Being able to take the rubber game in a series can separate the contenders from the pretenders over the course of the season. Yesterday the Phillies took the rubber game from the Mets and did so with an exclamation point. Doc and 2 relievers combined to pitch a shutout and the bats hammered the Mets pitching to a tune of 11 runs. All the talk during spring training was focused on the injury to Chase Utley and the critics started to wonder how this team would score runs. They said we would start the season without our 3 and 5 hitters from last season and the rest of the lineup was getting old.
It’s just a small sample size, but the offense looks more than capable through the first 6 games of the season. The Phillies “old” lineup has scored 43 runs so far; their potent lineup last year also scored 43 runs through 6 games.
“It’s better than I expected,” Charlie Manuel said. “But at the same time, we played six games. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s best not to talk about it and let it happen.”
After taking two of three games from their hated rivals, they are now 5-1 and are first in the division. They head to Atlanta to begin a 3 games series with the media’s spring training darling. The Braves started the season taking 2 of 3 against the Nats and won the first game against the Brewers. But after their 3-1 start they have lost 3 games in arrow and are now just 3-4. The Braves enter the series with a 2.75 team ERA, which is 3rd best in all of baseball. The reason for their slow start is the lack of hitting. As a team they are hitting just .226 and are averaging just 3.43 runs per game. Just two of their regulars are hitting over .250 and their rookie 1b Freddie Freeman has just 3 hits in 23 at bats. Despite the slow start the Braves have a very good staff and a dangerous lineup. The Braves have a starting staff who can at least hang with the Phillies aces but the Phillies seem to have at least a slight edge in the pitching match-ups this weekend.
Friday April 8 7:35: Cliff Lee vs. Tim Hudson
In Lee’s return on Saturday night he seemed to shut down the entire Houston lineup except the other Lee. He pitched 7 strong innings giving up 3 runs on 4 hits while striking out 11. Carlos Lee had 2 of the 4 hits versus Cliff and drove in all 3 runs. Cliff doesn't have great career numbers against the Braves in the few times he faced him. In just 3 starts he is 1-1 with a 5.06 ERA. But he is 1-0 in 2 starts with a 2.45 ERA at Turner Field. Since Lee has spent most of his career in the AL, Atlanta hitters don’t have a lot of at bats against him. Alex Gonzalez has faced him the most but has just 12 at bats against him.
Hudson was in the running for the Cy Young last season until he had a poor September but he still managed a 17-9 record with a 2.83 ERA. He was very impressive in his season debut against Washington as he went 7 innings and only gave up one run on 3 hits. This will be Hudson’s 19th career start against the Phillies. In those 19 starts he has gone 6-7 with a 3.79 ERA. Last year he made 3 starts against the Phils going 2-1 with an identical 3.79 ERA. Howard has had 41 at bats against Hudson and is hitting .341 with 6 homeruns and 12 RBI’s.
Saturday April 9 1:10: Roy Oswalt vs. Brandon Beachy
Country Roy pitched very well in his first start of the season against his former team. He went 6 innings giving up 2 runs on five hits leading the Phils to the series sweep versus the Astros. Saying Oswalt has struggled facing the Braves during his career is a bit of an understatement. In 8 starts he is 0-3 with a 6.21 ERA. His numbers at Turner Field are even worse, in 5 starts he is 0-1 with a 7.06 ERA. But did have success against the Braves is in only start against them in a Phillies uniform. Last September he received a no decision but pitched 7 scoreless innings only giving up 1 hit while striking out 8 batters.
Beachy was able to win a spot in the rotation with an impressive spring. He pitched well in his first start of the season against the Brewers going 6 innings only allowing 1 run on 4 hits. The 24 year old righty has made just 4 career starts but 2 of them have been against the Phillies. In those two starts he is 0-2 but has just a 2.70 ERA. He gave up 7 runs but only 3 of them were earned. Beachy is winless so far in his brief career but has more than held in own in those 4 starts.
Sunday April 10 1:35: Cole Hamels vs. Derrick Lowe
Tuesday night’s game was brutal for Phillies fans, it was cold and windy and Hamels couldn’t seem to get any one out. He lasted just 2 and 2/3 innings allowing 6 runs on 7 hits on route to the Phillies 1st loss of the young season. Hamels left the game receiving numerous boo’s from the freezing Philly Phaithful and Sunday’s start will be huge for the young lefty. He had a rough end to the spring and a slow start could shake his confidence. Hamels isn’t going to surprise Atlanta with anything as he has made 19 starts against them. He has had okay results going 9-5 with a 3.95 ERA. He has had similar numbers at Turner Field, in 9 starts he is 4-3 with a 4.44 ERA.
2010 was mostly a down year for Derrick Lowe, but he was one of best pitchers in baseball in September last season. He has taken that momentum into the start of this season. He has already made two starts and has only given up 1 run 11.2 innings. Lowe is not a stranger to the Phillies as he has pitched in 18 games against them recording 7 wins and 2 saves and a 3.21 ERA. But Lowe didn’t have a lot of success against the Phillies last season; in 4 starts he went 1-3 with a 5.04 ERA.
The series is perhaps more important to the Braves has a poor series could leave them with a lot of ground to make up in the divsion. The Phillies would leave Atlanta ahead of them if they just take one game but they would love to send an early message that the division is still there’s. The key player for Phillies in the series is going to be leadoff man Shane Victorino. He has had a slow start to the season but has hit very well at Turner Field. He has a .301 batting average in 43 games there with 26 runs scored and 19 RBI’s. The Key player for the Braves is going to newly acquired Dan Uggla. The Braves will face 2 lefties in the series and the right hand hitting Uggla will need to produce for the Braves to be successful. It is just the 2nd week of the season but the series could set the early tone for the division. The teams are too evenly matched on paper to expect a sweep from either team but I predict the Phillies will take 2 of the 3 games.