Talking Phillies-Mets with SNY.tv’s Ted Berg

I joined SNY.tv‘s Ted Berg (@OGTedBerg) to preview the upcoming Phillies-Mets series. We talk about the Phillies’ shrinking playoff hopes, Roy Halladay‘s struggles, Cliff Lee‘s resurgence, Tyler Cloyd‘s future, and Cole Hamels‘ side job as a model.

Ted’s embarrassing photos of Cole Hamels archive.

Your starting pitching match-ups for the series (Updated!):

Marlins Series Preview with Dave Gershman

The 1-3 Florida Marlins are in town for the 1-2 Phillies’ home opener. Anibal Sanchez will oppose Cole Hamels, a match-up of two very talented starting pitchers. Both teams are coming off of disappointing openings to the season: the Phillies have pitched well but scored few runs; the Marlins have been hit-or-miss, falling victim to Kyle Lohse and Johnny Cueto but victimizing Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo.

Series at a Glance

Lineups

Marlins

Phillies

Dave Gershman (@Dave_Gershman), of ESPN’s Marlins Daily, and I swapped some questions to preview the series on our respective blogs, so make sure to stop over there to check out what I had to say about the Phillies. His answers about the Marlins are below.

. . .

1. So you’ve seen the first regular season action in the new ballpark, albeit just one game. What are your initial thoughts? Do you think it will play as an extreme pitcher’s park as many are predicting?

Although I think it’s too early to tell whether or not the ballpark will favor pitchers rather than hitters, there are some initial problems concerning me that could easily be found within the confines of the park prior to the seasons start. The home run sculpture in center field is a basic issue that I have with the park. It’s almost directly in the batters eye, which too is bright green. There is just a lot of noise going on in center field which I think should be dimmed out if possible. Back to the question though, I do think the park will become a pitcher’s best friend. The dimensions are huge, and last time we saw dimensions as such for a brand new park was Citi Field.

2. Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t hit a home run yet. What’s wrong with him?

Absolutely nothing. The season is only four days old and we all know what Stanton is capable of.

3. Which hitter has most impressed you through four games? Which pitcher?

I’ll go with Omar Infante and Josh Johnson. It’s still early, but Infante’s big home run on Saturday night helped the Marlins win their first game of the season. Additionally, he almost hit for the cycle that night. Josh Johnson being healthy and pitching a decent game on Opening Night earns him my “most valuable pitcher through four games” award. If Johnson can stay healthy and simply be Josh Johnson, the Marlins post-season chances are much greater.

4. Which hitter has least impressed you through four games? Which pitcher?

Mike Stanton and Carlos Zambrano. The fact that Stanton hasn’t yet gone deep isn’t the problem for me. The issue that I have with Stanton is that a lot of the fastballs he’s been given have been rolled over to third base or elsewhere to the left side of the infield. Last season, all of those would be fly balls. Zambrano’s performance yesterday sells it. After a lousy first few innings, the right-hander easily penetrated the Marlins’ chances of winning the ballgame.

5. Anibal Sanchez increased his K/9 from 7.4 and 7.2 in 2009-10 to 9.3 last year, while also continuing to improve his control. What contributed to this change?

Like Ricky Nolasco, Sanchez threw his fastball more and got more whiffs outside the zone. His contact rate lowered because of that and, because of that, probably had him gain more confidence in his arsenal. In doing so, Sanchez has easily become one of the more feared starters in the NL East and has a chance to continue providing as a solid number two for the Fish for years to come.

6. Have the first few games of the season changed the way you feel about the NL East?

Not particularly. I’ll make my judgements in a couple of weeks once things settle down a bit. That said, I did expect the Braves to play better and the Mets the opposite. Cliff Lee failed to lead the Phillies to victory in his first start, but again, these things happen in the first few games of the season. If I made judgements after the first weekend of the season I would have given up on the Red Sox after the first week of last season.

7. How do you see this series playing out? Who wins?

Especially with the way these two teams played this weekend, it could go either way. That said, I think the Phillies will turn the bats on and, additionally, shut the Marlins down. The Fightin’s will win the series 2-1.

