Phillies vs Rangers: Can Philly knock off the defending World Series Champions?

Philadelphia Phillies’s Bryce Harper follows through after hitting an RBI single off Colorado Rockies’ Cal Quantrill during the third inning of a baseball game, Monday, April 15, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

After an off day on Monday, the Phillies welcome the reigning, defending, undisputed, World Series Champion Texas Rangers to Citizens Bank Park for a three-game series to close out an eight-game home stand. Philadelphia may have the best record in baseball thus far, but as the saying goes – “to be the man, you gotta beat the man.” Well, until a new champion is crowned this November, the Rangers are just that – the man.

Philly’s offense has been on fire for weeks now, scoring more than five runs in eight of their last 15 games. The Phillies lead the league in runs per game (5.33) and are No. 2 in total runs scored (256) behind the Dodgers, who have played two more games. On the flip side, Texas’ pitching staff is riddled with injuries. They currently have six pitchers on the injured list, including two future hall of famers.

Who’s next? Let’s review the pitching match ups.

Philies vs Rangers: Pitching Preview

Texas’ pitching woes have not prevented them from having success as a unit. They will send starter Jon Gray (2-1, 2.08 ERA) to the hill for the first game of the series. Unfortunately for the Rangers struggling offense, they face Ranger Suárez (8-0, 1.37 ERA) – the best pitcher on the Phillies staff thus far.

Gray is in the midst of the best statistical year of his career. Currently in his third year with Texas, he spent the first seven years of his career playing for Colorado. Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and J.T. Realmuto have faced him more than 10 times each. The top three hitters in the Phillies lineup have slashed a combined .311/.360/.644 against Gray in their career, with eight of their hits going for extra bases.

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Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Ranger Suarez throws to an Atlanta Braves during the second inning of a baseball game Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Suárez has one appearance against the Rangers in his career, back in 2022 in his first year as a full-time starter. He has handled the hitters he has faced very well in limited at-bats, holding current Ranger hitters to a combined 3-for-20 (.150 BA). Heim has two of those hits, one being a home run.

The rest of the series is pretty up in the air. Neither team has announced their expected starting pitchers for games two and three. Based on recent experience, the Phillies lineup will likely face LHP Andrew Heaney (0-5, 4.43 ERA) on Wednesday and RHP José Ureña (1-3, 3.29 ERA) in the series finale on Thursday.

Despite his 11 years in the big leagues, Heaney has only faced four of the Phillies hitters, and only two of them more than once. Nick Castellanos has owned him over the years, going 5-for-6 with a double. Whit Merrifield is the other hitter with some experience against the lefty, but he has gone just 2-for-10 in his chances.

Ureña, on the other hand, has extensive experience against Philadelphia – especially from his years pitching for the Marlins. He has made 19 appearances against the Phillies in his career, 10 of which came have come in Philly. His numbers at Citizens Bank Park are not inspiring – 6.19 ERA and 1.404 WHIP with 26 strike-outs and 16 walks.

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The Texas Rangers celebrate after Game 7 of the baseball AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros Monday, Oct. 23, 2023, in Houston. The Rangers won 11-4 to win the series 4-3. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Do the Phillies have an edge?

This season, after starting the year as a reliever, he stepped into the rotation temporarily. In his three starts, he has a 2.05 ERA and has gone six-plus innings in the last two. Ureña dropped his season ERA more than a full run since joining the rotation. Harper has a .316/.500/.579 slash line against him in nearly 30 plate appearances. Red-hot Kody Clemens also has one appearance against the veteran – a home run, his first with Philadelphia.

Other Notes

Texas’ rotation, despite the injuries, has been the bright spot of a team that is struggling thus far compared to expectations for the reigning champs. Their rotation has a 3.07 ERA in May, but just a 3-6 record credited to the starters. Only two other teams starters have three or fewer wins and a sub-four ERA this month. The Rangers have gone just 8-for-49 (.163) with the bases loaded since the start of April, and their slugging percentage this month (.360) is near the bottom of the league.

To make matters worse on the surface, they also have the worst bullpen ERA in the league (5.23 ERA). The top players in their pen do have strong numbers, so if the rotation can keep the Phillies offense at bay, they may be in good shape. Their top performers are below, and includes a familiar face for Phillies fans:

  • RHP Kirby Yates: 3-0, 0.98 ERA, (401 ERA+) 0.818 WHIP, 18.1 IP, 7 saves, 22 Ks, 8 BBs
  • RHP David Robertson: 2-1, 2.28 ERA, 0.845 WHIP, 23.2 IP, 1 save, 32 Ks, 8 BBs
  • LHP Jacob Latz: 0-1, 3.38 ERA, 1.393 WHIP, 18.2 IP, 15 Ks, 10 BBs

Latz is having the most “luck” of their top relievers, but is the only left-hander out of the Rangers pen at this time so will see the majority of the high leverage situations against Schwarber and Harper. His higher WHIP, 4.01 FIP, and 1.5 K/BB ratio all point to a possible regression, but how soon does it come? Can Bohm, Realmuto, and Castellanos crack him in South Philly this week?

They is a much tougher task if the Rangers can safely get to their setup man and closer in Robertson and Yates. Yates has an obscene 401 ERA+ (meaning he is four-times better than league average). Robertson’s FIP is nearly identical to his ERA, which means he hasn’t needed luck at all to be as good as he has this season. However, the two dominant righties have to face a lineup filled with daunting left-handed hitters in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Phillies’ Bryce Harper celebrates after hitting the game-winning RBI-sacrifice fly against Washington Nationals pitcher Kyle Finnegan during the 10th inning of a baseball game, Saturday, May 18, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

If you’re a fan of baseball you know all about Harper and Schwarber, and fans of the Phillies know how good Brandon Marsh has been against RHP. But possibly the hottest hitter in the Phillies lineup is utility man and recently recalled Kody Clemens. In 11 games at the major league level this year, Clemens is hitting .321 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. For comparison, reigning MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. has played 43 games and also has three long balls (with 12 RBIs).

In Conclusion

Philadelphia has the best record in baseball. Much has been said about the record of the teams they have faced, but a team can only play the team on the schedule. All good teams swell their record against the lower tier of teams, and several of the teams that are below .500 at this time are there because the Phillies took care of business against them.

They might have had the easiest schedule by opponent’s-record, but good teams beat up on bad teams and they’re doing just that. Plus, history will show it is not easy to consistently win as much as they have.

Despite some injuries and early offensive struggles from individual players, the cream always rises and the Phillies are the cream of the crop. The Rangers might be .500 on the nose, but the champ is here at Citizens Bank Park this week and it doesn’t matter what your team’s record is – the Phillies have been runnin’ wild on everyone. You can talk storylines, records, and whatever other qualifiers you want to put on both team’s seasons, but Tuesday night at 6:40 PM Eastern – it’s time to play the game.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke