The All-Star break is over, and the Phillies are finally back. They will host the (35-57) Chicago Cubs in a three-game series this weekend. The Phils open up a six-game home stand as they host the Cubs and Atlanta Braves for their next two series.
The Phillies flew into the All-Star break with a three-game sweep down in Miami against the Marlins. With the four days off, the club should be more than refreshed and ready to go for the second half of the season.
This weekend’s matchup is very important for the club as they look to begin to set themselves apart from the pack in the National League Wild Card race. The Cubs are one of the worse teams in baseball this season, and the Phillies need to take advantage.
Phillies Pitching Advantage
The Phillies were able to move around their starting rotation thanks to the All-Star break. Kyle Gibson will take the bump in game one of this series and Zack Wheeler will take the ball on Saturday. While no official announcement has been made for Sunday, the Phillies can use the results of the first two games to choose their starter.
This means that if the club takes the first two of the series, they may opt to save Aaron Nola for one of the three games against Atlanta in the following series. Ranger Suarez or Bailey Falter could then take the mound on Sunday.
Regardless of who pitches Sunday, the Phillies will have the edge in terms of pitching. Wheeler and Gibson have been better than anyone the Cubs have thrown out this season. Marcus Stroman, who will pitch Saturday for Chicago, is building his arm back up following time spent on the injured list. I expect Saturday to be a good pitching battle, but ultimately Wheeler should outperform Stroman.
At different points this season the Phillies have had a different leader in their lineup. Between Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber, the Phils had someone to set the pace and get the bats flowing for the team. There are several options for the lineup leader to start the second half of the season but the player that the team would really love to see take charge is Nick Castellanos.
Castellanos is hitting just .251 on the season with a .673 OPS for the Phillies. His production hasn’t been what the Phillies expected when they signed him to a huge deal this past off-season. While Casty hasn’t been unplayable by any means, he is simply underperforming expectations. His 8 home runs at the break is very unlike himself, and his power needs to return in the second half.
Nick ended the first half with a seven-game hitting streak and continuing said streak could help guide the Phillies’ offense against the Cubs. A former Cub himself, Castellanos has had success against the team, most recently in this tenure with Cincinnatti. I expect Nick to come out swinging and hope to see more of the player we all anticipated at the beginning of the season.
The Road Ahead
With the Cubs, Braves, and Pirates scheduled to be the next ten games for the Phillies, I expect them to go 7-3. There should be no excuse for losing either series to the Cubs or Pirates for a team that is serious about making a playoff run. Going 5-2 in the seven total games between the two teams is the minimum for the Phils.
That leaves the Atlanta Braves, one of the hottest teams in baseball and a team that has constantly given the Phillies some trouble. If the Phils can win the upcoming set against the reigning World Series champs, it will set them up for success moving forward.
Special Promo for Game one
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Photo credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky