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Phillies Take Game One From the Braves; Extend Division Lead to 8 Games

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Fri, September 18, 2009 10:34 PM Comments: 42

In what has been a season chock full of ups and downs, the Phillies embarked on their final road swing of the season, ten games. With the division title within sight, the Phillies had to beat the team in their rear-view mirror.

Heading into tonight’s game the Phillies had a five game winning streak, however the Braves had a nice streak of their own going as they had previously won their last seven.

Happ, despite giving up a solo shot in the third, looked solid to start the game, but left after the third inning after re-injuring his oblique. This gave way to recent call up, Kyle Kendrick to prove that he still belongs on a major league roster. For the second time in the past week, Kendrick succeeded.

Kendrick, who entered the game in the fourth, went on to pitch four shut out innings. He scattered three hits and gave up no walks.

Ryan Howard provided some of the power in tonight’s game, belting two bombs, gathering three R.B.I.’s in the process. His second home run of the night gave him 40 HR’s for the season. It is his fourth straight year with 40 or more long-balls.

Jayson Werth added what happened to be two very important insurance runs in the eighth with a bases-loaded single up the middle. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley both came around to score on the play, to give the Phillies a 5-1 lead.

Atlanta would get those two runs back right away in the bottom half of the frame, on a two-run shot courtesy of Brian McCann off of reliever Tyler Walker.

In the top half of the ninth, the Phillies would put the Braves away for good with back-to-back  jacks form both Jimmy Rollins and Ben Fransisco. Rollins shot was good for three runs and with the pair the Phillies went ahead 9-3. Fransico finished the night 3 for 3.

All in all it was a solid win all around and it helped the Phillies prove that the last two series wins against the drech of the NL East was no fluke. It may be too early to tell, but it seems as if the Phillies have no intention of surrendering their commanding lead in the East. The Phillies now lead the Marlins by eight games and the Braves by 8.5 games.

Oh, and for those keeping score at home, the Phillies magic number to clinch the division now stands at eight.

  • 42 Comments
 

Mets Come Back to Stun the Phillies

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Sat, September 12, 2009 08:01 PM Comments: 60

Blame Ryan Madson and his sixth blown save of the season. Blame Jamie Moyer and his four, first-inning, earned runs. Blame Brett Myers and his three runs in 0.1 innings. Heck, blame it on the rain, but whomever you decide to point the finger at, the bottom line is the Phillies let one slip away and for the first time in a few weeks, don’t blame the offense.

Before Jamie Moyer recorded his first out, the Mets had jumped out to an early 4-0 lead courtesy of four straight hits, including a two run home run by Carlos Beltran. Moyer held the Mets scoreless after a dismal first, until the seventh. Aside from getting rocked to start the game, Jamie Moyer wasn’t terrible. When he left the ballgame, he left with a lead.

Moyer pitched seven innings surrendering five earned runs. All base-runners reached via hits as Moyer issued no free passes.

The Phillies offense finally came back to life, getting on the board in the second inning on a Pedro Feliz bomb. The Phils took the lead in the third, thanks to home runs by both Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez.

The Phillies continued to pour it on the Mets starter, Mike Pelfrey, scoring once more in the fourth inning and twice in the sixth to finally chase Pelfrey from the game. Overall, Pelfrey allowed eight runs in six innings of work. The Phillies tacked on one more in the seventh, thanks to an RBI single from Ibanez that scored Utley.

Ibanez finished the afternoon 2-5 with three ribbies, and a run scored. Raul contiues to show signs that he is indeed out of his mid-seasonslump, and his re-birth has come just in the nick of time.

The Mets comeback started in the seventh inning when Moyerallowed a run in his last inning on the mound. Brett Myers came in for the eighth.

Myers, since returning from hip surgery has looked solid coming out of the pen. This afternoon however, Myers was unable to shut the Mets down, giving up three runs in only one-third of an inning of work. Those runs allowed the Metsto head into the ninth inning within striking distance of the Phils.  

