Phils Open Up Three Game Set vs. Baseball’s Best

The Phillies kick off Memorial Day Weekend with a three-game set at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field against a scorching-hot Chicago Cubs club that has distinguished itself as Major League Baseball’s best team in the past month or so of play.

After dropping two of three to the Detroit Tigers in Motown this week, the Phils (26-21) will hope to get back on track against the Cubs (31-14), who have won two games in a row.

The series will feature three day games, each beginning at 2:05 ET. On Friday, a pair of southpaws will face off, as the Phils send Adam Morgan to the mound against Cubbies’ lefty Jon Lester. Morgan is 0-2 in his last two starts, allowing 12 hits and nine earned runs in those outings. Seven of those runs came in his May 15 start against the Cincinnati Reds, when he lasted just 3.2 innings in a 9-4 loss. In his last outing vs. the Atlanta Braves, Morgan tossed a quality start, surrendering just two earned runs in six innings, but still took the loss. Overall, Morgan is 1-2 with a 5.61 ERA in five starts.

Lester has also lost his last two starts and was yanked after giving up five earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched against the San Francisco Giants on May 21. It was the first time this season that a Cubs pitcher didn’t go at least five innings. The 32-year-old is 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA in nine starts in his second season in the Windy City. He’s struck out 52 batters in 55.1 innings pitched. Lester last pitched against the Phils on July 24 of last season, when he allowed two runs in seven innings in a game the Phillies went on to win 5-3.

On Saturday, righthander Jerad Eickhoff will oppose the Cubs’ Matt Hendricks. Eickhoff bounced back from a string of mediocre outings his last time out on the mound against the Braves on May 22, spinning seven innings of shutout ball, scattering five hits and striking out three. Eickhoff seemed to recapture the sharp break on his curveball in that outing, which will be crucial if he has any hope of beating the Cubs’ potent lineup. He’s 2-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 53.2 innings pitched in 2016.

The 26-year-old Hendricks will face the Phillies for the first time in his career. On the season, the Dartmouth product is 2-4 with a 3.30 ERA in 46.1 innings pitched (8 starts). He took the loss in his May 22 start against the Giants despite giving up only one run and three hits in 5.1 innings. Hendricks has been a tough pitcher to beat at home, where he owns a 2.28 ERA.

In the finale of the series on Sunday afternoon, Vince Velazquez will square off against veteran John Lackey. The 23-year-old Velazquez has arguably been the Phils best starter so far this season. He hit a bit of a speed bump in his last start against Detroit on Monday, when Phils manager Pete Mackanin was forced to pull the righty fireballer after throwing 95 pitches in four innings of work. Velazquez yielded three runs — all solo home runs — on nine hits and clearly didn’t have his best stuff. He’ll need to be sharper against the Cubs.

Lackey, 37, is 4-2 with a 3.36 ERA this season.The 13-year veteran has put five quality starts together in a row in the month of May. He’s fanned 61 in 61.1 innings pitched and owns a phenomenal 0.95 WHIP, which ranks fifth in MLB. In seven career starts against Philadelphia, Lackey is 4-3, owning a 3.13 over 46 innings. He stymied the Phils during seven innings of one-run ball in his last start against the club, which came last year as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Lackey has also been excellent at Wrigley, pitching to a 2.12 ERA in four home starts.

Offensively, the Cubs boast one of the best lineups in the majors, scoring the third-most runs in baseball with 256. By comparison, the Phillies rank 29th of 30 MLB teams with 155 runs scored. Cubs free agent-signee Ben Zobrist leads the team in average (.346), OBP (.453) and hits (54). First baseman Anthony Rizzo leads the team with 11 home runs and 35 RBI. Outfielder Dexter Fowler was perhaps the team MVP of the first third of the season, and enters this series hitting .319 with five longballs and 23 RBI.

The Phils will need to play a perfect series if they want any hope of taking the series in Chi-Town, but what goes better with Memorial Day Weekend than throwing back a few with your friends and family and watching baseball after a nice barbecue.

Written by Tyler DiSalle

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