The 4th place Phils (63-77) play host to the streaking, division leading Braves (85-54) for a 3-game weekend series at Citizens Bank Park. Before the season started it looked as if these September games against the Braves may have playoff implications, but with injuries, sub par performances and a shockingly bad bullpen the Phils find themselves 22.5 games out of 1st place coming into the series. The only playoff implications are where the Braves are seeded when the playoffs begin. They currently own MLB’s best record.
Friday night the Phils send Cliff Lee 11-6, 3.09 ERA to the mound against Braves lefty Mike Minor 13-5, 3.08 ERA. Statistically it’s tougher to find two more evenly matched pitchers, as Minor has enjoyed a breakout season at the age of 25. Minor has ascended to take the mantle of ace of the Braves young, but impressive pitching staff. He went 2-0 with 3 ND’s in the month of August as his ERA rose from 2.75 on July 31st to his current 3.08 (good for 11th among NL starters), but much of that rise can be attributed to his shortest outing of the year, where Minor only went 1.2 innings and surrendered 4 ER to the Nats back on August 17th.
Lee is having a another strong season for the Phils where he’ll easily eclipse the 200 inning mark for the 3rd straight year while ranking 8th in WHIP and 3rd in SO/BB ratio. In Lee’s last three starts he’s also 1-0 with 2 ND’s including 2 WG’s (winnable games, 7 IP, 2 or less ER). In his last three games Lee’s been hit more than usual surrendering 23 hits in 20 IP, but has pitched out of trouble often accounting for his 2.70 ERA over that span.
In Saturday night’s game the Phils have the struggling Kyle Kendrick 10-12, 4.51 ERA taking on 22 year old Braves rookie left-hander Alex Wood 3-3, 3.15 ERA. Wood started the season in the bullpen and got a few spot starts here and there this season until Tim Hudson went down. Since then him and Brandon Beachy have filled in more than adequately for Hudson and Wood will be making his 10th start of the season. Wood is 1-1 with a ND in his last three starts including getting lit up by the Marlins his last time out. On September 1st Wood lasted 2.1 innings allowing 8 hits and 7 ER in the loss, raising his ERA from 2.27 to 3.15 in the process.
Kyle Kendrick season has been a tale of three pitchers this year. He started out the season strong posting five WG in his first eight starts. He was 4-1 with a 2.47 ERA. Combined with his strong 2nd half finish last season it looked as if Kendrick had finally arrived. In his next eight starts Kendrick cooled off a bit. He went 3-3 with a 4.50 ERA that included three WG’s. His numbers after 16 starts were still good as he had a 7-4 record with a 3.46 ERA.
Since then it’s been all downhill for KK. His record over his last 12 starts is 3-8 with a 6.23 ERA. Whereas he had eight WG’s in his first 16 starts he only has one WG in his last 12. Even two of his wins came in poor performances where he got excellent run support early. In those two wins on 7/19 and 8/6 he pitched a total of 11.2 innings and allowed 11 ER. Kendrick may just be pitching himself out of a job here in Philadelphia. He enters his final year of arbitration and the Phils front office must decide if they want to risk what an arbiter will award Kendrick should they go to arbitration, lock him up on a multi-year deal or non tender him and let him walk. This won’t be an easy decision for Amaro whose philosophy is teams are built around their starting pitching. Still to let a pitcher walk who’s going to probably eclipse 200 innings and has shown he can pitch over a sustained period of time can’t be easy. Someone will have to step up and take the ball every 5th day and give the team a chance to win. Kendrick can tip the scales in his favor with a strong finish. He may just need it.
The final game of the series will feature Cole Hamels 6-13, 3.50 ERA against yet another lefty, Braves veteran Paul Maholm 10-10, 4.41 ERA. Maholm is a nine year veteran who’s having his worst season since 2010. Maholm is 1-1 with a ND his last three starts and his ERA of 4.41 over that span is equivalent to his season ERA. He’s nothing more than a 4th starter who’s giving up more hits than IP, has a WHIP of 1.411 and a SO/BB ratio of 2.07. Lifetime Maholm is 5-3 against the Phillies but has been unspectacular to say the least. His 4.78 ERA and 1.469 WHIP are not the numbers of a winning pitcher, yet that’s what he’s posted against the Phils. The mere fact that he’s a lefty and the Phils have struggled all year against LHP gives him and the Braves a chance in this game.
Maholm will be opposed by Cole Hamels, the Phils hottest pitcher the past two months. Hamels poor start and lack of run support all year has been well documented, but there are few pitchers in the NL that can match what Hamels has done since July 4th. In his last 12 starts Hamels has gone 4-2 with a 2.17 ERA. Hamels consistent excellence can be measured by the 10 WG’s he’s thrown in his last 12 outings, including seven of his last eight times taking the mound.
Hamels has done everything he can to ensure he’s not beating himself either. Since July he’s only allowed 5 HR’s and 10 BB’s and he just keeps getting better as the season progresses. In his five July starts Hamels ERA was 2.57. In the seven starts since it’s 1.90. Hamels last start against the Braves on 8/12 was a complete game gem. He baffled Braves hitters all night long allowing only 6 hits and 1 BB while striking out 9. Lifetime he’s 13-8 against the Braves and represents the Phils best chance of not being swept this weekend.
While Ryne Sandberg has been tasked with finding out what he has to work with by playing minor league call ups, waiver wire pickups and a depleted lineup missing three key every day players, the Braves just keep rolling along. They’ve overcome disappointing seasons by their star free agent acquisition CF B.J. Upton (.199/.281/.314 with 9 HR’s and 26 RBI’s) and 2nd baseman Dan Uggla (.188/.311/.376) along with injuries to Brian McCann (50 games), Jason Heyward (43 games) and Eric O’Flaherty (lost all season). So how have the Braves got this far with baseball’s best record? They lead the NL in ERA, WHIP, home runs and are second in SLG %. Even without O’Flaherty they sport baseball’s best bullpen anchored by superstar Craig Kimbrel, and keep churning out good young pitchers – both starters and relievers.