By Sam Bush
As surprising as the Phillies’ red-hot start to within a half-game of the NL East-leading Mets is, they begin a series tonight against the equally hot Arizona Diamondbacks, who have also shocked MLB with their record.
The Diamondbacks, who are 15-6 and have won all seven of their series so far in 2018, come in for a three-game set at the Bank.
The Phils are coming off a four-game home sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Phillies have lost just once in 10 games this season at Citizens Bank Park and are 14-7 overall.
“I feel really good about our confidence levels right now,” Phillies first-year manager Gabe Kapler told MLB.com after Sunday’s win over the Pirates. “We’re having a lot of fun. I think having fun in baseball is really important. It’s a long season. Keeping it light — we laugh in the dugout. I hope you guys are seeing that. A lot of smiles and a lot of laughter, and after the games, we’re having a great time in there.”
The Phillies are off to a strong start despite not getting a ton of production from their bats. They enter the series opener with a .230 team batting average and .697 OPS — numbers that ranked 22nd and 20th, respectively, in the majors as of Monday.
Matchups for Phillies hitters won’t get any easier as they are set to face Arizona left-hander Robbie Ray on tonight and four-time All-Star Zack Grienke tomorrow night.
Ray (2-0, 4.98 ERA) has a 3.24 ERA over his last three starts after giving up six earned runs over five innings in his season debut against the Rockies. Ray has 32 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings this season, and his 13.3 K/9 rate was tied for the best mark in baseball as of Monday.
Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez (1-2, 3.80 ERA) will face Ray in the series opener. Like Ray, Velasquez has settled into a groove following a shaky opener. The 25-year-old has a 2.41 ERA in his last three starts after allowing seven runs (four earned) to the Braves in his debut.
Velasquez went six innings in his last start, which also came against Atlanta. He surrendered his first home run of the season, a three-run shot by Ryan Flaherty, which accounted for the only runs against him in a loss.
In three career appearances against Arizona (one start), Velasquez has not allowed an earned run and has 11 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings.
The Diamondbacks won six of their seven meetings with the Phillies last season, including a three-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park.