After playing twenty games in twenty days, the Phillies have only played twice in the last 5 days. It was a much needed rest for a battered veteran team but the hottest team in baseball could risk losing all of the momentum they had gained over the last month. Is it better for a team to have rest and some rust or to continue playing game after game while keeping their momentum. That is a question that will never really be answered and it will be debated by many for years to come. Regardless of having 2 straight days off, the Phillies are not going to lose the immense talent Ruben and Company has assembled. Tonight the Phillies start a three game series at the Bank with the NL West leading Diamondbacks.
Over the last two days, many of the Philly Phaithful has been complaining of headaches. The reason for this is the withdrawal of not being able to watch our Phightin’s for a number of days. For the diehard phans, an off day can be challenging to get through, but the rainout on Sunday forced us to go two long days without being able to watch our team. As you already should know, this team is playing exceptional baseball right now. Many former players, experts and even some current rivals are praising this Phillies team and saying they are not only the best in baseball but one of the best teams we have seen in the last number of years.
The Phightin’s enter the series with the D-Backs with a 78-41 record and are 8.5 games (10 in the loss column) above the Braves. There only concern right now is trying to stay healthy as Placido Polanco is out with a sports hernia. He has said he will try to play thought the injury but his return is unknown. It is possible that he could return as soon as this series but there is a possibility he might not return for another month. Cole Hamels underwent an MRI following his start on Friday night. After the game, the team said that he had a dead arm and it was something he would work through. The results of the MRI are still unknown to the public and there is a possibility he will miss his next scheduled start on Friday night.
Meet the Diamondbacks
Arizona has been one of the surprise teams in baseball this season. After finishing with just 65 wins a year ago, many experts felt that they were still a few years away from contending. But they have not only hung around as the season enters the home stretch, they seem to be playing there best ball of the season. They are currently 68-53 and have a 2.5 game lead over the Giants. The D-Backs have won 7 of their last 10 games and 6 straight.
They are currently 7th in the majors in runs scored, 7th in homeruns and 18th in batting average. Their offensive numbers might be skewed slightly because of the way the balls fly out of their home ball park. The main force in their lineup and their best player is 23 year outfielder Justin Upton. He enters the series batting .306 with a 25 homeruns and 75 RBI’s. There pitching has been decent but not great, they are 20th in ERA, 20TH in BAA and their starters are just 19th in quality starts. The Arizona starting staff is lead by former Yankees prospect and current Cy Young contender Ian Kennedy. The 26 year old righty will pitch on Thursday night against the Phillies Vance Worley.
Tuesday August 16, 7:05: RHP Roy Halladay vs. RHP Josh Collmenter
Halladay was scheduled to pitch the finale against the Nationals on Sunday afternoon but the rain has pushed his start back to tonight against the D-Backs. Doc has quietly put together another terrific season and is the right in the middle of the Cy Young race. For some reason he seems to almost be lost in the shuffle at times on this team. Hamels is the home grown and blossoming pitcher, Lee took less money to return to Philly and then there is Doc who just quietly goes about his business and pitches lights out. It’s hard to imagine that the best pitcher in baseball might be under appreciated but I truly believe he is. Doc is currently 15-4 with a 2.51 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP so far this season. So far this season in 13 home starts, Halladay is 8-1 with a 2.26 ERA. He has made three career starts versus Arizona, in those games he is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA.
Doc will be opposed by the 25 year old righty Josh Collmenter. He was drafted in the 15th round by Arizona in the 2007 entry draft and is pitching in his first season with the big club. He has pitched very well so far this season even while pitching his home games in a very hitter’s friendly park. The 25 year old was not listed in Baseball America’s top ten prospects in their system over the last 3 seasons but they did list him as having the best changeup in the system in 2010. According to fangraphs.com, he features a fastball that averages 87.3, a changeup and occasionally throws a curveball. Collmenter is 7-7 with a 3.51 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. He faced the Phillies earlier this season when he was pitching in the bullpen; he pitched 1 inning and didn’t allow a hit or a run while striking out one Phillies hitter.
Wednesday August 16, 7:05: LHP Cliff Lee vs. LHP Joe Saunders
The Phillies should send out a warning to the rest of the National League that Cliff Lee is on another one of his crazy stretches of starts we he is practically unhittable. It seems the lefty goes through stretches were he looks mediocre and then he turns it on and pitches like he is Danny Almonte in a little league game. The only thing is that Lee is not too old for the league and he is pitching against the best players in the world. He has not given up a run in his last two starts and would have pitched a second consecutive complete game shutout if his pitch count hadn’t been so high. He is currently 12-7 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. In his press conference after signing with the Phillies in the offseason, he mentioned that playing in Citizens Bank Park and playing in front of the most passionate fans in the world as a major reason for his return. The stats so far this season would back that up; in his home starts he is 8-2 with a 2.26 ERA. Clifton has pitched in 3 games against the D-Backs, in those games he is 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA. Current Diamondbacks hitters are a combined 17-63 (.270) while facing Lee during their careers.
The Diamondbacks will send their own veteran lefty the hill on Wednesday night to oppose the streaking Lee. Sadly for them, is our lefty is a lot better. Joe Saunders has been a decent pitcher over his career, but he is far from an elite pitcher in the game. He made his debut with the Angels before joining Arizona midway through last season. Despite having a career ERA north of 4, he is 17 games above .500 for his career. Saunders is currently 8-9 with a 3.76 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP so in 24 starts this season. He started a game against the Phillies earlier this season and didn’t have a lot of success. Saunders lasted just 5.2 innings while allowing 6 runs on 10 hits. In his three starts against the Phillies during his career, he is 1-1 with a 4.58 ERA. He has made 2 starts at the Bank during his career, in those games he is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA. Current Phillies hitters are a combined 28-93 (.301) while facing Saunders during their careers.
Thursday August 18, 7:05: RHP Vance Worley vs. RHP Ian Kennedy
Much of the praise for the success and turnaround of this ball club goes to star Justin Upton and manager Kirk Gibson, but a lot of the praise needs to be directed at Ian Kennedy. The 26 year old has been the team’s ace this season and one of the best pitchers in the game. He gives this young team some stability and a guy they can look to if and when they go into a losing streak. A number one type of pitcher is vital to the success of any ball club. He is currently 15-3 with a 3.12 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. His ERA might be a tad high to allow him to move ahead of Halladay, Hamels and Kershaw in the Cy Young race. But the fact that he is even in the discussion is remarkable. In his first full season of starting, he went just 8-9 with a 3.80 ERA. There were not many people who predicted he would have the kind of season he is currently having. In his last starts against the Phillies, he pitched a shutout as the D-Backs defeated the Phillies 4-0. He has made 2 career starts against the Phightin’s; in those games he is 1-0 with a 1.06 ERA. Current Phillies hitters are a combined 9-58 (.155) while facing Kennedy during their careers.
If the Diamondbacks win the National League West, there is a very good chance that they will be the Phillies first round opponent. Way back in April, they gave the Phillies their first losing streak of the season and handed them their first series loss of the season. The Phillies are a much different team than they were back in April; they were playing without the services of Chase Utley and obviously hadn’t acquired Hunter Pence (#letsgoeat). A series win would saw Arizona that they can’t play with this team and that they wouldn’t have a chance in the postseason. The Phillies will send their 1 and 2 pitchers to the hill in the 1st two games and should have the advantage in both games. But the third game doesn’t look to be very easy as the recently struggling Vance Worley will face Arizona’s best pitcher. I predict the Phillies take two of 3 from the Diamondbacks and allow them to keep their led over the Giants in the division.