Going into Chicago having lost eight of their last eleven games and reeling from a series sweep by the Marlins at home, the Phillies kicked into high gear and used the broom on the Cubs. J.A. Happ had a solid start on Tuesday, Pedro Martinez had a decent debut on Wednesday, and Cliff Lee was once again dominant yesterday. Raul Ibanez and Ryan Howard broke out of their slumps, Jimmy Rollins continued to scorch the baseball, and Shane Victorino… uh, had a beer thrown at him (the fan at fault has since turned himself in).
The Phillies roll into Atlanta on a roll, five games up on the third-place Braves. After this series, the Phillies and Braves will match up six more times in two series before the end of the season. Winning this series, effectively pushing the Braves to six games back, will force Atlanta to play well above .500 baseball the rest of the season and take at least four of the six remaining match-ups.
Atlanta will throw out their two best pitchers in Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez, as well as Kenshin Kawakami who the Phillies had problems with back on May 10. Of course, the roster then looks foreign: Brett Myers has been injured, and Miguel Cairo and Jack Taschner are currently playing for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.
The Phillies will counter Jurrjens with Joe Blanton, who has allowed three earned runs or less in eight straight starts and has a 2.28 ERA in those 55 innings.
The struggling Cole Hamels will oppose Kawakami. Hamels hasn’t had back-to-back quality starts since June 16 and 21, and has allowed 4 and 6 earned runs in his last two starts. In both starts, he failed to reach six innings.
Finally, Rookie of the Year candidate J.A. Happ will oppose Vazquez, who the Phillies have traditionally hit despite his great K/BB rates. Nine of Happ’s last ten starts have been quality starts, and he’s allowed two earned runs or less and pitched at least six innings in three straight. Now with enough innings to qualify, Happ sits at #8 on the NL leaders in ERA list. His 157 ERA+ is, as you might expect, tops by far among Phillies starters.
So, the Phillies are hoping for more of the same from Blanton, Happ, and the offense, and a bounce-back from Hamels. Additionally, they’re going to have to figure out Jurrjens and Kawakami who have career 2.27 and 3.00 ERA’s against the Phillies respectively.