Marlins hope to slow Phillies’ NL title chase

MIAMI — The Philadelphia Phillies, who are trying to catch the Atlanta Braves in the National League East, would love nothing better than to sweep three games from the Miami Marlins this week.

The host Marlins, in last place in the same division after Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, would love nothing better than to spoil the Phillies’ plan.

“We are going to be playing teams that are contending for the postseason,” said Marlins infielder Martin Prado, referencing six remaining games against the Phillies and five against the Washington Nationals. “I hope we start a winning streak.”

The Phillies, of course, have different ideas. But the Phillies have struggled of late, going 8-15 since Aug. 8, and that includes Sunday’s 8-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

On Monday, Philadelphia will start veteran right-hander Vince Velasquez (9-9, 4.05 ERA). And Velasquez, just like his team, has struggled of late, posting a 5.87 ERA in his past four starts.

A 26-year-old native of California, Velasquez was a second-round pick of the Houston Astros in 2010. He made his major league debut with Houston in 2015 and began his Phillies career in 2016.

Blessed with an above-average fastball at 94.1 mph, Velasquez is 20-23 with a 4.32 ERA in the span of his career. His nine wins this year are already a career high, and he has beaten the Marlins twice this year.

In those two wins, Velasquez has pitched 12 1/3 innings, allowing just six hits, two walks and one run, striking out 13.

Miami will counter with right-hander Jose Urena (4-12, 4.56 ERA), who throws even harder than Velasquez at 95.8 mph on average and touching 98 mph.

Urena is 0-1 with one no-decision against the Phillies this season, allowing 11 hits, five walks and six earned runs in 11 innings.

In addition, Urena has not really taken advantage of the big dimensions of Marlins Park, posting a 1-9 record and a 4.45 home ERA so far this season.

He also went 1-2 with a 5.33 ERA in August, which was not encouraging for the pitcher who is supposed to be Miami’s ace after a 14-7 record and a 3.82 ERA in 2017.

Urena will face a Phillies lineup that entered Sunday ranked 15th in homers, 20th in the majors in runs scored, 23rd in OPS and 29th in doubles.

The Phillies’ offense is led by left fielder Rhys Hoskins, who has 27 homers and 83 RBIs in his first full year in the majors. He also has an impressive 45 homers in 177 career games.

Philadelphia on Sunday also started two players acquired within the past several weeks from the New York Mets: third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and right fielder Jose Bautista.

Cabrera, who beat the Chicago Cubs on Friday night with a walk-off, 10th-inning solo home run, is confident that the Phillies team he joined in July has enough skill to get the playoffs this year.

“We’ve got a really good team,” Cabrera told philly.com. “I believe in this team. We’re trying to show the younger guys how much fun it is to win at this level.”