Rangers versus Phillies: Series Preview
All is right again in Ranger land…at least, it’s trending that way. The Rangers played the A’s in a weekend series in Arlington and swept them away with a walk-off and two comeback wins.
All of the sudden, this team looks like the one that won all the close games in 2016 and was never EVER out of a game, no matter how bleak the circumstances looked.
Just like that, in a weekend, the Rangers went from last place in the division to 2nd and managed to pick up a game on the red-hot Astros in the process. The Rangers now find themselves just a game below .500 and have a golden opportunity to reach that mark (and surpass it) against a Phillies team that is mired in a two-week long-slump.
After starting off the season 11-9, the Phillies have fallen apart in their next 15 games, going 3-12. The biggest struggle for the Phillies has been their pitching staff; they will head into Arlington with three starters set to face the Rangers who have zero wins on the season combined. The most notable of this bunch is Jerad Eickhoff, who was drafted by the Rangers and spent several years in their farm system before being shipped to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels trade.
This is an important series for the Ranger; it’s key for them to finally get back over the .500 mark before they embark on yet another 3-city road trip starting this Friday in Detroit.
Rangers: 19-20 – 2nd in AL West
Phillies: 14-21 – 4th in NL East
Rangers projected starters:
Phillies projected starters:
Rangers’ pitcher to watch:
Matt Bush: It’s going to be interested to see how Matt Bush responds as his save opportunities increase in both quantity and regularity. After being named the team’s closer in mid-April, Bush only had one save opportunity in his first three weeks on the job. That’s going to happen when your team is losing—and it’s also going to happen when you have an offense that either explodes for a ton of runs or does nothing at all.
This past week was the first time that Matt Bush really got a taste of the closer role and what it will be like on a regular basis. With the Rangers offense beginning to come around and the their pitching staff racking up quality starts, Bush had 3 opportunities to save a game in the last week alone. He converted all three of them including back-to back-saves in the last two games against the Athletics. Bush was exceptionally efficient in those two opportunities, needing just 19 total pitches to get the job done.
With the team trending in the right direction, it’s not unreasonable to expect Bush’s workload to go up. The key here will be how well he responds to increased opportunities to save games, especially on consecutive days. Though he passed the first test on Saturday and Sunday, you’re not always going to get through two saves on just 19 pitches. For a guy has just over a year of Major League experience, and has had a well-chronicled shoulder issue this season, the next few weeks will reveal a lot regarding Bush’s long-term viability in the closer’s role.
Phillies pitcher to watch:
Jerad Eickhoff: As mentioned earlier, Eickhoff came up in the Rangers system and will be facing his former team for the first time as a Major Leaguer. Eickhoff was actually promoted to the Phillies big league club very shortly after the Hamels trade and has been a mainstay in the Phillies rotation ever since. Eickhoff, however, comes into his start against the Rangers having struggled out of the gate in 2017.
Surprisingly enough, Eickhoff was great for the Phillies when he came up in 2015 posting a 3-3 record with a 2.65 ERA. In 2016, Eichhoff was solid yet again posting an 11-14 record with a 3.65 ERA. Although the wins and losses don’t look great, that’s to be expected on a losing team. The impressive numbers are the fact that Eickhoff started 33 games and finished just shy of 200 innings for the year.
While he has struggled in 2017, Eickhoff has a fair amount of potential and can still pose problems for the Rangers. For his career, Eickhoff averages just under eight strikeouts (and just two walks) per nine nnings. Perhaps the biggest reason for Eickhoff’s struggles can be found in his unusual lack of control so far this year.
In 2017, Eickhoff’s walks per 9 innings sit at almost 4, which is almost 2 more walks than he had averaged so far in his career. This points to a slow start and not a trend, though, and if Eickhoff can regain his control against the Rangers, he has the ability to shut down any lineup, no matter how hot they are.
Rangers’ hitter to watch:
Nomar Mazara: Nomar Mazara appears to finally be coming around. After a red-hot start to the season, Mazara has been in an extended slump. This slump was no different than what happened to him late last season, as he cooled off significantly over the summer months following a hot start to his MLB career. The problem for Mazara has been showing the ability to counter the adjustments opposing pitchers make to him.
The biggest adjustment that Mazara has had trouble with this season has been hitting (or laying off) pitches high and inside. While that issue has plagued Mazara for the past month, over the past week, Mazara has looked like his old self.
“Th Big Chill” heads into the series against Philadelphia with hits in his previous five games. Twice during that span, Mazara has recorded two hits in a contest; four of his seven hits during his streak have been doubles.
The best sign throughout the streak has been that Mazara is showing power to all fields again. When Mazara starts hitting to all fields, you know he is getting more comfortable; if that continues, look for him to have a big series against Philadelphia.
Phillies hitter to watch:
Aaron Altherr: It’s been a spectacular month of May for the Phillies outfielder. Altherr is playing in his first full season with the club and, after an up-and-down April, he has really turned it on. In the month of May, Altherr is hitting .375 with 6 home runs and 16 RBIs. During the month Altherr has also put together multi-hit performances in 6 games and has had a hit in all but two of the games he’s played in.
Altherr is not your typical slugger, in that he is patient at the plate as well. For the season, he has 14 walks against just 25 strike outs.
Game Times: All Central Time