The Phillies blow into the Windy City with a chance to push past .500 in a four-game set with the Cubs. For the first time in a long time the Phillies rotation is looking mostly solid and the offense is certainly doing its part, pounding out 23 runs in the last two games.
The Phillies come in at 61-62, in second place in the NL East and 14 games behind the Mets. They are 2 1/2 games out in the Wild Card and trail the Reds, Diamondbacks and Padres. They Cubs are a miserable 53-70 and in fifth place in the NL Central, 13 games behind the division-leading Cardinals.
The Phillies have scored the most runs in the National League. The Cubs are last in runs scored and also last in on-base percentage. Only two teams in the NL have allowed more runs than the Phillies, only four have allowed more than the Cubs. The Cubs pitchers have gone to extremes this year that would make Billy Joel proud -- they have allowed the fewest hits in the league and struck out the most batters but allowed the most walks and the second most home runs.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez (280/343/550) leads the Cubs in home runs (30) and RBI (84). He's joined in the infield by Ronny Cedeno (250/275/338) and Cesar Izturis (249/302/328). With Derek Lee still out, Phil Nevin (234/315/439) and John Mabry (223/311/350) share time at first base. Things are bleak when the second best on-base percentage in your infield is .315.
The outfield is pretty bleak itsownself. Matt Murton (296/358/427) leads that group with a .358 on-base percentage, but Jacque Jones (275/312/481) and Juan Pierre (288/332/391) aren't helping their team out much with the bat. Pierre has stolen 43 bases, which is second best in the NL.
Michael Barrett (327/391/548) has had a nice year but was hurt in a collision at the plate on Friday. He should be back for the series. Henry Blanco (240/292/440), who seems more comfortable with the Cubs policy of avoiding baserunners, backs him up.
Righty Ryan Dempster closes for the Cubs, backed up by righties Bob Howry, Roberto Novoa, Mike Wuertz, David Aardasma and lefty Will Ohman. Dempster has recorded 24 saves but lefties have pounded him, hitting .316 against him while.177. Howry has been solid, allowing just 54 hits in 60 innings, but Aardasma has been hit hard, giving up eight home runs in just 30 1/3 innings. Wuertz came up from Triple-A at the end of July and has thrown just 19 1/3 innings. Novoa was just called up on Tuesday. Scott Eyre is on the DL, leaving Will Ohman as the top lefty in the pen. He's allowed just 44 hits in 51 2/3 innings this year but walked 23. He's tough against lefties, who are hitting just .171 against him.
Jon Lieber (5-9, 5.10) faces lefty Rich Hill (3-5, 6.90) tonight. With the possible exception of Pat Burrell, nobody associated with the Phillies gets real excited with the prospect of facing left-handed pitching. If you gotta face one, though, it might as well be a guy with a 6.90 ERA who lefties are hitting .387 against. Hill has made eight starts for the Cubs, but his last appearance came in relief last Tuesday in Houston. He threw two scoreless innings and got the win in a game the Cubs won in 18 innings. On the year he's walked 26 in 44 1/3 innings. Lieber looks like he has finally come around, allowing just three earned runs on 16 hits in 24 innings over his last three starts. I don't think Lieber is likely to throw to a 1.13 ERA for the rest of his starts, but I do think he will continue to pitch well for the rest of the season.
Jaime Moyer (6-12, 4.39) makes his first start for the Phillies tomorrow night against lefty Ryan O'Malley (1-0, 0.00). O'Malley is 26 and has appeared in one game, making his debut last Wednesday against the Astros. He threw eight shutout innings, allowing five hits and six walks. He had a 4.08 ERA at Triple-A and struck out 71 in 123 2/3 innings while allowing 135 hits, so there's going to be a lot of surprised folks out there if he continues to dominate for more than another 24 hours or so. Moyer will get his first start for a National League team since 1991 -- it should be fun to watch him bat if nothing else (158/223/169 in 177 at-bats for his career). In his last two starts Moyer is 0-2 and has allowed eight runs on 17 hits over 12 2/3 innings -- if those aren't the numbers of the guy destined to pitch the Phillies to playoff glory I don't know what are.
Brett Myers (8-6, 4.40) faces righty Carlos Marmol (5-6, 5.65) on Wednesday. Marmol has made 13 starts for the Cubs, walking a ridiculous 55 batters in 71 2/3 innings. Carlos Zambrano leads the NL in walks, he's given up 98 in 177 2/3 innings or about 4.96 per nine innings. Marmol is walking about 6.91 per nine innings. He's allowed just 64 hits but 12 of them have gone for home runs. The Phillies are a long shot to make the playoffs, but one thing I can tell you for sure is they aren't winning anything with Brett Myers pitching like Charlie Brown. Over his last three starts he's gone 14 innings, allowing 15 runs on 23 hits. After holding opponents to a .237 average against him in '05, they are hitting .271 against him this season. Over his last four starts he's allowed at least four runs in every start and hasn't gone more than six innings in any outing.
Cole Hamels (6-6, 4.40) goes against righty Carlos Zambrano (13-5, 3.34) on Thursday afternoon. Over his last two starts Zambrano has allowed two runs on ten hits in 15 innings. He last pitched on Saturday against the Cardinals and went seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits and two walks. Opponents are hitting .206 against him and righties just .155, so I see a day off for Burrell on Thursday if Dellucci's quad is ready to go. As mentioned above Zambrano leads the league in walks, but his 4.96 walks per nine innings is the best of any of the four Cubs starters in the series. Take. Cole Hamels has been awesome of late, going 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA in his last five starts while striking out 41 in 34 1/3 innings. He hasn't walked more than two batters in a start in his last nine outings.