. . .

Many thanks to Dave for sharing his insight on the Fish. Follow him on Twitter and stop by Marlins Daily for his thoughts throughout the series.

Use this thread throughout the day to talk about the Phillies and the game.

Cardinals NLDS Series Preview with Matthew Philip

After two weeks of meaningless baseball, the Phillies will get back on the horse as they open the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Roy Halladay will oppose former Phillie Kyle Lohse in a battle of right-handed pitchers in Game One. Yesterday, you got a graphical preview of the series; today, I call upon ESPN Sweet Spot’s resident Cardinals expert Matthew Philip of the Fungoes blog to give us some perspective on the other team in red.

. . .

1. Matt Holliday is unavailable for at least Game One of the NLDS. How big a deal is his injury?

It’s certainly huge if he can’t play, inasmuch as he is one of the offense’s “MV3,” along with Berkman and Pujols. GM John Mozeliak has said that Holliday’s injury might be DL-worthy had it occurred earlier in the year, so it’s definitely serious. The good news for the Cardinals is that Allen Craig is a potentially potent fill-in.

2. Do you agree with Tony La Russa’s choices in using Kyle Lohse to open the series, and Chris Carpenter for Game Two on three days of rest?

La Russa’s penchant for overmanaging is infamous enough to have been the subject of a Mustrash episode, and this is an example of TLR seemingly needing to put his stamp on the series. He does have some method to his madness, though: Using Carpenter early would allow him to return for a possible Game 5, which makes sense. The stranger call is delaying Jaime Garcia, who would’ve pitched on normal rest in Game 1, till Tuesday’s Game 3. I don’t like it because pitching Garcia in Game 1 would’ve given the team the option to start him on one-day short rest in a possible Game 4. And if not Garcia in Game 1, I still consider Jackson to be better than Lohse, despite the latter’s career year.

3. The Cardinals are not a very mobile team, having finished last in the NL in stolen bases with 57. Do you worry about their ability to manufacture runs against the Phillies’ pitching staff?

The Cardinals scored the most runs in the league because they manufacture runs simply by getting on base and not via “small ball.” The key, since they are so poor at stealing (not to mention the league’s slowest team) and, in addition, executing will be not running into outs on the bases, which they have done with occasional impunity. TLR will have to resist the urge to put runners in motion in order to avoid double plays, to which he may be particularly sensitive given the misguided criticism of the team hitting into so many (which is mostly a function of OBP, of course). The Phillies’ staff will make them pay or underappreciating their limited outs.

4. Do you feel confident that the Cardinals’ lefty relievers can neutralize Ryan Howard?

Howard has a .100 OBP/.100 SLG in 10 plate appearances against Brian Tallet. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they overhauled their LOOGys late in the season and shipped Tallet to Toronto. They now have the majors’ fourth-oldest player in Arthur Rhodes, against whose platoon advantage Howard is impervious, with .400 OBP and .750 SLG in 10 PAs. Expect Marc Rzepczynski to be the designated LOOGy, against whom Howard is 0-for-2. If for some reason La Russa gets into a pinch or wants to get creative, he could use starting pitcher Jaime Garcia in relief against Howard, who is only 2-for-12 with six Ks against him.

5. The Cardinals are a team heavy on right-handed hitters. Do you think they match up better against Cliff Lee than Roy Halladay?

They haven’t hit either one this year, so I think this is a case of sheer talent trumping any platoon advantage. Lee held the Cardinals to a .322 OBP/.269 SLG in two starts in 2011, while Halladay was no more generous at .286 OBP/.340 SLG.

BONUS: Who do you see winning the series, and in how many games?

If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the Phillies — but not much. As superlative as the Phillies are, the Selig-format playoffs are notoriously a crapshoot, and this would be the series for the Cardinals to knock them off. The deep Philly rotation also loses some of its advantage, since the Cardinals can end it in three or, at the least, have to use their fourth man only once.

. . .

Thanks to Matthew for taking some time out of his schedule to talk with us on the other side. You can follow him on Twitter (@Fungoes) and keep tabs on his blog Fungoes for a numbers-heavy take on the series as it progresses.