Ryan Madson came in for the Phillies looking to secure his second save in as many days. With a 9-8 lead, Madson went to work getting the first two batters faced to ground out. Fernando Tatis stepped to the plate and laced a single to right-field which set the stage for David Wright, who homered to left, giving the Mets a 10-9 lead. It was Madson’s sixth blown save of the season and the Phillies 16th as a team.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this loss. With the Braves win over the Cardinals, they have moved within seven games of the Phillies. The Marlins are now 5 1/2 back and could be five back by the end of the evening.

A loss like this can play on a weak teams psyche. Let’s hope the Phillies are strong enough to overcome it. They have a chance at double the redemption tomorrow as they play two against the Mets in a day-night double-header. The festivities start at 1 p.m.

  • 60 Comments
 

Phils, Hamels Take Down the Mets

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Fri, September 11, 2009 10:28 PM Comments: 29

In the month of September, every game is huge. Each game’s importance is magnified as teams jockey for position and make their final push for October. When it’s all said and done, fans often point to the little things that helped get you over the hump, that put you in the position to make a run at the title. Tonight’s game was one of those little things.

The Phillies defeated the Mets tonight 4-2 and did it in uncharecteristic fashion, they played a little bit of small ball.

With twelve hits, the Phillies were able to push four runs across the plate, enough to secure Cole Hamels ninth win of the season. Hamels is now 9-9 this season and his ERA has dropped to 4.21.

Hamels looked good, going 6.2 innings, allowing only one run, while striking out six. His stuff wasn’t over-powering as he scattered seven hits, but it was just good enough to beat a team sinking further and further out of playoff contention.

At the dish the Phillies bats came to life as they banged out 12 hits, yet still failed in clutch situations, hitting just 4 for 19 with runners in scoring position. Their 13 runners left on base matched a season high.

Shane Victorino carried the offense, going 3 for 3 with two walks, three doubles, and a run scored. His effort lifted his average back over .300.Carlos Ruiz also chipped in, knocking in and scoring a run with a hit and two walks.

The Phillies also got doubles from Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley, and Pedro Feliz.

Despite notching a win in the contest, questions still linger as to whether the line-up has snapped it’s recent slump. The Phillies reached base in every inning and again, had 12 hits, yet only scored four runs. Timely hitting will make or break you in the post-season and the Phillies were lucky they didn’t fall victim to the Rays in the World Series when the Phillies set a record for futility with runners in scoring position. They won’t get that lucky again.

Also notable was Ryan Madson’s third straight save. He did give up a run in the ninth, but indifference allowed that run to score as the Phillies gladly traded it for the two outs recieved on the double-play.

The Phillies and Mets go at it again tomorrow, playing in front of a national crowd in game two of the four-game series. Should the Phillies take three of four from the Mets, they will mathematically eliminate them from the postseason.

Also with a Marlins loss to the Nationals, the Phils move ahead six games over the second place Fish.

  • 29 Comments
 

Gameday: Mets (62-78) at Phillies (79-59)

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Fri, September 11, 2009 06:04 PM Comments: 238

New York Mets (62-78) at Philadelphia Phillies (79-59)

Cole Hamels(8-9, 4.32 ERA) vs. Nelson Figueroa(2-4, 4.74 ERA)

Time: 7:05 at Citizens Bank Park

Weather: 66 Degrees, Rain

TV: MyPHL 17

“From the cradle of liberty, Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Do we have closure? No. No, the heinous acts of terrorism last Tuesday will be with us as long as we shall live.”  -Harry Kalas

It was eight years ago today that the meaning of life was put into perspective for people all across America. As Major League Baseball decided to suspend its games in wake of the terror attacks against our great country, we realized that baseball is just that, a game.

When baseball resumed that weekend, it had a whole new meaning and importance than the week before. Baseball crossed over from a just a game, to a distraction from the rigors of what can sometimes be a brutal life. Baseball became the beginning of a healing process that still takes place eight years later. It became our collective defiance as a country. It was America’s proclamation that, “You may have knocked us down, but we as a people will ALWAYS rise again.”

