The Phillies have put
themselves in a deep, deep hole. If there's a way out, they're going to
have to win and win and win. If it's going to start this series it will
have to come with the league's worst starting pitchers facing the hottest
offense in baseball.
Who are you rooting for these days when the Mets play? Do you want them to win or lose? I think you need to root for them to win, but I'm having a hard time doing it. When the Mets win, they likely beat a team that's ahead of the Phillies in the Wild Card hunt. When they lose, they probably lose to a team that's ahead of the Phillies in the Wild Card hunt.
The super-hot Atlanta Braves will be in Philadelphia tonight to start the first of a four-game series with the Phillies. The Phillies come into the series at 43-50, in third place in the NL East and 13 games behind the New York Mets. The Braves had their seven game win streak snapped on Wednesday in St Louis and come in at 45-50, 12 games behind the Mets and in second place in the division. The Phillies have 69 games left to play and are 5 1/2 games behind in the Wild Card chase, trailing eight teams. It's bleak.
The teams last met May 3-4 in Philadelphia, with the Phillies taking both games in the series. Aaron Rowand hit a two-run homer off of Mike Remlinger in the bottom of the eighth in the first game to give the Phillies a 5-4 win. In the second game, the Phils got a home run and three RBI from Ryan Howard and beat Atlanta 6-3.
The Braves offense has produced the second-most runs in the National League so far this year. They're fourth in the league in on-base percentage and second in slugging. The Phillies are seventh in runs. The Phillies no longer are worst in the league in team batting average, having pulled ahead of the Nationals and Astros.
The 4.71 ERA Atlanta pitchers have thrown to is sixth worst in the NL, while the Phillies' 4.89 is third worst. Braves starters and relievers have both thrown to about the same ERA (starters 4.70 and relievers 4.73) while Phillies relievers have thrown to the second best ERA in the NL (3.60) and their starters an unbearably worst 5.67.
What follows is not for the faint of heart.
The Atlanta offense is still lead by Chipper Jones (337/423/570) who is having a monster year. He's tied for third in the NL in OPS. Catcher Brian McCann's numbers are almost as good, 351/408/558, and Andruw Jones (283/362/538) leads the NL in RBI with 88. How hot are they? How 'bout really, really hot. In 53 July at-bats, Chipper is at 547/613/1.094 with seven home runs. McCann is at 345/377/707 in July and Andruw Jones a mere 304/423/679.
Things don't get much better from there. Edgar Renteria is having a great year, he's at 317/397/458 and 391/466/531 in July. Adam LaRoche (269/338/524) has 17 homers on the year and is hitting 370/390/675 in July.
Jeff Francoeur (263/286/442) is up to 17 home runs on the year as well. The .286 on-base number is awful but he's also having a great July, hitting 323/362/492 in 65 at-bats.
Marcus Giles has been out with a thumb problem and Wilson Betemit (300/360/517) has seen a lot of time at second of late. Betemit is at 415/455/707 in 41 July at-bats.
Ryan Langerhans (242/342/386) is the one of the things that's not like the other. 257/350/457 in July.
In the pen, the Braves acquired Bob Wickman from Cleveland yesterday for minor league catcher Max Rodriguez. It looks as if Wickman will move into the closer role, with Ken Ray serving as the setup man. Wickman had a 4.18 ERA in 29 games for the Indians, notching 15 saves this year. Backing up Wickman in the pen are righties Ray, Jorge Sosa, Oscar Villarreal, Kevin Barry, Chad Paronto, Tyler Yates and lefty Macay McBride. Ken Ray has been great, allowing just 30 hits in 43 2/3 innings. Paronto and Yates have also been good. Villarreal has allowed 53 hits in 48 2/3, including nine home runs. Sosa, probably not a Cox favorite at this point, was moved to the pen after struggling as a starter and has had a bad year. Barry has only thrown 10 2/3 innings. McBride has been getting out lefties but righties are hitting .300 against him.
Cory Lidle (6-7, 5.02) faces righty John Smoltz (7-5, 3.41) tonight in the series opener. In his last three starts, Smoltz is 3-0 and has allowed four earned runs in 21 innings. He struck out 23 and walked two. He last pitched on Saturday and threw seven scoreless innings against the Padres. He hasn't allowed more than three runs in his last eight starts. Cory Lidle is 2-0 in his last two outings, giving up six runs in 11 2/3 on 14 hits and five walks. He also last pitched on Saturday. He went 5 2/3 innings against the Giants, allowing four earned runs on eight hits.
Brett Myers (6-3, 3.77) faces lefty pussballer Chuck James (4-0, 3.72) tomorrow in a late afternoon game. James has gotten four starts with the Braves, going 4-0 while allowing 12 earned runs in 25 innings (4.32 ERA). He's allowed seven home runs in just 36 1/3 innings. Righties are hitting just .200 against him, and lefties .321, but six of the home runs have come off the bats of righties. He last pitched Monday in San Diego, giving up five runs in five innings. Myers will be making his first start at home following his leave of absence from the team. He started on Sunday in San Francisco, striking out seven in seven innings and holding the Giants to just two runs on five hits. Both of the runs came on home runs, and he's allowed five in his last 21 1/3 innings.
Cole Hamels (2-4, 5.36) faces another lefty, Horacio Ramirez (5-3, 4.39), on Sunday night. Ramirez got bombed in a start against the Reds on July 7, giving up seven runs in an inning. He's had one start since then, going five innings against the Cardinals on Monday and allowing just a run on two hits. The lone St Louis run came on a Jim Edmonds solo shot, but Ramirez has allowed just four home runs in 55 1/3 innings after surrendering 31 homers in 2005. He's given up 62 hits. Hamels last pitched on Monday against the Padres in San Diego, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing three runs. He gave up two home runs in that game. Over his last two starts he's struck out 13 in 10 2/3.
Ryan Madson (8-7, 6.25) faces righty Tim Hudson (7-8, 4.95) on Monday. Hudson is on a pace to post an ERA above 3.53 for the first time in six years and just the second time in his career. He's been charged with at least four earned runs in each of his last seven starts. In that time he's gone 1-4 and his ERA went from 3.79 to 4.95. He last pitched on Tuesday against the Cardinals and got the win, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing five runs on seven hits. Ryan Madson has had an awful year in the Phillies rotation. He's allowed 12 earned runs in his last 10 1/3 innings over two starts, yielding 18 hits. He's allowed 120 hits in 90 2/3 innings and righties are hitting .349 against him. He has a 6.61 ERA as a starter and a 3.48 ERA as a reliever (just 10 1/3 innings) after a solid year in the pen in '05, so the Phillies' insistence to use him in the rotation when he keeps getting shelled may be a double-whammy, they get his horrid starts and lose his excellent contribution out of the pen. How 'bout a little Ryan Franklin? Scott Mathieson? Eude Brito? Matt White? Clay Condrey? Brian Mazone? Robinson Tejada? Vincente Padilla? Bueller? The Phillies are obviously trying to develop Madson as a starter, they have been all year, and it came at a huge cost for the team. Hopefully they don't destroy him as a reliever in the process.