Who let the Phillies get hot?
An extra innings win did the job Thursday night as the Phillies were able to sweep the Tampa Bay Rays in the first of two series on the road.
The Phillies are now the third team who has won a series in Tampa this season, joining the Red Sox and, obviously, the Rays. Tampa had not been swept all season, and the Phillies were the first team to accomplish this feat.
A 12-game road win streak has fueled the Phillies to their season-best eight games over .500 this season, and they will now have a chance to add to the run with a series against the Miami Marlins.
Big Fish or Small Pond?
To the surprise of many, the Miami Marlins have put together a very good first half of the season.
Miami is entering this series with a 51-38 record and currently hold the top Wild Card spot in the National League. They have played extremely well and are on pace for 93 wins this season.
However, I do think that the Marlins have taken advantage of an easy schedule. Miami has faced the 5th easiest schedule to date and will play the 4th hardest schedule in the second half.
They have clearly been able to beat the teams in front of them, but will they be able to sustain this in the second half of the season, when they have to play the Braves, Rangers, Astros, Dodgers, Orioles, and Rays in a combined 22 games.
In the second half, the Phillies will meet the Marlins seven more times as well. Miami is 2-1 on the season against Philly, and these three games could prove to be crucial for either squad depending on the results.
Phillies v. Marlins Probable Starters
This will be a great weekend for betting the under in runs and over in strikeouts.
Each matchup will feature above-average pitchers in baseball, and we will see two of the best rotations in baseball going head to head.
For the Phils, facing Sandy Alcantara is not necessarily a bad thing. They have faced him in 9 consecutive series against the Fish, and have the best track record of any team against him. The reigning NL Cy Young award winner has not replicated the same results as last season, and the Phillies cannot allow him to dial back the clock in their game Friday night.
Friday will feature Wheeler vs. Alcantara, Saturday will feature Suarez vs. Garrett, and Sunday will feature Nola vs. Luzardo. If the Phillies can take the series in Miami, they will finish either 8 or 9 games above the .500 mark before starting the second half.
There are two key factors to watch for in this series against the Miami Marlins.
Beware of Arraez
Luis Arraez has played 3 games against the Phillies and has already become a Phillie nightmare. Back in April, Luis hit the first cycle in Marlins history, against the Phillies.
The slap hitter is hitting a remarkable .388 on the year, and has been dancing around the .400 mark all season.
If the Phillies can keep Luis Arraez from going nuclear, they should be able to far well against the rest of the Marlins’ lineup. Luis is their sparkplug; if he is not hot, the rest of the lineup will follow suit.
Back to Bryce
Bryce Harper has not hit a home run in over a month and a half.
While I am not worried or even the slightest bit upset, I do believe that his power is coming sooner rather than later.
Bryce has hit a lot of balls to the wall and warning track in his recent series, so it is not like he isn’t slugging the ball. In fact, he is slugging .400, and that is without hitting homeruns, showing you that he can still deliver extra-base hits.
Harper has 15 career home runs in Marlins Park. It would be really encouraging to see him add number 16 or even 17 to his list this upcoming weekend. After this series, the Phillies won’t play until Friday, when they host the San Diego Padres in a four-game series.
If Bryce Harper can dig deep and find his power surge, I fully expect the Phillies to win at least 2 of 3 in Miami, and to head into the All-Star break in a really good position for a playoff run.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Derik Hamilton