Coming off a heartbreaking loss against the Nationals last night, the Phillies look to get back on track against the New York Mets. The Phillies bats finally woke up and showed signs of legitimate life for the first time in a week, but it was too little too late for Phils as their bid for a ninth inning comeback was dashed.

With the Marlins starting to breath down the Phillies necks, the Phillies need a productive weekend against the Mets. But don’t expect the Mets to just lay down and die.

Sure, they have been riddled with injuries to half of their starting line-up and have a AAA squad taking the field, but remember, these minor leaguers are playing for a paycheck in 2010 and beating the Phillies and making their postseason lives miserable, would be a nice notch on their belt.

Brooklyn LagerYour Gameday Beer – Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
It’s a little chilly, right? Time for a beer you can snuggle up to, Black Chocolate Stout by the Brooklyn Brewery (famous for its lager). As the title implies, it’s a dark sweet brew. The chocolate flavor is nearly matched by the coffee, vanilla, toffee and roasted malt undertones but is certainly the centerpiece in the 10.6% stout. This dessert beer is heavy enough, so have it in place of coffee after dinner along with a biscuit of some sort. – By Brian
Go Phillies!

  • 238 Comments
 

A Look Ahead: Phillies Return East

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Tue, September 08, 2009 08:00 AM Comments: 14

Well, that was a less than spectacular week in Phillies baseball. This week the Phillies will look to turn the tides on their misfortune as they return to the east coast to play the two worst teams in the N.L. East.

The Phillies, coming off of a week that saw them go 2-5, will head to Washington, for a three game set against the last-place Nationals. The Phillies will look to get their offense back in line after managing just 13 runs in their last seven games. They were shutout twice during that stretch and also beat the Giants by a 1-0 score, on a Cole Hamels complete game shutout.

In their last ten, the Phils are just 4-6, not the way you want to start the last month heading into the postseason. They remain in first in the East with a dwindling six game lead over the Marlins. The Braves are still eight games back. The Nationals meanwhile, have already been eliminated from playoff contention and are all playing for their 2010 employment in the Major League.

In their last ten, the Nationals are just 2-8, and a dismal 47-90 overall. Although they are this seasons version of baseballs laughing stock, do not take a team playing for pride lightly. The Nationals despite their pitching woes can still hit the ball hard and this past weekend was proof as they scored 16 runs in a three-game shootout with the Marlins.

The Nationals will send John Lannan, Garrett Mock, and Livan Hernandez to the rubber to face the Phillies. The Phils will counter with Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton.

The Phillies have had trouble with Lannan in his career, and Lannan has been responsible for injuring two Phillies in his career, Chase Utley(broken hand), and Cole Hamels(sprained ankle). Lannan has been decent this year, toting a 4.09 ERA into the final month.

Garrett Mock was recently rocked by the Marlins, giving up six runs over three innings in a loss to Florida. Long balls are what hurt Mock the most, which should play into the Phillies hands. Hernandez also gave up six runs in his last start, giving up four in the first.

Pedro Martinez’s last outing was by far his best since returning to baseball as he out-dueled Cy Young Award candidate Tim Lincecum. Martinez has shown flashes of brilliance in his short time with the Phillies, but it is way too early to tell if this kind of success can be duplicated, let alone sustained.

Cliff Lee has gone the opposite direction of Martinez, giving up six runs in each of his last two starts. Lee lasted only three innings in his last start and looks to regain his winning form heading into baseballs home stretch.

Blanton, despite giving up three runs in his last outing still kept the Phillies in the game. The Phillies eventually took the lead in that game against the Astros just to have it blown in the ninth by closer Brad Lidge. Blanton remains the team’s most steady starter this season and looks to maintain his solid work.

After three games with the Nats, the Phillies finally return home to face the much maligned New York Mets. It’s no secret that the Mets have had a rough season, losing key players such as Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, and David Wright for significant amounts of time. Although Wright has returned to the line-up, the rest are still out.

