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Thursday, May 06, 2010

A Phillies Statement?

I won't argue that a four-game series at the beginning of May has any bearing on October, but the Phillies certainly entered their home series with the Cardinals this week as though they had something to prove.  The Phillies and Cardinals both came into the season as presumptive favorites in the NL and, no offense to the Giants and Padres, they've lived up to that billing, leading their respective divisions.

The Phillies manhandled the Cardinals this week, however, winning three out of four, despite being at a seeming disadvantage coming into the series.  The Cardinals entered the game having won eight of their last nine and sporting a healthy roster, with only utilityman, Felipe Lopez, on the D.L.  The Phillies, on the other hand, sent their closer, Ryan Madsen, and a starter, J. A. Happ, to the D.L. just prior to the series, and are still playing without their captain, Jimmy Rollins.  They were just in 4-6 in their ten games prior to St. Louis' arrival and, since placing Rollins on the D.L. following their 7-1 start, Philadelphia had a losing record (7-9).  One might have said, prior to the series, that the Cardinals were catching Philadelphia at the right time.

The Phils did get a little lucky in that they managed to miss Chris Carpenter (4-0, 2.84 ERA).  Even so, they didn't have a favorable pitching matchup until today, when Doc Halladay took the mound against the Cardinals worst starter, Kyle Lohse.  On Monday, in his first start back from the D.L., Joe Blanton performed admirably against a tough opponent, matching up with Jaime Garcia (3-1, 1.13 ERA), who has been among the most dominant starters in baseball early in 2010.  Then, Cole Hamels battled Carpenter's co-Ace, Adam Wainwright (4-1, 1.96 ERA), to a standstill on Tuesday, in a game the Phillies eventually won in extra innings.  Philadelphia handed a loss to Brad Penny on Wednesday.  He had entered the game with a 1.56 ERA.  Kyle Kendrick got his first win of the year, following seven shutout innings.  He had entered the game with a 7.61 ERA.

The key to beating good pitchers in this series was making them work in every inning.  Nine different Phillies drove in runs in the series.  On Tuesday, Raul Ibanez made Wainwright throw 18 pitches over the course of three plate appearances prior to hitting the triple that led to the Phillies only run against him.   On Thursday, Wilson Valdez didn't aid in the production of any runs, but saw 19 pitches in four at-bats, and doubled in his final opportunity.

Thursday's game featured only the second meeting between this generation's best hitter, Albert Pujols, and their best pitcher, Roy Halladay.  The first time, back in 2005, Halladay threw a complete game and Prince Albert went 0-for-4 with three groundouts.  This time out, Halladay pitched around some sloppy defense, managed seven strong innings, and King Albert went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.  In the fifth, with man on second and third, Pujols took a very close pitch in a 3-2 count and was blessed with a free pass.  The pitch would likely have been called a strike against almost any other hitter.  Doc proceeded to strike out Matt Holliday with the bases loaded.  No damage done.  In the seventh Pujols again came up with men on base.  This time he laced an RBI single through the left side.  

Like I said before, I'm not ready to make any assumptions about these potential NLCS opponents based on this series, but it was clearly a matchup of two very high quality ballclubs, each of whom wanted to assert themselves as the class of the National League.  Anybody who believed the Phillies rough stretch sans J-Roll was an indication of weakness should take note: the Phillies remain a powerhouse, having won five out of seven against the Cardinals and the divisional rival Mets.  I look forward to seeing these teams square off again, and I won't half to wait until the playoffs.  Philadelphia travels to St. Louis for a four-game set in the middle of July.

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