The Phillies take on A.J. Burnett on Monday night in the opener of a four-game series with the Pirates. The Phils are 26-10 against the Bucs at home since 2001, and have hit Burnett regularly through the years. But this isn't the same A.J. Burnett.
Burnett has drastically cut down his walk totals since joining the Pirates. His 2.8 BB/9 last year was the lowest full-season walk rate of his career. The result was a 3.51 ERA, his lowest since 2005.
Burnett is off to a tremendous start again in 2013, with an NL-leading 35 strikeouts and just eight walks in 24 innings. The most remarkable aspect of his game is that he does this all with a hard fastball that sinks. He was fourth in the majors last season in groundball rate, and of the 938 batters he's faced the last two seasons, exactly 500 have struck out or grounded out. Kind of crazy.
The Phillies struggled after the first inning last night against sinkerballer Jake Westbrook. They made 10 outs on the ground in innings 2-6. Tonight could be more of the same, as Westbrook's stuff isn't even in the same realm as Burnett.
Expect to see a lefty-heavy lineup. Righties are just 7-for-49 (.143) off Burnett this year with 1 walk and 22 strikeouts.
How 'bout the bench?
The Phillies' bench was seen as a weakness coming into the season. Not a lot of power, mediocre backup catcher, no elite pinch-runner. But the bench has actually been the best in the National League.
Phillies pinch-hitters are 10-for-32 this season, but more impressive than the .313 batting average is the NL-leading .656 slugging percentage and major-league leading 10 RBIs.
Laynce Nix worked a brilliant, 10-pitch at-bat off Fernando Salas on Sunday night that led to a game-tying RBI double. Kevin Frandsen may have a walk-off double under his belt, but Nix has been the standout pinch-hitter so far. Nix is 5-for-10 with two homers, a double and 5 RBIs as a pinch-hitter, and 3-for-22 with no extra-base hits or RBIs as a starter.
1) Jimmy Rollins, SS
2) John Mayberry, RF (leads Phils in OBP, SLG)
3) Chase Utley, 2B
4) Ryan Howard, 1B
5) Michael Young, 3B
6) Domonic Brown, LF
7) Ben Revere, CF
8) Erik Kratz, C
9) Jon Pettibone, P
1) Starling Marte, LF
2) Travis Snider, RF
3) Andrew McCutchen, CF (6 SB leads NL)
4) Garrett Jones, 1B
5) Neil Walker, 2B
6) Pedro Alvarez, 3B (hitting .125)
7) Russell Martin, C
8) Clint Barmes, SS
9) A.J. Burnett, P