If you want to feel sorry for the Mets, don’t. There is nothing more that New York would love to do than come to Philadelphia and help to spoil our shot at the post season. If there is anything left for them to play for, this is it. Make no mistake, these four games against the Mets ARE their playoffs and believe that whatever “A” game is left in that clubhouse will be brought to Philly.

The Mets enter the series 62-75 and are seemingly out of playoff contention at 16 games back. They are an even 5-5 in their last ten, and recently took two of three from a quickly sinking Chicago Cubs. Just like in the Nationals series, pride is in play here so the the Phillies would be mistaken if they take this four game series lightly.

The Phillies should finish this week with a 5-2 record. Period. Anything less than that and fans have a legitimate reason to be concerned. Despite the pride factor, these are two terrible teams and the Phillies need to beat up on them for a few reasons. They need to get back on track, first. Second, they need to put more space between them and the division ankle-biters known as the Marlins. Lastly, the Phillies took a small hit to their own pride last week and they need to regain some pride of their own.

A good week could lead to a wonderful September. A bad week could spell the begin of a miserable one.

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Blown Away, Again

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Sat, September 05, 2009 10:35 PM Comments: 66

With one out and the bases loaded, via two walks from closer Brad Lidge and a Chris Coste good-to-see-you-again single, the Phillies were about to narrowly escape with a win after Ryan Howard fielded a ground ball and threw home for the force out preventing the tying run from scoring.

But the Phillies comeback just wasn’t meant to be.

With the bases still full, the Astros’ Kaz Matsui delivered a two-run, game winning single, while Brad Lidge delivered the Phillies his tenth blown save of the season. Final score, 5-4 in favor of the Astros.

Because Chase Utley sat with a swollen foot, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had to find other means to revive a flat-lined offense. With his choices limited, Manuel juggled the line-up a bit, batting Shane Victorino lead-off, Jayson Werth in the two-hole, and Jimmy Rollins third in the order. Although the switch-up didn’t help Victorino or Werth’s recent struggles, it did get the offense moving in the right direction.

For the most part, Astros starter Roy Oswalt had the Phillies line-up tied in knots. Oswalt struck out eight in 6.1 innings before finishing the contest early with tightness in his lower back. Oswalt had held the Phillies off of the board to that point, but left the game responsible for two runners on in the seventh inning which both scored.

After getting on the board in the seventh off of Astros reliever Tim Byrdak, the Phillies tied the game in the eighth when Jimmy Rollins scored on a Ryan Howard triple. Pedro Feliz singled Ryan Howard home to give the Phils the lead.

The offense still looked shaky, but was able manufacture four runs, breaking a scoreless streak that started Thursday when they beat the San Francisco Giants 2-1.

Phillies starter Joe Blanton had yet another quality start, going six innings, allowing three runs on six hits, while striking out five. Blanton didn’t look crisp, but kept the game close enough for the Phillies to claw back.

Chan Ho Park pitched a scoreless seventh, and Brett Myers returned to action, recording the hold, by pitching a scoreless eighth. Myers looked amped up on adrenaline as he walked the first batter he faced and fell behind the second batter Carlos Lee 2-0, before getting him to fly out.

A Marlins win over the Nationals this evening puts the Fish just 6.5 games back on the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Braves lost to Cincinnati and remain 8.5 out in the division.

  • 66 Comments
 

Ugh-Lee Loss

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Fri, September 04, 2009 10:52 PM Comments: 25

Jamie Moyer got another opportunity to show he still has gas left in the tank. Unfortunately the chance to throw a few frames came at the expense of Cliff Lee’s worst start in Phillies pinstripes rather than mother nature.

Lee lasted only three innings, surrendering six runs for the second time in as many games. Lee was able to work out of a two-out, two-men-on jam without damage done in the bottom of the first inning. In the second inning, Lee’s troubles began.

