The Phillies won their 4th straight series of the year behind Cliff Lee’s brilliant performance last night. Lee struck out 5 straight Nationals at one point during the game; during that stretch his curveball was unhittable. He struck out 12 while only walking one and somehow managed to throw only 99 pitches on route to a complete game shutout. Nationals Pitcher Jordan Zimmerman was Perfect through 5 but in the top of the 6th Chooch greeted him with a solo home run to break up the perfect game, no-hitter and shutout with one swing of the bat. The Phillies went on to win the game 3-0. They are now 1-3 in the opening game of series but 8-0 in the remaining games.
Their hot bats have cooled off a bit in the recent games but their pitching has stepped up its play. Over their last 4 starts, Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels are 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 31 strikeouts! Halladay and Lee were the first Phillie starters to pitch complete games in back to back games since Curt Schilling and Paul Byrd did it in 1999.
“I hope Roy does it every day before me, too, but that’s what I’m going to try to do. Just because he threw a complete game it isn’t like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do that, too.”’Cliff Lee said, “I want to be a guy who throws complete games every time. That’s not really realistic, but going into each game, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
“Nowadays, that’s kind of rare,” Charlie Manuel added “You don’t see that too many times nowadays, so we’re very happy with our pitching.”
The Phillies come home after a successful 4-2 road trip against their division foes. Their 9-3 record is the 2nd best in all of baseball, just one game off the Rockies hot 10-2 start. They now have a 2 game lead in the National League East. Being able to send a great pitcher to the mound almost every game will make a prolonged losing streak very difficult and should translate into a high win total at the end of the year. Tonight they open a 3 game set against the Florida Marlins. The Marlins are off to a strong start and are second in the East with a 7-5 record. They are coming off of a series win against the Braves and a 2 game winning streak. The Phillies catch a slight break in the pitching matchup’s because the Marlins Ace Josh Johnson will not pitch in the series. The Marlins are also fortunate enough to miss to Doc and Lee but they will still have to face the backend of the Aces in Oswalt and Hamels.
Phillies: Ryan Howard
The Big Man has cooled off a bit after his strong start. After 5 games, he was hitting an astounding .524 but his average has dipped to just .304 after some recent struggles. Howard still remains third in baseball with 13 RBI’s and has had a great start to the season. He has had a lot of success against he Fish during his career and tonight’s starting pitcher Javier Vazquez. In 95 games against the Marlins, Howard has 29 homeruns and 80 RBI’s while batting .310. Against Vasquez he is even better; in just 15 at bats Howard has hit 3 home runs while batting .333. During the series, the Marlins will start a right hander in each of the 3 games. So Howard will see a lot of at bats against a right handed pitcher in this series and should have the opportunity to do a lot of damage.
Marlins: Hanley Ramirez
I don’t always like to pick the team’s best player as the key player but I think Ramirez warrants the pick. The Marlins have gotten off to strong start despite a slow start by Hanley. He his hitting just .256 and has yet to go yard this season. During his career he has scored 58 runs against the Phillies while driving in 32 more. He also has had success against tonight starter; against Oswalt he has 3 homeruns in 28 at bats while batting .393.
Friday April 15 7:05: Roy Oswalt vs. Javier Vasquez
Oswalt is coming off a strong start against the Braves on Saturday and has been the team’s 2nd best pitcher so far this season. Roy has had limited success against the Fish during his career. In 14 games he 6-4 with a 3.77 ERA. In a Phillies uniform he has similar results, in 2 games last season he went 1-0 with a 4.05 ERA. But Oswalt’s career numbers as a Phillie have been ridiculous and his numbers at the Bank are even better. In 11 regular season starts at Citizens Bank Park, he is 10-0 with a 1.03 ERA.
Some thought that Vazquez would have a bounce back season coming back to the National League. So far that hasn’t been the case. In his 2 starts this season he is 1-1 with 8.64 ERA. During his long career, the 34 year old has made 28 starts against the Phillies. In those starts he is 12-8 with a 4.27 ERA. His numbers at the Bank are even worse, in just 4 starts he is 1-2 with 6.08 ERA. He is not the same pitcher he was with the Braves 2 years ago and doesn’t have the same velocity he used to have. According to FanGraphs.com, he has lost over 2 MPH on his fastball since his days with the Braves.
Saturday April 16 7:05: Cole Hamels vs. Anibal Sanchez
Cole’s performance on Sunday is exactly what he and the fan base needed. He was back to dominate ways against the Braves, as he went 7 innings and didn’t allow a run. Cole seemed to allude that the temperature might have been the difference in his first 2 starts. He pitched poorly on a cold and windy night in Philadelphia but looked great on a balmy afternoon in Atlanta. Unfortunately the forecast doesn’t look great for tomorrow as it looks to be a chilly and rainy day. Cole has had mixed results against the Fish in his career. In 15 starts he is 4-7 with a 3.73 ERA. But he was brilliant against them last season only allowing 3 runs in 21.2 innings of work.
Sanchez is another Marlins pitcher who is off to a slow start and has not had success in his career against the Phillies. He is 0-1 so far this season with a 6.97 ERA. Anibal has made 11 starts against the Phils and is just 3-7 with a 5.93 ERA in those games. If you think those numbers are bad, his numbers at Citizens Bank Park are even worse. In 7 starts at the Bank, he is 1-5 with an 8.73 ERA. In his last 2 starts in Philly, he has given up 12 runs in just 10 innings.
Sunday April 17 1:35: Joe Blanton vs. Chris Volstad
Blanton needs a good start on Sunday or the boo birds might be all over him. So far this season Blanton has pitched well to start the game, only to have the start derailed by a poor inning. His problem has been his inability to stop the bleeding and prevent the opposition from putting up crooked numbers. But there is good news for Blanton. He has claimed the problem is in his mechanics and is fixable and he has had a lot of success against the Marlins in his career. In 8 starts he is 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA. If he is able to pitch well, it will lighten the mood of the fans that have tickets to Sunday’s game and don’t get to see Doc, Lee, Roy or Cole.
At 6-8, Volstad is a giant on the mound. It’s just too bad that hasn’t translated in to a lot of success. The giant righty has a career ERA of 4.50 and hasn’t yet warranted his first round selection in the 2005 draft. So far this season, he is 0-1 with a 5.59 ERA. Volstad hasn’t pitched to well against the Phillies either, in 10 starts he is 2-3 with a 4.45 ERA. Like his fellow pitchers, he hasn’t had a lot of success at the Bank either. In 5 starts, he is 2-0 but has a mediocre 5.11 ERA.
Once again, the Phillies dominate the pitching matchups on paper. Both team’s 1 and 2 starters will not pitch in this series and the Phillies obviously have a much deeper rotation. The Marlins have a lot of young talent in their lineup and a solid starting staff. I think he Phillies will break their 3 game opening game losing streak on the arm of Country Roy. Saturday’s weather forecast doesn’t look good right now and it looks like the game might not be played. This is another series against a division opponent where the Phillies can cement themselves as the beast of the NL East. The Phillies need to come out and show the Fish that they don’t have a chance at winning the division. After reluctantly predicting a sweep in the last series, I’m going to do it once again. I just don’t see Vasquez, Sanchez or Volstad pitching well enough to win a game. If Johnson were starting a game, it might be a different prediction, but fortunately he is not. It may end up being just a two game series, but I predict that the Phillies will put their foot down and sweep the Fish out of town!