STL/PHI NLDS Series Preview

Bill Petti (@BillPetti) of Amazin’ Avenue and Beyond the Box Score was nice enough to share his Saber-stat series preview graphic. It’s pretty snazzy. Click on the image to view a much larger version.

The graphic shows that the Cardinals are a better offensive team than the Phillies in, well, every facet. But it should be no surprise that the tables are flipped when it comes to pitching. The Cardinals are 7% better than the Phillies when it comes to scoring runs, but the Phillies are 27% better at preventing runs. That is why the Cardinals finished with just a +70 run differential while the Phillies finished at +184.

As for individual offensive contributors, let’s compare them using wOBA.

The Cardinals have the edge at five of eight positions; the Phillies lead at second base (Chase Utley), shortstop (Jimmy Rollins), and center field (Shane Victorino).

Now, a look at the pitchers using SIERA.

The Phillies have the overwhelming advantage in Games One and Two, and a slight advantage in Game Three. Should the series go to a fourth game, the Cardinals plan to use Phillie-killer Jaime Garcia, who has a 1.20 ERA against the Phillies — lowest among opponents with 20+ innings pitched.

Braves Series Preview with Peter Hjort

Would that this series actually mean anything, but as the Playoff Odds Report on Baseball Prospectus indicates, both teams are near-locks for the post-season. Alas, this series is rote for both teams. Still, it is a potential NLCS preview, so there is opportunity for meaningful reconnaissance. I grabbed ESPN Sweet Spot Braves blogger Peter Hjort to speak about the current state of the Braves as they look towards October. Over at Capitol Avenue, you can read my take on the Phillies.

. . .

1. Both the Phillies and Braves are virtual playoff locks. Since division rivals can’t play each other in the NLDS, which team do you fear more, the Brewers or D-Backs?

The Brewers and it’s not even close. Milwaukee’s team xFIP is right behind that of Philadelphia and Atlanta and their offense is one of the best in the league. Arizona’s offense and pitching staff aren’t in the same category as that of Milwaukee. I consider Arizona to be the weakest of the contenders.

2. The Braves have been bitten in the injury bug, particular with regard to Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. Recently, though, I saw you tweet that that didn’t worry you. How come?

Depth. If Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson don’t throw another pitch this season Atlanta can take Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor to the postseason with Randall Delgado in the bullpen as the long man and Julio Teheran waiting around in case a starter gets injured. I feel really good about that group. I’d rather have Hanson in the rotation, but I’d probably rather have Minor than Jurrjens, to be honest.

3. How is former Phillie Michael Bourn working out for you?

Very well. He hasn’t been an automatic out at the plate and has been a plus defender in center field. You couldn’t say the same thing about any of the other center fielders Atlanta has employed since Andruw Jones left. He’s been a good addition.

4. Dan Uggla was abysmal all season, but went on that lengthy hitting streak and he’s continued to hit since it ended. What was Uggla doing wrong earlier, and what did he change (if anything) to improve?

I think initially it was an approach thing, where he was trying to trade quality contact for quantity contact. He’s been striking out more since his hitting streak started, which is a good thing for a hitter like him. The key for Uggla is hitting the ball hard and far, not making tons of contact. While the approach thing was primarily responsible, after awhile the slump probably got in his head and the problem became a three-headed monster: approach, mechanics, and confidence.

5. While the rest of September is mostly meaningless, what or who are you going to be keeping an eye in in the remaining four weeks?

Because of the amount of pitching depth the Braves have, it seems like there are only four or five pitchers with a guaranteed postseason roster spot: Tim Hudson, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and possibly Derek Lowe. The other 6-7 spots are still TBD, and they’ll be decided by health and performance down the stretch. In short, I’m watching all of the pitchers.

6. Do you consider this series a must-win, or important at all?

Completely meaningless.

7. The pitching match-ups will be Lowe/Lee, Hudson/Worley, and Beachy/Oswalt. How do you see the series playing out?

You can’t predict baseball!

. . .

Thanks, as always, to Peter for taking some time to speak about his team for us. Be sure to drop by Capitol Avenue Club to see what I had to say about the Phillies, as well as for Braves-related news and analysis as the series — and the season — moves on. If you’re on Twitter, I highly recommend following Peter (@CapitolAvenue) as his mix of intelligent analysis and humor will keep you informed and entertained.

NLDS Choices: Diamondbacks vs. Giants

As Phillies fans looked towards this three-game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks, there was one suggestion frequently made: the Phillies should tank the series to screw over the San Francisco Giants. The Giants, of course, kicked the Phillies out of the NLCS last year. Additionally, they unnecessarily started a bench-clearing brawl with the Phillies recently, adding to the bad blood between the two teams’ fans. At the moment, the Diamondbacks lead the Giants by two games and would match up with the Phillies in the NLDS if the season ended today. The only way the Phillies wouldn’t face an NL West team is if the winner of the NL Central finished with a worse winning percentage than the winner of the NL West (assuming the Atlanta Braves take the Wild Card).

But are the D-Backs enough of a pushover where the Phillies should want to meet up with them over the Giants in the post-season? I’m not so sure. The D-Backs have a +27 run differential, better than the Giants’ -9. While the Phillies smash both of them at +137, the D-Backs are the tougher match-up simply based on run differential.

Comparing both teams’ starters at each position reinforces this point.

Going by wRC+ (the wOBA-based version of OPS+ where 100 is average and above is above-average, below is below-average), the D-Backs have the better hitter at six of eight positions. Note that the D-Backs have had to use various first basemen, now sitting with Paul Goldschmidt at the moment. The Giants have had their share of turnover as well, with Eli Whiteside getting the lion’s share of the playing time at catcher since Buster Posey was railroaded by Scott Cousins in late May. Recent acquisition Carlos Beltran has been sidelined as well and may go on the disabled list soon if he doesn’t see improvement.

This comparison uses xFIP-, which is an xFIP-based version of wRC+ where lower is better and 100 is average. It should come as no surprise that the Giants grade out better here, but the D-Backs are no pushovers. Currently, three of their starters are vastly out-performing their xFIP: Ian Kennedy (-0.48), Joe Saunders (-0.56), and Josh Collmenter (-0.59). While Giants pitchers are also out-performing their xFIP, some of it is better explained by batted ball abilities, defense, and park effects. (See my examination of Matt Cain at Baseball Prospectus from February.) On an interesting note, the D-Backs recently had to deal with the injury to Jason Marquis. They have many options to choose from, including Zach Duke and Micah Owings, as well as prospects Jarrod Parker and Wade Miley.

Again, not really a surprise that the Giants lead here. However, closer Brian Wilson has been vastly out-performing his xFIP. Compared to the last couple years, Wilson’s strikeouts are way down and the walks are way up, but he is still getting results. That could have a lot to do with the cavernous confines of AT&T Park as much as anything — Wilson’s road ERA is more than a full run higher than his home ERA. The Giants’ real stud has been Sergio Romo, whose 1.67 ERA is, stunningly, exactly in line with his 1.63 xFIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is over 13. The D-Backs don’t have nearly as much dominance late in the game, but J.J. Putz has been solid with good peripherals including a 3.47 xFIP.

From the Phillies’ perspective, choosing between the two teams is a bit of “pick your own poison”. While the Phillies would be the overwhelming favorites in any match-up, they would need to muster up some offense against the Giants, or they would have to attempt to completely silence the potent D-Back bats, something few teams have done so far this year. Either way, the Phillies’ biggest opponents in the post-season will be themselves and randomness in the universe. Whether it’s the D-Backs or Giants, the Phillies have to take care of themselves first.

Giants Series Preview with Chris Quick

The Phillies welcome the defending champion San Francisco Giants for a three-game series in the City of Brotherly Love. Looking to avenge last year’s NLCS defeat, the Phillies will send Rookie of the Year candidate Vance Worley to the hill to face Tim Lincecum in the series opener. The next two games will feature Cole Hamels against Barry Zito, and Kyle Kendrick against Matt Cain in what figures to be a low-scoring series. I caught up with Chris Quick of Bay City Ball (@BayCityBall), part of ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog network, to help preview the series. His answers to my questions are below. You can find my answers to his questions over at BCB.

