The Phillies will be in
Atlanta tonight for the first of a three-game series. The Phils come in at
72-71 and in third place in the NL East. They trail the Mets by 16 games
and are a half game behind the Florida Marlins. In the hunt for the Wild
Card, the Phillies are 2 1/2 games behind the Padres and again trail the
Marlins by a half game with 19 games remaining. If the Padres
were to go .500 in their remaining 20 games, they would finish the season at
84-74. The Phillies would need to go 12-7 in the games they have left to
tie them, and still would have to outplay the Marlins and the Giants to make
the playoffs. The Giants have moved into a Wild Card tie with the Phillies
with an identical 72-71 record.
Both the Braves and Phillies have had a good offense and struggled with their pitching this year. The Phillies have scored the most runs in the National League, the Braves have scored the third-most. Phillies pitchers have allowed the fourth-most runs, while Braves pitchers have allowed the sixth-most.
The teams last met earlier this month when they split two double-headers in two days on September 2 and 3. Both of the games the Phillies lost they lost in dramatic fashion. The first game was lost after Arthur Rhodes, who now appears lost to the Phillies for the season, surrendered a two-run home run in the top of the ninth to Adam LaRoche, giving the Braves a 4-3 lead. The second loss in the series came after Carlos Ruiz threw Pete Orr's bunt into left field in the top of the 11th and the Braves went on to win 3-1.
Rhodes's season with the Phillies was a disaster and his loss chipped a great big hole in the middle of Charlie Manuel's playbook. Manuel is no doubt searching high and low for a mason to fix it, cause it appears for all the world to have been written in stone. With Rhodes gone for the year, Manuel is going to need to trot somebody else out there in the eighth, and I can't imagine who it's going to be. Geary and Fultz seem to be the guys he has faith in, although Fultz has been awful and making him the eighth inning guy would be a disaster. Madson seems like a candidate. There only seem to be two other guys he's willing to regularly put into a game, Rick White and Matt Smith. I can't imagine we'll see White in the eighth and I think Smith lacks the experience Manuel looks for in a guy who gets battered near the end of a game. Not necessarily in the eighth, but if we're voting about how to deal with the pen I still vote for more of the guys we don't usually see -- Condrey, Castro and even Sanches and Brito. They may get shelled but at least it will look different. At least with them you wouldn't have to worry on every pitch that they're about to suffer a season-ending injury, which is about where I am with Geary, Fultz and Gordon at this point.
For the Braves, Chipper Jones continue to struggle with problems with his oblique after he reinjured his side against the Phillies on September 3. He may play some time this week, but it looks unlikely he will see much time against the Phillies. Andruw Jones didn't play on Sunday due to a sore back, but played in Monday's games against the Cubs. Adam LaRoche was out yesterday with a strained hamstring and is day-to-day.
Randy Wolf (3-0, 4.97) faces righty Kyles Davies (2-5, 7.56) tonight. Over his last three starts, Davies has gone 9 1/3 innings, allowing 18 earned runs on 24 hits. One of those starts came against the Phillies. On September 2 the Phillies battered him for seven runs on ten hits in 2 1/3 innings on their way to a 16-4 win. Lieby hit a two-run homer off of Davies that day. Righties are hitting .340 against Davies on the year. Wolf last pitched in Houston on Wednesday, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks over six innings. He hasn't allowed a home run in his last two starts. In seven of his eight starts he's allowed three or fewer runs. Righties are hitting .318 against him and lefties .037. He still hasn't shown he can consistently go deep into games, throwing six or fewer innings in seven of his eight starts. That's a big problem considering the current state of the Phillies pen.
Jon Lieber (7-9, 4.99) faces righty Tim Hudson (12-10, 4.85) tomorrow night. Hudson pitched on Friday against the Cubs, allowing four runs on six hits and two walks over six innings. Only one of the four runs was earned. He started one of the games in the Sunday, September 3 double-header against the Phillies and went seven innings, allowing six runs on six hits including three homers as the Phillies beat the Braves 8-7. Ryan Howard hit three bombs off of Hudson that game. Lieber pitched well after the first inning in his last start. It came against the Marlins on Thursday and he wound up going 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits after giving up three runs in the first inning. His resurgence has tailed off a bit of late. Over his last three starts he's allowed ten earned runs on 25 hits in 19 1/3 innings (4.65 ERA). No matter what he does in his last four or five starts, Lieber isn't going to be able to get his numbers for the '06 season down to the levels where they look respectable.
Jamie Moyer (8-13, 4.32) faces lefty Chuck James (9-3, 3.57) on Thursday night. James has been awesome of late, allowing two or fewer earned runs in seven consecutive starts. He last pitched on Saturday against the Cubs, allowing two earned runs over seven innings. Righties are hitting .212 against him and lefties .303. On the season, Burrell is 2-for-5 with two homers against him. Moyer is 2-1 with a 3.95 ERA for the Phillies after four starts. The best of the four starts came on his last outing, which came on Friday against the Marlins. Moyer got the win, going eight innings and allowing a single run on five hits and no walks. In his four starts with the Phils, Moyer has allowed two home runs and both of them came in his single appearance at home.
The Phillies need to win this series in a big way -- their playoff hopes are hanging on by a very thin thread. Burrell and Dellucci are both struggling horribly, and the Phillies need both of them. They need them really soon. The problem isn't where they're hitting in the batting order, it's that they're not hitting. They Phillies need them to hit. Over the last few games the best hitting corner outfielder on the Phillies has been Jeff Conine, and he just turned 40 and hit three home runs in 335 at-bats last season. The Phillies can't both get no offense from third base and no offense from their corner outfielders and expect to win. Even if the Phillies offense does spring back to life against the Braves, the pen is in tatters. Maybe the news guys, Smith and Castro especially, can do it. I don't know. I am pretty sure that Fultz, Geary and Gordon shouldn't be relied on for much longer.