Phillies (6-9) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (8-6)

First pitch at 7:00 p.m.

Through 15 games, the Phillies are just a half-loss better than the Seattle Marlins.

After losing 2 games in 5 hours to the Cincinnati Reds yesterday, they were swept and fell 3 games below .500 each for the first time this year. They’re 1-4 in their last 5, and 6-9 to start a season for the first time since 2007.

The bats have been quiet, having scored 4 runs or fewer in 11 of 15 games. The rest of that list: the Cubs (4 wins), Rays and Indians (5), Mariners (6), Dodgers and White Sox (7), and Royals (8).

Middle relief has been dreadful, and has yet to record a hold. Every other team has at least 3. The relief staff overall has the fourth-worst ERA in the majors.

The worst? The Cardinals.

Despite the second-best starter ERA (2.19) in baseball and fifth-best scoring offense, the Cards are just 2 games over .500 mainly because of a shoddy 'pen.

Without closer Jason Motte (Tommy John surgery), the Cardinals have had to deploy Mitchell Boggs to wrap games, and without success. He (9.82 ERA, 7.1 IP) and Trevor Rosenthal (5.00 ERA, 9.0 IP) have blown two saves apiece.

Meanwhile, 5 of 7 in the St. Louis ‘pen have ERAs over 5.00.

Chasing Adam Wainwright (1-0, 1.86 ERA) and Jaime Garcia (2-1, 2.05 ERA) won’t be easy, and that’s why this series is likely to be boom or bust for the Phillies.

The Cardinals enter winners in 5 of their last 7.

Home Cookin’

Citizens Bank Park doesn’t make the Phillies, say, the Braves, but it has offered an offensive uptick. They’re hitting .259/.307/.453 here, .223/.273/.323 on the road.

This road trip, they didn’t score a run before the fifth inning, plated just 3 before the eighth and 8 in 6 games total.

Their .131/.180/.190 line against lefties is worst in baseball this year.

Today could be the day Charlie Manuel makes the change atop his order. We’ll see.

Gotta Have Hamels

If the Phillies have a chance here, it starts with Hamels, who gets his first legit on-paper pitcher's duel today.

After stumbling his first two times out against the Braves and Royals, Hamels tossed 6 innings of 1-run ball his last time out, albeit against the Marlins.

He’s been pretty effective against his opponent’s team in his career.

He’s just 2-3 in 9 starts all-time, but with a 3.27 ERA. In his last 3 years, he’s 0-1 with a 1.96 ERA.

He hasn’t faced the Cards since October 2011, when he struck out 8 over 6 scoreless innings in a 3-2 NLDS Game 3 win.  In 2010, he in two games went 8 innings and allowed 1 combined run in 2 no-decisions.

Current Cardinals are hitting just .236/.280/.409 against him in 118 plate appearances. Only Ty Wigginton (5 for 9) is hitting over.250, with Carlos Beltran (10 for 40, 10 Ks), Yadier Molina (4 for 21, 4 Ks), David Freese (2 for 10, 6 Ks) and Matt Holliday (2 for 10, 4 Ks), all at or well below that.

Oh yeah, and they strike out a bit, too.

That will be key to this series, getting strikeouts and curbing line drives. The Cardinals have the ninth-best strikeout rate but walk the fourth-fewest times in baseball. (Incidentally, tied with the Philies…) Over the past 3 years, Hamels (3), Cliff Lee (1) and Roy Halladay (4) rank in the top 4 in K/BB ratio.

Hamels this year has just 12 strikeouts to 8 walks, with just 5-to-3 against Miami.

The Cards so far have just 11 homers (22nd) and a .662 OPS (24th). But they have the sixth-best line drive rate (21.9), enough for the fifth-most runs (79) through 15 games off, basically, singles.

The Other Guy

Wainwright so far has been everything St. Louis gave him a 5-years, $97.5 million this winter to be.

Each of his starts have been for quality, with his latest being a complete game shutout win with 12 strikeouts against Milwaukee. He’s fanned 24 on the year, and has yet to walk a batter this season.

(The only other guy yet to issue a base on balls? Bartolo Colon, who’s walk-less through 19 innings.)

Wainwright’s success is largely in that he’s getting whatever outs he wants. He’s forced 32 grounders, 29 pop-outs, meaning, basically, he can get Ben Revere and Jimmy Rollins with the same ease.

After his 90ish m.p.h. fastball, Wainwright will about evenly sprinkle in his cutter and curveball, now and again dropping in a changeup. His cutter (10 Ks) and curve (9) split duties as his out-pitches.

The life on his pitches isn’t about drop, but sweeping horizontal movement, particularly with his sinker (9th most horizontal movement in baseball and curveball (10th).

The Phillies will get the chance to do damage on that sinker (.355 batting average) and fastball (.455).

Only, Wainwright’s had their number in his career, limiting current Phillies to .230/.313/.324 in 83 career plate appearances. Ryan Howard (3 for 14, 6 Ks)  and Chase Utley (2 for 14) have struggled, while Jimmy Rollins (7 for 20, 3 2B, 5 Ks) has exceled. No other likely starter has seen him.

Wainwright his last 3 seasons has a 1-0 mark and 0.90 ERA in 3 starts, having gone 6 innings and surrendering just 1 run in his latest, an 8-3 Cards win on May 27 last year. He’s as good in Philly, too.

In 7 career starts against the Phillies overall, Wainwright has allowed more than 2 runs just once, when he served 7 in 6 innings in May 2009. The rest have been for quality.

Hot And Not

Chalk, basically, everybody on the Phillies under "not." As for St. Louis...

First baseman Matt Adams has a team-high 3 bombs in 21 at-bats. Comparatively  Ryan Howard has 1 in 58.

Six Cardinals -- Matt Holliday (11), Carlos Beltran (9), Allen Craig (9), Adams (8) and Yadier Molina (8) -- have more RBIs than every Phillie but Chase Utley (12).

St. Louis is hitting .392 with RISP, the Phillies just .274.