7:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Dodgers -175, Over/Under: 9.5
A pair of teams heading in opposite directions meet up for the first installment of a Four-Game Series from Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the Los Angeles Dodgers clash with the Philadelphia Phillies. Owning the best record in the Major Leagues by a comfortable margin, the Dodgers (61-33, 1st in NL West) are in the midst of what could very well be a historic campaign for one of the league’s most storied franchises. Los Angeles is on pace for 108 Wins, which would snap he Franchise Record set all the way back in 1953 when they were still located in Brooklyn. Of course, all Dave Roberts & Co. care about this year is hoisting a World Series Championship, which has eluded them in each of the past two terms, with their march ending in heartbreaking fashion on the game’s final stage. There are plenty of reasons to believe that this group is better than either of those two predecessors, ranking among the National League’s elite on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Dodgers rank Third in Batting Average (.263) and Runs Scored (492), Second in Home Runs (151), Walks (353), and Strikeouts (750), and First in On-Base Percentage (.342), Slugging Percentage (.467), and OPS (.810). Conversely, their Pitching Staff has posted the lowest ERA in the league (3.40) and issuing the fewest Walks (204). Heading to the mound tonight for the Dodgers will be none other than Clayton Kershaw (7-2, 3.09 ERA, 15 GS, 99.0 IP, 88 H, 34 ER, 13 HR, 16 BB, 91 K, 1.051 WHIP), who once again is major fixture in his team’s pursuit of World Series Glory. The Three-Time Cy Young and 2014 National League MVP may have taken a bit of a backseat to his teammate Hyun-Jin Ryu (10-2, 1.73 ERA, 17 GS, 109.0 IP, 89 H, 21 ER, 10 HR, 10 BB, 99 K, 0.908 WHIP), who was absolutely dominant throughout the first half of the campaign, but nevertheless remains one of the most threatening aces in the game today; it says an awful lot about the ace when his 3.09 ERA is the highest it’s been since his Rookie Campaign way back in 2008. While he hasn’t been as overwhelmingly effective as he has been in recent years, the Lefthander looks to be easing into the next stage of already illustrious career, ranking Seventh in the National League in ERA (3.09), Fifth in WHIP (1.051), and Fourth in Win Percentage (.778). However, the 31-Year Old hasn’t been very fortunate of late, with Los Angeles dropping each of his last Three Starts, with Kershaw earning a Decision in just one of those contests. When we last saw him, the Lefty was excellent in an eventual 2-3 loss at home to the San Diego Padres, in which he yielded a Single Earned Run on Five Hits over the course of Seven Innings, racking up Nine Strikeouts in comparison to issuing just One Walk. Over the length of his career, he’s faced the Phillies on fourteen occasions, owning a 3-5 Record with a 2.83 ERA and 1.056 WHIP, though hasn’t earned a Victory against them since 2015. When they met back on June 1st of this season, Kershaw was damn near flawless despite not earning a Decision, tossing a scoreless Seven Innings, featuring Six Strikeouts and Zero Walks.
Meanwhile, the Phillies (48-45, 3rd in NL East) may be heading in the wrong direction, but they nevertheless find themselves in the thick of things for a Wild Card in the National League. Coming into this Four-Game Series with the Dodgers, they’re 1.5 Games behind the surging Washington Nationals in the Division, while holding a tenuous grip on the final Wild Card. 9-7 over their last Sixteen Contests, if Philadelphia is going to going to anything come of their ambitious Offseason, then they had better become the team that they were expected to be, rather than the group of disparate pieces throughout this season. Indeed, Gabe Kapler’s job has been far from easy, but when a Franchise invests as heavily as this one has, results are expected, and sooner rather than later. Of course, if you’re reading between the lines, then you’d probably guess that we’ve been referring to Bryce Harper (.253 BA, 92 G, 86 H, 53 R, 24 2B, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 59 BB, 107 K), the 2015 MVP whom inked a mammoth 13-Year, $330 Million Contract in the late Winter after a prolonged period of Free Agency. Many teams shied away from the excessive contract demands of the Six-Time All-Star, refusing to be placed into a bidding war for a player whom many around the league felt his best days were behind him. That notion has only been underlined by the fact that a year after leading the National League in Walks (130), he’s struck out 107 times, second-most in the league. And that’s not even mentioning that the team that let him walk in Free Agency, the Nationals, have overtaken them in the Standings, no doubt leaving the faithful in the City of Brotherly Love feeling less than cordial. Heading to the mound tonight for the Phillies will be Zach Eflin (7-8, 3.78 ERA, 17 GS, 100.0 IP, 104 H, 42 ER, 17 HR, 26 BB, 83 K, 1.300 WHIP), who would love to be the figure that turns the tide for this beleaguered Pitching Staff. As we’ve said many times before in this column: in this year of the Home Run, for every team that is bombing away with ease, there is another that is serving up the long ball with aplomb. And that team would be Philadelphia, who has been tagged a staggering 154 times thus far, which is by far and away the most in the National League, nineteen more than the Colorado Rockies, who have the excuse of playing at Coors Field, which is arguably the easiest Ballpark to go yard in. For his troubles, Eflin has relinquished Seventeen Home Runs in 100.0 Innings Pitched, but has otherwise been the most consistent member of the Rotation, which is saying something when you consider the presence of former Cy Young, Jake Arrieta (8-7, 4.67 ERA, 18 GS, 108.0 IP, 108 H, 56 ER, 18 HR, 40 BB, 85 K, 1.463 WHIP), and their young ace, Aaron Nola (8-2, 3.63 ERA, 20 GS, 116.2 IP, 105 H, 47 ER, 15 HR, 48 BB, 133 K, 1.311 WHIP). In comparison to his more heralded teammates, the 25-Year Old has the second-lowest ERA (3.78), and the lowest WHIP (1.300), while exhibiting far better control than the other two, averaging just 2.3 Walks per Nine Innings, while the other two are well over 3.0. While there is plenty of reason for optimism moving forward the young Righthander, he took an absolute beating when we last saw him, taking his leave after just Three Innings of labor in a 6-12 drubbing at the hands of the Atlanta Braves on July 4th. Eflin gave up Six Earned Runs on Seven Hits, including Two Home Runs, with nearly as many Walks (2) as Strikeouts (3). Unfortunately, his track record against tonight’s opponent, the Dodgers, has been rather disappointing as well; he’s 0-2 with a dismal 9.18 ERA in Four Starts against Los Angeles, serving up as many Home Runs as Strikeouts (10).