The traditional/semi-official second half starts tonight in Atlanta (52-43), and the Phillies are in town, hopefully playing the role of ‘party favors’. The Braves entered the break on an uptick – taking 2 of 3 from the Cubs – to finish 14-6 over this ‘easy’ part of the schedule. There’s another 11 games in this stretch that should be winnable – 3 vs. the Phils, 4 vs. the Marlins, and 4 against San Diego… all home games.
Then life gets tough.
So until then, this team has to hit the ground running – while all about them will swirl rumors, hints, innuendo, and the usual distractions that fill the two weeks prior to the July 31st Trade Deadline.
So in the meantime – we have some actual BASEBALL to be played.
About the Phillies
The Phillies are 42-53 – ten games back of the Braves/Nationals first-place tandem, and it is a fair question to ask how they got into last place. A couple of key reasons:
- Last in the division/4th worst in the league in run differential. They have scored more runs than only 4 other teams… unfortunately, the Braves are one of those clubs.
- Individual production. Just 4 of the Phils have a WAR rating of 1.0 or above. Carlos Ruiz is one of those, and he’s been out for a while due to concussion-related symptoms, though he could be back as soon as tonight. Meanwhile the Braves, by comparison, have 5 players at 1.8 WAR or above – and Tommy La Stella is at 0.9 despite playing less than half the games.
- Mediocre Pitching. They’ve been in the middle of the pack all year – nothing spectacular.
The Braves have had a Jekyll/Hyde thing going with this opponent: 6-4 for the year, though both clubs have a sweep of the other – while on a road trip. Most recently, Atlanta took out the Phils in Citizens Bank Park for 4 games… perhaps as a revenge for dropping 3 in Atlanta just 10 days’ prior.
The keys to beating Philadelphia will be:
- Keep Jimmy Rollins off base. He’s only hitting .246, but he’s taking walks, so go ahead and go after him.
- Don’t let Chase Utley beat you. In run-scoring situations, he will inflict damage. It’s okay to walk him.
- Don’t overlook Marlon Byrd. He nearly leads the team in RBI… maybe because teams are working around Utley to get to him.
- Hit Ryan Howard. No, seriously: hit him. I don’t quite understand the mystique he has about hitting against Atlanta – and in our park – but he has 15 homers, 56 RBI and a NEGATIVE WAR rating. I’m pretty sure all of that damage has come against the Braves.
- Cash in your opportunities. Their pitching hasn’t been great, but it has been adequate. You should expect to get 3 or 4 runs per game against them. Make sure you do.
Game 1 – Burnett vs. Santana
A.J. Burnett has been pitching better lately…so I hear. He’s got a 3.83 ERA for the year, 3.48 in July. He’s been better at home by almost a full run.
He faced Atlanta once this year – and we only got 3 hits/2 walks off of him. Nobody scored. Freddie Freeman got one of those hits, plus a walk. He – along with Bartolo Colon – are the kinds of pitchers that Atlanta tends to make look like Cy Young.
Burnett last pitched a week ago vs. Washington. He got into the 8th inning and gave up only 2 runs, getting the Win. He hasn’t had a bad outing this month, though walks seem to be an issue. The Braves need to exploit this to be successful… and coming out of a long layoff, plate patience is likely to be short.
Game 2 – Hamels vs. ???
It’s Aaron Harang‘s turn, but the official announcement of the probable pitchers does not extend into Saturday – at least not yet.
Cole Hamels will be the tough one – clearly. The lefty owns a 2.93 ERA for the year while averaging about 9 K’s per 9 innings and 3 walks. He has actually been much better on the road – 2.01 ERA… and that almost entirely because he’s keeping the ball in the park (1 road HR vs. 7 at home).
The trick will be sustaining a rally against Hamels. He has a very low batting average against: since May started, it’s been in the .220′s. Again, walks have been there for Hamels (23 in the 62.2 innings since June), so the Braves need to avoid his pitches and look for theirs. Easier said than done.
If Harang – or whoever – can keep the Braves in the game, it might end up being a bullpen contest.
Game 3 – Kendrick vs. ???
Kyle Kendrick is clearly the worse of this trio of pitchers – 5.12 ERA on the road this year, and even worse (6.87) in July so far. He is particularly susceptible to LH bats, so I’d expect the Braves to whale away on him – including long balls.
It should be Alex Wood‘s turn on Sunday, though Julio Teheran could get the nod sometime this weekend since he didn’t throw in the All-Star game. This game could be a laugher. It should be. That would be nice to see.
Back to Baseball!
The Phillies are going to have to deal with the most distractions. Clearly they are on the decline, and there are a number of people – myself included – who believe that Ruben Amaro Jr. ought to just blow it all up and trade away just about every major league asset they have: Utley, Rollins, Papelbon, Byrd, Brown, Hamels, and Lee. That won’t happen, but it is certain that any of those players could be dealt in the next 2 weeks.
That kind of distraction tends to linger over a clubhouse, and thus the Braves should – must – take at least two out of these three games… a sweep is not unreasonable to expect, either.