Philadelphia phans have always had a strong dislike for anything that is Boston. The two cities have had a huge sports rivalry before most phans were even born. Whether it was the 76ers/Celtics battles in the early 80’s or the recent playoffs series between the Flyers and the Bruins or the super bowl between the Eagles and the Patriots (Foxborough but close enough), there is no love lost between Bean Town and the City of Brotherly Love. The Phillies and Red Sox never got the chance to have a rivalry until interleague play began a few years ago but the Red Sox are far from a popular team in Philadelphia.
Many people predicted that the Phillies and Red Sox would represent their respective leagues in the World Series in October. Now that we are almost through the 1st half of the season, both teams haven’t done anything to make people think any differently. The Phillies enter the series with a 49-30 record and are 5 games ahead of the Braves for first in the NL East. I may sound like a broken record because I think I mention this in every preview, but they still own the best record in all of baseball. But we all know that the season has been far from a smooth ride for the Phightin’s, their slumping bats have been at the front of all of the Phillies discussion. Their superb starting pitching has been able to carry them through the first half of the season.
Meet the Red Sox
The Red Sox came into the season with great expectations and they couldn’t’ have had a worse start to it. They started the season losing their first 6 games and 10 of their first 12. It was so bad that many of the “experts” who predicted them to make the World Series were jumping off the bandwagon. But since that rocky start, they have rebounded to be one of the best teams in baseball at this point in the season. They are currently 45-32 and are 0.5 game behind the Yankees for the best record in the division and the league.
The reason for all of the Red Sox preseason love was mainly due to their two major additions, 1ST baseman Adrian Gonzalez and LF Carl Crawford. They both were perennial all stars and both played on small market teams. There was some question on how the two would react to the bright lights and pressure of playing in the North East. Gonzalez and Crawford have had completely opposite years. Adrian has played even better than any optimistic Boston fan could have imagined and is the early frontrunner for the AL MVP but Crawford has spent most of the season batting just above the Mendoza line and is currently on the DL.
The Red Sox have one of the best lineups all of baseball, they rank 1st in runs, hits, doubles, RBI’s, AVG, OBP and OPS. Their lineup features the speedy Jacoby Ellsbury, the overachieving but still talented Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis who has one of the oddest looking batting stances in the majors to go along with their slugging 1st baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The Red Sox’s pitching staff has been a disappointment so far this season. Many of the baseball minds tried to compare their rotation to the phabulous one that currently pitches in Philly. Boston’s pitching currently ranks 14th in the Majors in ERA and are 23rd in Quality Starts.
Tuesday June 28, 7:05: LHP Cliff Lee vs. RHP Josh Beckett
Clifton had a rough start to the season and had a lot of the haters claiming that the Phillies had made a mistake signing him in the offseason. But he has more than rebounded from his slow start and has been the best pitcher in the Majors during the month. In 4 June starts, he is 4-0 with a 0.27 ERA and has held opposing hitters to a .170 batting average. Lee has also gone 23 consecutive innings without giving up a run and has thrown complete game shutouts in his last two starts! He is now 8-5 with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in his 16 starts this season. In 9 starts at home this season, he is 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA. Cliff has made 10 career starts versus the Red Sox, in those games he is 2-4 with a 4.06 ERA. Current Red Sox hitters are a combined 31-100 (.310) while facing Lee during their careers.
Tomorrow night will be a feature two of the best pitchers so far this season as Boston will send Josh Beckett to hill. There were a lot of questions surrounding Beckett heading into the season as he was coming off a injury plagued season filled with poor performances. In 21 starts last year he went just 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA. He is now 6-2 with a 1.86 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP in his 14 starts this season. He missed his last start due to a stomach ailment but is coming off of a 1 hitter against the Rays on June 15th. Before he was traded to the Red Sox a few years ago, he began his career pitching for the Marlins, so he is no stranger to the Phillies. He has pitched in 19 games (17 starts) and is 8-4 with a 3.98 ERA in those games. In his 4 starts at Citizens Bank Park, he is 2-2 with a 6.26 ERA. Current Phillies hitters are a combined 20-60 (.333) while facing Beckett during their careers.
Wednesday June 29, 7:05: RHP Vance Worley vs. RHP John Lackey
Worley has pitched very well in his two starts since rejoining the rotation. In those 2 starts he has given up just 1 run in 11 innings but received a no decision in both games. His start on Friday night against the A’s was a strange one; he had a lot of control issues which resulted 4 walks and a high pitch. But he only gave up one hit in the 6 innings and took a no hitter into the 6th. Worley is now 2-1 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP on the season. He is 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA in his four starts at home this season. Wednesday night’s game will be the first time he will face the Red Sox or any of their hitters.
If you thought Lackey struggled in his first year with the Red Sox last season, I’m not sure what you would call his performance so far this season. He is in the 2nd year of a 5 year $80 million contract and has really struggled since he signed on the dotted line. He went just 14-11 with a 4.40 last season. So far this season, he is 5-6 with a7.36 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP. Lackey has gone from the ace of some very good Angel’s team, to possibly being kicked out of the Boston rotation just 2 years later. In 3 starts against the Phillies during his career, he is 2-1 with a 3.44 ERA. In his only start a Citizens Bank Park, he last just 5 innings and gave up 4 runs while receiving the loss. Current Phillies hitters are a combined 21-82 (.256) while facing Lackey during their careers.
Thursday June 30, 1:05: LHP Cole Hamels vs. LHP Jon Lester
Thursday will feature another great pitching matchup as two of the best lefties in the game will square off. It looks like the lack of run support that Hamels experienced last season seems to be showing its ugly head. Despite only giving up 4 runs in his last 2 starts, he has been saddled with the losses on both games as the Phillies bats combined for just 1 run in those games. Hamels is now 9-4 with a 2.49 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in 16 starts this season. He is 5-3 with a 2.73 ERA in his 9 starts at home. In 3 starts against Boston, he is 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA. For some unknown reason, Hamels has always had trouble pitching in day games during his career. His ERA in day games is 4.10, while his ERA in night games is just 3.12. But he has been brilliant against the Red Sox, so we will see what trend will continue. Current Red Sox hitters are a combined 21-88(.239) while facing Hamels during their careers.
The 27 year old lefty has established himself as one of the best young pitchers in the game. He has posted ERA’s under 3.5 and has had 50 combined wins in his first 3 seasons as a fulltime starter. Lester has actually not pitched as well as his 9 wins would like you to believe. He is currently 9-4 with a 3.66 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in his 16 starts this season. Lester has made 2 starts against the Phillies during his career and was brilliant in both. In those games he is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA (both starts were at Citizens Bank Park). Current Phillies hitters are a combined 8-46 (.174) while facing Lester during their careers.
The old saying, good pitching beats good hitting will be put to the test during this series. The upcoming 3 games series should be a nice barometer for both teams. Despite all of the criticism that both teams have received during the season, whether it was the Phillies struggling offense or the Red Sox poor start, these are two of the best teams in the game. It could very well be a preview of the World Series in October but that is long time from now and there is a lot of baseball left to be played. The Phillies will have to face Boston’s top two pitchers while the best pitcher in baseball Roy Halladay will have to be a spectator during the series. A series win would be marked as a success for either team. I think the home field and the absence of their DH David Ortiz will be the difference. I predict the Phillies will take 2 of the 3 games in a hard fought series.