Phillies (19-22) vs. Cincinnati Reds (25-16)

First pitch at 7:05

If it seems like every Phillies series opener this month has assumed a “This Could Be The One!” feel, that’s probably because they have.

The Cleveland series was supposed to be a two-game gimme. Miami at home, a sure-thing pick-me-up. Their first West Coast trip, a shot at the World Champion Giants and then a shot at parlaying a near-sweep against a potential NL up-and-comer in Arizona.

Tuesday, they had chance at retribution for an Ohio obliteration.

Today, they get the exact same thing, and against a league opponent.

Where They Stand

The Phillies are in basically in baseball purgatory. They’re three games under .500. They’re 3.5 back of the first-place Braves. But they’ve yet to really surge or slump, each of which are essentially inevitable over the course of a full 162.

They’re 5-5 in their last 10. Fitting.

The Reds, meanwhile, are feasting off of bad teams. They’re 10-3 this month, with nine coming against the Cubs, Brewers and Marlins, three of the four-worst teams in the NL. As for the rest of their latest games, against the Nationals, Cardinals and Braves, they're a lowly 3-7.

Objects in the Mirror…

No, really, this series was way closer than it appeared.

Take away the 11-2 deconstruction in the series finale, ignited pretty singlehandedly by John Lannan’s quad injury (he was DL’d, like, 12 hours after giving up six earned in 1 2/3), and you’re looking at two games decided by three runs – all of them scored within the last five outs.

In Game 1, Brandon Phillips smeared a bases-loaded single for the go-ahead runs in the eighth. In Game 2, Phillippe Aumont (sucky command) and Ben Revere (fielding error) loaded the bases for Jay Bruce, who smoked a single to walk it off 10 minutes into the conclusion of a rain-suspended game.

Granted, that obviously highlights the struggles of the bullpen, which surrendered three runs in two innings. But Phillies starters did enough to keep the lineup in it, and that’s not always so anymore.

This is Why You Walk

CIncy's .251 team batting average ranks 17th in baseball.

Their .394 slugging percentage? 20th.

Yet the Reds have plated the sixth-most runs in baseball en route to its third-best record in the game how? Their .335 on-base percentage, third-best in the game, that's how. Another way: they have a 10.3% walk rate, which means they’re basically guaranteed a baserunner every time through the rotation for, give or take, three a game from BBs alone.

This is what walks do: cushion the effects of slumps, even if said slumps last 40-plus games.

Most important is the timing. Shin-Soo Choo’s third-in-baseball 29 walks came from the leadoff spot. Joey Votto’s best-in-baseball 35, from the No. 3 hole. No wonder cleanup hitter Brandon Phillips ranks third in baseball with 36 RBI this year. And no wonder why Ryan Howard, who was between 2007-09 blessed with one of baseball’s best on-base rosters, has only 22.

Irony: three of the Phillies four-straight walkless games this year? Against Cincy.

Pitching In

The Phillies only $20 million pitcher to look the part so far? Cliff Lee (4-2, 2.86 ERA).

Good news: he was effective against the Reds lineup in Game 1, tossing six scoreless before a two-run seventh. And since surrendering four-plus in six or fewer innings twice in three games, Lee’s allowed only two in his last 15 innings spanning two starts, both wins. Very bueno.

As for Tony Cingrani (2-0, 2.89 ERA), he’s basically Phillies kryptonite: a rookie left-hander. Though a sore pitching shoulder made the Reds skip him over on Tuesday, with Johnny Cueto due back next Monday, this could be Cingrani’s last start in the bigs for a while. Impression-making time?

Aroldis Chapman Blew a Save Yesterday!

Against the... (gasp!) Marlins! It was his first since last Sept. 10. He entered 8 for 8 in save situations on the year.

Hot and Not

Phillips is hitting .328 with three bombs and 15 RBIs in his last 16 games, and has worked a .310 average in 29 career at-bats with five extra-base hits against Lee.

Bruce has batted .379 with eight RBIs in his last seven games, while going 15 for 31 with four jacks and 10 RBIs in his last eight against the Phillies. He’s 4 for his last 12 with a homer vs. Lee.

Jimmy Rollins is batting .381 in his last five, with three of six RBI coming on Wednesday. Downer: he’s hitting .143 in his last 28 at-bats vs. Cincy.