Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Ryan Howard starts with decision looming over playing time


Phillies (28-30) vs. Cubs (40-16)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies did nothing for eight innings before waking up in the ninth Monday night in a 6-4 loss to the Cubs. Can that offensive momentum — five hits, including two homers — carry over into Tuesday's contest? 

It will be tough with the Phillies' best current offensive player sitting. 

1. Howard's end?
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Monday he's nearing a long-term decision with Ryan Howard (see story). He reiterated he needs to see more from Howard, who will start at first base tonight against Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks. Howard has hit .151 overall this season and .141 against right-handed starting pitchers.

Mackanin's decision, barring a sudden and substantial increase in production from Howard, will likely be to officially name Tommy Joseph the Phillies' starting first baseman some time soon. It would end the constant questions about playing time, but it would not kill the awkwardness of the whole situation. To Howard's credit, he hasn't been a distraction or a malcontent. But how long will he be willing to just quietly sit on the bench?

As long as Joseph continues to produce, the bench is where Howard belongs. Joseph had two more hits Monday, including his fifth homer, and flew out to the top of the left field wall in another at-bat. He's hitting .311 with a .590 slugging percentage in his first 64 plate appearances in the majors.

2. Run support osmosis
It's like the run support the Phillies perennially failed to provide Cole Hamels was a contagious ailment left in the clubhouse for Jerad Eickhoff, one of the five players they acquired for him. The Phillies have averaged 3.22 runs per nine innings for Eickhoff in his 19 career starts, the third-lowest figure among all National League starters with at least 100 innings the last two seasons.

Eickhoff, who pitches tonight, is 2-8 with a 3.93 ERA this season. He's 5-11 despite a 3.38 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.9 strikeouts per nine and 2.0 walks in 19 career starts. 

The 6-foot-4 right-hander hasn't been nearly as sharp this season as he was last, but he's kept the Phillies in games. He has seven quality starts in 11 tries, including three in his last four.

Eickhoff has been decent since hitting a low in Atlanta on May 11, posting a 3.16 ERA over his last four starts with just five walks in 25⅔ innings. He faced these Cubs on May 28 at Wrigley Field, allowing four runs over six innings and striking out seven. He had a troublesome first inning, allowing a leadoff homer to Dexter Fowler and doubles to Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, but recovered to retire 12 of the final 16 batters he faced.

Lefties have hit .306 with 20 extra-base hits and an .856 OPS against Eickhoff this season. With switch-hitters Fowler and Zobrist and lefties Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Miguel Montero, the Cubs aren't a great match for him.

3. The book on Hendricks
Hendricks doesn't have special stuff — he throws a fastball in the high-80s and relies mostly on his changeup, mixing in the occasional curveball.

Hendricks (4-4, 2.84) did an excellent job against the Phillies in Chicago of spotting his sinker and changeup at or below hitters' knees. He's done a good job of that throughout his three-year Cubs career and it's why he very quietly has a 3.36 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 55 starts.

Hendricks has the third-highest groundball rate among NL starters at 57.6 percent, behind only Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia and his own teammate, Jake Arrieta.

Current Phillies are 7 for 39 (.179) with five doubles, a walk and eight strikeouts against Hendricks. Howard is 1 for 7 with a double and two K's.

4. Pick your poison
The Cubs' lineup is so deep and balanced. Fowler, Bryant and Rizzo all had three-hit games Monday night. Bryant doubled twice and absolutely destroyed a foul ball to the fourth deck in left field. Rizzo sprayed the ball around, and Fowler hit the ball hard three times.

Then there's Heyward, who knows the strike zone and despite his offensive deficiencies can still hit one out of any ballpark. They have players like Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, who would be young offensive centerpieces if they were in any other uniform. Zobrist, perhaps the Cubs' best offensive player so far this season and the majors' leaders in on-base percentage, didn't even play Monday.

It's not hard to see why this Cubs team is on pace for 116 wins, which would match the best record in baseball history set by the 2001 Mariners.

5. This and that
• The Phillies continue to make an alarming number of outs on the bases. Maikel Franco was out easily, and without a slide, attempting to steal second on a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play Monday night, making the Phillies 23 for 43 (53 percent) in stolen base attempts. Only the Rockies have a worse success rate swiping bags.

• Freddy Galvis was 0 for his last 22 before hitting a three-run homer in the ninth inning Monday.

• Odubel Herrera should be back atop the Phillies' lineup Tuesday. Mackanin sat him Monday for several reasons: Herrera has played a ton this season, the Phillies were facing a tough lefty in Jon Lester and Herrera has been dealing with some leg issues Mackanin said are not a concern.

• Soler left Monday's game with a hamstring injury, and Fowler was shaken up after being hit on the hand by an Andrew Bailey pitch. 

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