs in any of his six starts since while going at least six innings in his last five starts. 

But he's also shown some clear limitations as well. Eflin has always found success in the tried and true method of limiting walks and home runs. His walk rates have gone steadily down as he's moved up the minor league ladder while his home run rate has always been below one per nine innings until he got to the majors.

Yet he fails to strike out nearly everyone, an issue when he pitches in relatively small parks like CBP or PNC Park. Outside of his complete game against the worst offense in baseball (Atlanta), he has not struck out more than three batters in any game. 

He doesn't have an overpowering fastball, but it is just above league average velocity in the low 90s. His slider induces 22.7 percent strikeout rate, a solid rate, but hitters are batting above league average against the pitch. 

His lack of a true putaway pitch makes him susceptible to contact. While his control is a trademark part of his game, he still lets the ball get put in play, which manifests itself as a problem when he gives up a fair amount of fly balls in these small parks.

He isn't to blame for losing on Sunday to the Mets (the offense needed to get more than one hit), but he needs to improve his arsenal to be more than a middle-to-back end rotation piece.

3. It's a Cole world out there
Gerrit Cole is an electrifying talent in his fourth year and he's only 25 years old. After facing Jacob deGrom and Jose Fernandez in the last week, Cole is another unwelcome sight.

Last season, Cole earned his first All-Star appearance and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting thanks to a 19-8 record and 2.60 ERA. The opposite of Eflin, he's always struck out a high number of batters, including 202 Ks last year.

While still solid, he hasn't been quite as good this year. He's allowed more hits, more walks, and his strikeouts have gone down a bit, fanning just 60 in 72 1/3 innings. His velocity is down slightly and hitters are getting to his predominant pitch, a four-seam fastball, more often, batting .293 against it this year after a .245 clip last season.

Part of that is likely due to injury. He made his first start in over a month last week after returning from a triceps strain in his throwing arm. His average fastball was below his average in that start against the Nationals, but that may be more rust than injury. 

However, Cole has still been effective when he's been on the mound, sporting a 3.11 ERA despite his lower strikeout totals. He's pitched well against the Phillies in his career, going 3-1 in four starts and will be another rough at-bat for hitters in a struggling offense.  

4. Players to watch
Phillies: When the Phillies acquired Peter Bourjos, they were hoping he'd end up something like he is right now. He's not quite the force he was in 2011 with the Angels, but he has brought some power and his turnaround over the last few months has been massively impressive. He has just five hits and one walk post All-Star break, but one of the hits and the walk came yesterday against the Marlins.

Pirates: Matt Joyce, the Pirates' right fielder, is the definition of a platoon bat and has been his entire career. He has only 24 at-bats against lefties this year (although he's hit them well in that small sample size) and has a .920 OPS vs. righties. He broke an 0-for-14 slump with a home run on Thursday against the Brewers.

5. This and that
• The Pirates have won six straight against the Phillies at PNC Park and are 31-16 against the Phils at PNC since it opened in 2001. They are 3-0-1 against the Phillies in series over the last two seasons. The Phillies are 9-19 against the Pirates since the start of 2012. 

• Count Odubel Herrera among the people unhappy to face Gerrit Cole. He is 0 for 6 against the Buccos starter with five strikeouts. 

• No members of the Phillies' roster have home runs against Cole. Ryan Howard is 2 for 9 against him and Freddy Galvis is 1 for 5 with a walk.

• The Pirates have the fourth-most stolen bases in baseball with 73 this year. They've been caught stealing just 25 times.

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