With the bases loaded for the Astros, courtesy of three seeing-eye hits, pitcher Wandy Rodriguez stepped to the plate with no outs and ripped a double down the right-field line, scoring two. After striking out former Phillie, Michael Bourn, Kaz Matsui doubled to left, scoring two more, capping off a four-run second inning.

The Astros would add two more in the third on a two-run bomb from Hunter Pence before Charlie Manuel would hand the ball over to the crafty veteren and the Phillies newest long reliever, Jamie Moyer. Moyer surrendered just one run in three innings out of the pen, but his solid effort was too little, too late.

The Phillies offense has struggled as of late and despite taking two of three games from the Giants, they only produced three runs in the series. Tonight, the struggles continued.

‘Stros starter Wandy Rodriguez had the Phillies line-up befuddled all evening as he threw seven innings of shut-out ball, scattering seven Phillies hits, while striking out seven.

Despite the 7-0 loss, Carlos Ruiz managed to finish the game 3 for 4 at the plate. Shane Victorino provided the defensive highlight of the night for the Phils throwing out Aaron Boone at home in the eighth.

The Phillies will look to even the series tomorrow night in game two of the four game set.

  • 25 Comments
 

A Look Ahead: A Giant Rematch

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Tue, September 01, 2009 08:00 AM Comments: 9

After a crazy week in which the Phillies dropped two of three to the last place Pirates before taking two of three from the Braves, the Phillies continue on their six-game home-stand. The San Francisco Giants come to town to start a three game series that kicks off on Tuesday.

The Giants enter play Tuesday, tied for the Wild Card lead with the Colorado Rockies. The Giants have been playing good baseball as of late, going 6-4 in their last ten. The key to the Giants success so far has been their rotation, especially the front three. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have both been bonafide aces for the Giants, and Barry Zito is starting to show signs of the old Zito the Giants had envisioned when signing him to a free-agent contract.

The Phillies had trouble with the Giants pitching staff the last time they faced the Giants. They dropped three of four to the Giants, scoring only eight runs throughout the four games. The Phillies lone win in the series came courtesy of Cliff Lee’s Phillies debut.

This week, the Phillies will face Jonathan Sanchez and Tim Lincecum. Thursday’s starter for the Giants has yet to be announced. The Phillies were baffled by Lincecum in their last outing against him. Sanchez also beat the Phillies earlier this year, allowing just two runs in 5.2 innings of work.

The Phillies will counter with Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, and Pedro Martinez. Last Wednesday, Hamels finally showed glimpses of his old self, as he threw eight shut-out innings against the Bucs. Happ also pitched well against the Pirates, but lost the game after surrendering an eighth inning, go ahead bomb.

No one is quite sure what they’re getting with Pedro Martinez. He has yet to lose a game since joining the Phillies, but has looked mediocre at best. Two of his four starts were shortened due to rain, but in his two complete starts, he has looked shaky, and at times, just plain ordinary.

Following the Giants series, the Phillies head to Houston to face Ed Wade’s Astros. Houston starts the week 14 games back from the Cardinals in the N.L. Central. Houston plays well at home, and are 35-30 this season.  The Astros have gone 4-6 in their last ten and are 62-68 overall.

The Astros have yet to announce their starters for the weekend series, though it looks as if the Phillies will face Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez, and Roy Oswalt.

The Phillies will send Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, and Cole Hamels to the mound to face the ‘stros.

  • 9 Comments
 

Weekly Wrap: Missed Opportunities

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Sun, August 30, 2009 09:42 AM Comments: 11

Throughout the course of the year the Phillies have seen some bad stretches. This past week wasn’t their worst. It certainly wasn’t their best stretch, either.

The Phillies carried the momentum from a three game winning streak into Pittsburgh on Tuesday, hoping to improve upon that streak. Although the Pirates started and ended the series in last place in the N.L. Central, each member of their roster is playing for their 2010 big-league lives.

On Tuesday, trailing 3-2 heading into the ninth, the Phillies provided some late inning heroics as Shane Victorino tripled in Ben Francisico, the Phillies go-ahead run after the Phillies had fought to tie the game. Pitcher Matt Capps had blown his second save against the Phils this season. Strange how baseball has a way of evening things out.

In the bottom half of the frame, closer Brad Lidge faced three batters. All three touched him up for extra-base hits, capped off by game-winning two- run home run by the Pirates Andrew Mc Cutchen. Lidge had blown his ninth save of the season and left the Delaware Valley with many questions, such as, “Now what?”

Wednesday was reliever Ryan Madson’s turn to blow a game, as he allowed a ninth-inning, solo shot, allowing Pittsburgh to tie the game at one. Fortunately for the pinstripes, Ryan Howard is hitting his late season stride. Howard gave the Phillies a tenth-inning lead on a three-run bomb, and the Phillies would never look back. Although Madson got the blown save, he also recorded the win as he came back out to finish the bottom half of the inning.

On Thursday J.A. Happ pitched a solid 7.2 innings. It was the last 0.1 inning that will get you every time. After giving up a lead-off homer to McCutchen, Happ cruised through the next six innings. He looked shaky at times, but worked himself out of many jams, via the double-play. In the eight, however, with one on and two down, Happ gave up the second homer of the game for the Pirates, and the Phillies fell 3-2.

The Phillies starters looked good throughout the series, despite the late-inning homerun given up by Happ. It was the Phillies bats that went silent through the series and the Phillies struggles continued in the city of three rivers. Since it’s opening, the Phillies are now 9-13 at PNC Park.

After dropping two of three to the Pirates, the Phillies came home to take on the second-place Braves. Starting the series, the Fightin’s had a seven game lead on both the Braves and the Marlins.

Friday night in a rain soaked affair, the Phillies took the series opener, 4-2. Backed by a strong relief outing from Jamie Moyer and Ryan Howard’s two homeruns, the Phil’s extended their division lead to a season high eight games. The bats were again anemic, but the bullpen was good, giving up only two runs in eight innings of relief.

Saturday fans in Philadelphia got to witness a monumental event, Cliff Lee’s undoing. Lee gave up three Atlanta bombs and gave up six runs in five innings of work. The bullpen was equally sour as they surrendered three runs of their own in a 9-1 shellacking at the hands of the Braves. The bats were again quiet with the lone bright spot coming in the first inning off of a Chase Utley long-ball.

A recurring theme over the last three seasons has been the Phillies inability to hit with runners in scoring position. The Fightin’s tend to go through stretches, long stretches, where they lack situational hitting.

Too many times we saw runners at second and third with less than two outs and time and time again the Phillies failed to put runs across the plate. Raul Ibanez has perhaps been the biggest culprit, and has been awful at the plate since July 1st.

The two blown saves in Pittsburgh this past week prevented what should have been a sweep of the downtrodden Pirates.

The bigger problem in that series wasn’t the bullpen, so much as it was the fact that the offense managed only 10 runs throughout the series, with three of those runs coming in extra-innings.

Sure, the back end of the bullpen needs to improve, and it needs to do so quickly. However, the line-up need to stop relying on the long-ball to get things done.

The Phillies will hope to get the series win tonight, in front of a national audience. The showdown gets underway at 8pm.

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A Look Ahead: Into the Home Stretch

Posted by Jason Bintliff, Tue, August 25, 2009 08:00 AM Comments: 63

The Phillies are smokin’ hot right now and unfortunately for the lowly Pirates, a buzz saw is heading straight for the city of three rivers. The Phillies ship sets sail as they take on the Bucco’s in a three game series starting tonight at PNC Park, in downtown Pittsburgh.

The Phillies come into the series having won their last three, taking three of four from the New York Mets. The Phil’s head into the series 8-2 in their last ten games, currently sitting at a season high water mark of 22 games above .500. They still sit first place in the NL East and have held that position since May 30th.

The Pirates meanwhile are a dismal 19 games back in the NL Central and have had a complete estate sale this season, losing numerous starters to deadline deal trades. They are 5-5 in their last ten and 51-71 overall.

In the series opener, Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton takes the ball, carrying a 8-6 record and a 3.86 ERA. Blanton has been pitching out of his mind the past two months and saw a season-high plus seven ERA dwindle to it’s current mark. Although Blanton looked shaky in his last outing, he still went eight strong and allowed only three earned.

Pittsburgh will counter with righty Russ Ohlendorf. Ohlendorf has been decent for the Pirates this year, sporting a 4.15 ERA. In his last ten starts, he has allowed three runs or fewer in nine of them.

Wednesday Cole Hamels will look to get back on track after surrendering four runs to the Mets last Friday. Hamels has not shown the MVP caliber arm that he displayed last October and has most of the Delaware Valley wondering whether what we see is what we are going to get from the lefty. Facing the Pirates line-up can be a good remedy for a slumping pitcher, but Hamels has failed to feast on the weaker teams in baseball as well.

For the Pirates, lefty Paul Maholm gets the start. Despite being struck by come-backers in his last outing, he still pitched a solid game, lasting into the eighth inning. Maholm has been a bit of a Phillieskiller in his career going 3-1 lifetime with a 3.71 ERA in five career starts.

Closing the series out on Thursday for the Phils will be rookie sensation J.A. Happ. Happ has been stellar and all of the usual cliche’s to describe his performance this year have been well exhausted. Happ is 10-2 with a 2.59 ERA, good for fourth in the National League.

For the Buc’s, Flemington, NJ native Charlie Morton will get the start. Morton snapped a four-game losing streak in his last start however allowed 10 earned runs in just one inning in the start before that. Morton is 3-6 overall, with a plus five ERA. In his lone appearance against the Phillies, last season, he allowed five runs in two innings of work.

Following the Pirates series, the Phillies return to Citizens Bank Park to take on the Atlanta Braves in a series that could make or break the Braves season. Starting the week, the Phillies had a seven game lead on the Braves, but a bad series against Atlanta could find the Phillies getting hot around the collar.

The three-game set kicks off on Friday with the Braves Tommy Hanson taking the mound. Hanson, like Happ, is being heavily considered for Rookie of the Year honors. Hanson is 9-2 this season with a 3.12 ERA. Although he has been tough to hit all around, left-handed batters have had some success against him, batting .275.

On Saturday, the Braves will send out righty Derek Lowe, who has given the Phillies fits this season. Obviously burned up about last years NLCS performance against the Phillies, Lowe has only surrendered two runs and nine hits against the Phils in two starts this season, including a brilliant opening night performance in which he held the Phillies scoreless over eight innings. He enters the week 12-8 with a mediocre 4.48 ERA.

The Braves have yet to announce Sunday’s starter, although it is likely to be youngster Jair Jurrjens. Also, the Phillies have yet to announced this weekends starters, however they will likely send out Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton.

The Phillies have been on a two month tear and despite a hiccup or two, show absolutely no signs of slowing down. Everyone with exception of Raul Ibanez, is hitting the ball, and even Ibanez is showing signs of breaking his post All-Star break slump.

Ryan Howard has been ridiculous at the plate over the past couple of weeks and is entering his annual late season slug-fest. Jayson Werth has been equally as hot and the combination of the two can and will carry the Phillies into the extended season.

This week it’s easy, the Fightin’s need to SWEEP the Pirates. Two of three is o.k, but they are a bad team, a really bad team, and there is no reason the Phillies can’t beat them into submission. Winning two against the Braves would be a success, but if they take care of business against Pittsburgh, two wins against the Braves is not imperative.

That being said, a sweep of the Braves could spell the end of Atlanta’s hopes for the division title. If the Braves sweep the Phil’s, they will give an injection of life to a team that can be dangerous, as they head into the final month. One win against the Braves and they merely inch a bit closer, no more no less.

My advice; STEP ON THEIR THROATS. No mercy.

By the way, heading into the week, the magic number stands at 33. Sweep the Bravos and we could see that number plunge into the 20′s. Just something to consider.

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