The Phils (13-12) open a two-game set tonight against the NY Mets (14-11) after a successful 10-game road trip in which they went 6-4. After getting hammered the first two games against the Rockies by a combined score of 15 to 2, the Phils went on to win six of their next eight. They salvaged the last game of the Rockies series before going into L.A. and taking three of four from the Dodgers and two of three from the Diamondbacks. In their last eight games of the trip the Phils outscored their opponents 39 to 29.
On the road trip the Phils starting pitching began emerging as a strength of the team, even though the starters were only credited with two of the victories. Lee pitched an eight inning gem against the Dodgers last Monday night in which he didn’t give up a run and allowed only four hits, no walks and 10 K’s. The other starting pitcher to get a W was A.J. Burnett. He too pitched an eight inning beauty this past Sunday against the Dbacks. His line for the game was no runs, five hits, no walks and eight K’s.
The Phils got contributions from much of the team on the trip. When Jonathan Papelbon left Philly he had four saves and a 4.26 ERA. In four save opportunities out west Paps didn’t allow a run and now has eight saves and a 2.38 ERA. With the exception of his meltdown game in Texas back on April 2nd Papelbon has pitched 11 scoreless innings in 11 appearances. His much talked about fastball velocity has improved to 92-93 mph the past couple weeks, but he’s also become a better pitcher. He’s not just blowing the ball by people like he used to but is mixing his pitches, locating his fastball, tightened up his split fingered pitch and using guile and experience to shut down opponents.
There have been other contributors too, such as NL Player of the Week Carlos Ruiz. He started the trip slashing .233/.365/.326 with just four doubles and zero RBI’s in 52 PA. In his past eight games Chooch came alive. He picked up a triple, HR, five BB’s and seven RBI’s along the way. Ben Revere set the table at the top of the order by hitting .341 with four SB and seven runs scored. Marlon Byrd batted .297 with six RBI’s on the 10-game swing to become the team leader in RBI’s with 16. The Phils also made some strong defensive plays on the trip, backing up the pitching with steady and sometimes spectacular plays.
When the Phils hit the road on Friday the 18th they were 7-8 and in 4th place in the NL East, three games behind the division leading Braves. The Phils are now 13-12, but unfortunately for them the streaking Braves went 7-2 over the same span. The Phils still find themselves in 4th place, but now they’re 4.5 games back. Tonight they go for their 3rd straight victory, this time against the surprising NY Mets who occupy 2nd place in the East.
Losing Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery was supposed to keep last year’s 3rd place Mets struggling this year. The offense is off to a terrible start as the Mets are batting just .218, good for last place in the NL. They’re not hitting for power either as they pull up the rear in SLG% too. The starting pitching has kept the team competitive being led by Dillon Gee, Jennry Mejia and Jonathan Niese. Combined the three pitchers are 6-3 with a 2.95 ERA. Tonight the 27 year-old lefty Niese (1-2, 2.45 ERA) takes the mound against Cole Hamels (0-1, 3.00 ERA).
In Niece’s last three starts he’s 1-1 with a no decision, but has pitched to a 2.25 ERA covering 20 innings. Niese has been very consistent in his four starts this year, averaging over 6.1 IP per start and giving the Mets a chance to win every game he’s taken the ball. In his last outing he gave up one run over 6.2 innings and picked up the W against the St. Louis Cardinals. Lifetime against the Phillies Niese is 6-6 with a 3.13 ERA.
Cole Hamels will make just his 2nd start since returning to the team last Wednesday. In that game he was out-dueled by the Dodgers Zach Greinke. Hamels pitched well in his return to the mound, allowing six hits and 2 ER in six inning while striking out five. That night it wasn’t good enough. Hamels has pitched uncharacteristically bad against the Mets in his nine-year career. He has a 7-13 record and a 4.44 ERA. At Citizens Bank Park the Mets have been even tougher on Hamels, racking up 7-3 record against the veteran lefty.
In Wednesday night’s game the Mets will send 40 year-old right hander Bartolo Colon (2-3, 4.50 ERA) against the Phils. Colon is 1-2 in his last three starts and has compiled a 6.16 ERA in those games. The ERA is largely skewed by a nine run hurting the Dodgers put on him in five innings back on April 13th. In his last start Colon went seven innings and allowed just one ER on his way to a victory over the Redbirds. In his 17-year career Colon has started 410 games. Having spent the majority of his career in the AL Colon has faced the Phils just five times. His record in those games is 1-2 with a 4.65 ERA.
Kyle Kendrick (0-2, 3.52 ERA) takes the mound Wednesday for the Phils in search of his first W of the 2014 season. This is a big year for KK as free agency awaits him at the end of the year. A good season will make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. While Kendrick has not pitched great this year he hasn’t pitched poorly either. In his last three starts Kendrick is 0-1 with two no decisions. His ERA in these games has been a respectable 3.38 and his SO/BB ratio is 3 to 1. He’s also averaged over six innings per start. The Phils have won his last two no decisions and Kendrick led once and left one game tied when he exited. Lifetime against the Mets Kendrick is 8-8 with a 3.43 ERA.
The Braves aren’t going to play .708 ball all year and are due to come back to earth. This is nowhere close to a 115 win team, but that’s the pace they’re setting so far. Only one game separates the Mets, Nats and Phils, so it’s obvious division games are going to be as important as ever. Right now the Phils are 4-2 in division games with the next five coming against the Mets and the Nats. These are games and series the Phils must do well in if they’re to be contenders this year.
Though the Phils offense is inconsistent, scoring three runs or less in 12 of their 25 games, it’s a much better offense than last year. Currently the Phils are 6th in runs scored in the NL whereas last year they finished 13th. If Dom Brown and Cody Asche can start giving them some production from the bottom of the order they’ll have a very formidable lineup. With a starting rotation headlined by Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett and Cole Hamels the Phils will be in a lot of games this year.
For the time being it looks like Papelbon has his mojo back, nailing the door shut in the 9th inning. Mike Adams has only made four appearances since his return to the team, but he looks ready to take over the 8th inning set up job he was brought here to handle. If the Phils can square away the rest of their bullpen, which admittedly has been very bad to date, they could be playing some interesting games this September.