Phillies-Marlins Preview

AP - Sports

The Miami Marlins are hoping a win over the defending World Series champions will help them turn a corner.

The last-place Philadelphia Phillies would love to see Cliff Lee - still in search of his first win - put his recent struggles behind him.

Seeking back-to-back victories for the first time in nearly a month, Miami sends Josh Johnson to the hill opposite Lee as these NL East rivals open a three-game set Friday night at Marlins Park.

While Miami (35-40) was eight games above .500 and just percentage points behind division-leading Washington as recently as June 3, it's been a very different story since. The Marlins have been outscored 136-65 and hit .191 with runners in scoring position during a 4-17 skid.

Miami, though, is coming off the most recent of those wins, salvaging Wednesday's series finale against St. Louis with a 5-3 victory. John Buck and pinch-hitter Logan Morrison hit back-to-back homers in the seventh to put Miami ahead for good.

"Any time you beat the Cardinals, it's a good win especially when they're playing that well," Buck said. "Hopefully it can be momentum we can build on and start our own little stretch here."

While Miami likely wouldn't normally be looking forward to a matchup with Lee (0-4, 3.72 ERA), the 2008 AL Cy Young winner hasn't been nearly as sharp as in years past. The left-hander has especially struggled in his last three outings, compiling a 6.30 ERA and a .309 opponents' batting average.

Lee gave up a season worst-tying five runs and struck out nine over seven innings of a 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay in the nightcap of Sunday's doubleheader.

"It's not like his stuff is not there, because it is," manager Charlie Manuel told MLB's official website. "His stuff is there. He's very capable of pitching much better than that, we know that, but it's just one of those things. It's hard for me to explain that."

Lee, however, has been superb in his last two starts versus Miami. He threw a two-hitter during a 3-0 win June 16, 2011, then fanned 12 over nine innings of one-run ball in a 2-1, 10-inning victory Sept. 15.

Johnson (4-5, 3.96), meanwhile, appears to have found his groove. He is 4-2 with a 2.56 ERA in his last nine starts and was very good in his most recent appearance. The right-hander gave up one run, two hits and struck out seven in as many innings Saturday but didn't factor in the decision of a 7-1 loss to Toronto.

"J.J. battled today like the ace he is," center fielder Justin Ruggiano said. " ... He deserved a win here. I know all of us on the field wanted to give it to him."

Johnson has experienced mixed results against Philadelphia (36-42) of late, going 1-3 with a 4.08 ERA over his last six starts in the series. He's allowed one earned run total in half those outings and a combined 15 in the other three - including six and a career-worst 11 hits over 3 2-3 innings during a 7-1 loss at Citizens Bank Park on April 11.

Johnson could post better results this time around against a Phillies club that went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position during Thursday's 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh.

"We definitely had chances to win the game, but couldn't get the big hit," said Manuel, whose club has dropped six of eight on the road.

Chase Utley was held out as a precaution Thursday after going 3 for 5 and homering in his first at-bat during his season debut the night before. He's expected back in the starting lineup in this game.

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