It's all right there for
the Phillies. Their first playoff appearance since 1993 is close enough to
touch. Thirteen games left and one back in the hunt for the Wild
Card. Six of their next ten against the Cubs and the Nationals.
While the best players for the Phillies may be young, the team's elder statesman has picked it up in the last two days, both on and off the field. After ripping two home runs and a double against the Astros yesterday, Mike Lieberthal became the only Philly I remember to say that the team will make the playoffs. Not should or could or might. Will.
Maybe. Maybe they will. Maybe he believes that. Or maybe he's trying to show the future of the team, Utley and Howard and Hamels, what the team needs them to do in more ways than one. The Phillies have a long way to go. The Wild Card standings show them behind just the Dodgers, but the Padres and the Dodgers look likely to battle to the end with little separating them. Over the last 13 games the Phillies need to outplay one of them. It's nice to know that there's a least one Philly who believes they can.
The Phillies return home tonight to host the Chicago Cubs, who will be in Philadelphia for the first of three. The Phillies come in at 77-72 and in second place in the NL East, 13 1/2 games behind the Mets. The Mets have still not clinched the division, losing three in a row to keep their magic number at one. With 13 games remaining on their schedule, the Phillies are one back in the Wild Card hunt, now trailing the Dodgers as the Padres have taken over the lead in the NL West. The next closest team behind the Phillies is the Giants, who are 3 1/2 back -- the playoff chances for the Giants remain alive by the very slimmest of margins. The Cubs are struggling through a horrible season, they come in at 61-89, which is the worst record in the National League.
The series features the NL's best offense against its worst. The Phillies have scored the most runs in the NL, the Cubs the least. The pitching for both teams has been miserable, although the Phillies starters have been solid of late. On the year the Phillies have allowed the third-most runs in the league while the Cubs have allowed the second-most runs in the league. Chicago pitchers have issued the most walks in the league, 52 more than the Pirates, who have walked the second-most in the league. Paced by Carlos Zambrano, Cubs pitchers have struck out the most batters.
As awful as the year has been for the Cubs it got a little worse yesterday when Derrek Lee announced that he would be leaving the team for the rest of the season to be with his family. His three-year-old daughter has lost vision in one of her eyes.
Catcher Michael Barrett has been out since early September with intrascrotal hematoma. Look it up if you want, but it's not much better than it sounds. It means bleeding inside of the scrotum. He had surgery and may be able to play again this season, although it may not be in the next three days.
Forgetting what events like these do for a club off of the field, on the field it creates tremendous problems for the Cubs. At the end of August they traded Phil Nevin to the Twins, leaving them without a lot of solid options at first base with Lee now gone. In their last two games Henry Blanco has played first and Geovany Soto has done the catching. The 35-year-old Blanco has never on-based .330 or slugged .400 in a season when he had more than 10 at-bats. Soto is 23 and hit 282/353/386 in 342 at-bats at Triple-A in the PCL this season.
The loss of Lee leaves Aramis Ramirez (289/351/545) alone as the heart of the Cubs offense. He leads the team in home runs (33) and RBI (103). There's not a whole lot of reasons to pitch to him. Righty Matt Murton often hits behind him (295/360/438), but the Phillies have generally handled him. Murton is 4-for-12 with a home run against the Phils this year. The home run came off of Myers after Brett had already thrown seven shutout innings against the Cubs that game on August 23. Lefty Jacque Jones (285/330/501) often hits behind Murton, and he's hit the Phillies hard this year, 6-for-11 with a double and a home run. Jones can't hit lefties at all, this year (230/254/429) or over his career (227/274/351), so look for Fultz and Smith or even Castro coming in to deal to him if Geary and White can get through Ramirez and Murton in a tight game. With so few good sticks in the Cubs lineup these days, it seems important to make sure Jones doesn't get to hit against a righty in a big spot.
Jon Lieber (8-9, 4.87) faces lefty Sean Marshall (5-9, 5.34) tonight. Marshall has made 22 starts for the Cubs this year, giving up more than a hit an inning while allowing 18 home runs and 54 walks in 116 1/3 innings. Over his last two starts he's gone 7 2/3 innings, giving up 12 runs on 13 hits. Only eight of the runs were earned. His last start came on Tuesday against the Dodgers. He went 3 2/3 innings, allowing seven runs on six hits and four walks. Just three of the runs were earned. He just turned 24 and this will be his first appearance against the Phillies. Lieber had another good outing his last start. Against the Braves on Wednesday, he went 7 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits without allowing a walk. In his last two starts he's 2-0 and five of the six runs he's allowed came on home runs. After going 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.12 ratio in August, he's 2-0 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.11 ratio in September.
Jamie Moyer (8-14, 4.38) faces righty Wade Miller (0-1, 6.75) tomorrow night. Miller has pitched in just two games this season after shoulder surgery last winter. In his two starts he's given up three home runs in eight innings while walking eight. His second start was much better than his first. On Thursday he pitched against the Dodgers and went five innings, allowing just one earned run on one hit, which was a home run. All three of the home runs he's allowed, and six of the walks, have come against lefties. Moyer will be making his sixth start for the Phillies, with the team he's 2-2 with a 4.32 ERA. His last start was Thursday in Atlanta. He went six innings, allowing four runs on five hits. All of the runs he allowed came on home runs, a three-run shot by Martin Prado and a solo homer by Andruw Jones. Just one his five starts for the Phillies have come at home, and he surrendered two home runs in that outing.
Brett Myers (11-6, 4.04) faces righty Juan Mateo (1-3, 4.38) on Wednesday. Mateo will be 24 in December and has appeared in nine games for the Cubs, eight of which he started. His most recent start came on Friday against the Reds, and he left with back stiffness after throwing three no-hit innings. Opponents have hit .289 against him, but he's only allowed more than four runs in an outing once this season. He's struck out 30 in 39 innings. Myers hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his last five starts. He last pitched on Friday against Houston and got the win, allowing three runs on five hits over seven innings. He allowed two home runs that day, which accounted for all of the Houston scoring. Over his last five starts he's 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA and he's taken a loss in just one of his last nine starts.