. . .

1. Enjoying your time as a fan of the defending World Series champions?

I am enjoying it, but at the same time, I’m ready to move on a little. That’s not to say that I’m ungrateful for what 2010 meant to me, and a lot of other fans, but the afterglow is nearly gone and I’m ready to go for another title. I think teams that get trapped in the “we won the World Series!” mindset are doomed to make poor decisions. Let’s hope the Giants are ready for the next step, whatever that might mean. But, that’s sports, it’s a “what have you done for me lately” business.

2. How do the 2011 Giants compare to the 2010 Giants? Better, worse, about the same?

Similar in some ways, but different in others. The biggest thread between 2010 and 2011 is, of course, the fantastic pitching. The Giants have a top-three rotation in the National League right now and the things the bullpen has done should be considered cruel and unusual. Really, the pitching has been beyond outstanding. As fans of this team, we’re definitely spoiled when it comes to pitching.

On the other side, the offense has really been struggling since the year started. Losing Buster Posey for the season was a huge shock to an offense that was never projected to mash from spots one through eight. Injuries have kept the best possible configuration for the offense off the field. Add in Aubrey Huff‘s 2009 impression, Miguel Tejada being terrible, and a few other factors, and the offense has been, by most metrics, the worst in the NL. I think the biggest difference between last year’s team and other versions was the inclusion of a league average offense. That’s it. Getting a league average offense did wonders for the team when combined with it’s elite pitching. It’s going to be hard to win with an offense that ranks dead last.

3. You have the authority to make one transaction for the Giants before the July 31 deadline. What move do you make?

I trade for “non-terrible hitting catcher”. I know he’s out there somewhere. I’m generally really terrible at trade scenarios, but the Carlos Beltran chatter seems to grow a little louder each day. A  Beltran-Paulino package seems to make sense for the Giants.

4. The Giants are the only team left in the NL without a player with 10-plus homers. As a team, the Giants rank 13th in the NL in AVG, OBP, and SLG. Do you expect the offense to improve, or are the Giants simply a team predicated on pitching and defense?

It’s hard to see the offense improving much. That could be the pessimist in me, but key performers from last year like Aubrey Huff have been really, really bad. I think for better or worse, the Giants have to win with their pitching. That strategy leaves for a lot of 2-1 wins (and loses) and it can be incredibly frustrating at times. The good news is that Pablo Sandoval is having a terrific year with the bat (.363 wOBA) and a guy like Brandon Belt provides the chance for above-average offense. Whether or not the Giants will play Belt with regularity is another question entirely.

5. Much has been made about the emergence of Ryan Vogelsong. Are you aware of any reasons the Giants were able to find him and fix him?

Vogelsong’s season is truly one of those reasons why I think we all love baseball so much. To call it improbable seems like a huge understatement. We’ve sliced, diced, and examined his season a few times on the website and I think we always come away scratching our heads. His stuff is good; he generally throws a FB 90-92 with good movement that he’ll pair with a solid curveball. He also throws a slider and changeup. What has made his season has been the control and command of his pitches. This is a guy that was walking 5.9 batters per nine last year in AAA — and now he’s walking 3.06 per nine in the majors.

It’s all predicated on his control. In short: it’s an amazing story that I’m not sure how to explain. I kind of like it that way, but his stuff is good, he’s not doing it with smoke-and-mirrors.

6. Do you think the Giants could take down the Phillies in the playoffs again as they did last year?

Sure. The playoff format makes for interesting games and anyone can get hot at the right time. In last year’s playoffs the Giants were (or it felt like they were) constantly underdogs. In the end, they won the World Series. I think anyone would take their chances with the Giants’ pitching in a playoff scenario.

Bonus: Grab your crystal ball and tell us how you think this series will play out. The pitching match-ups are Lincecum-Worley, Zito-Hamels, and Cain-Kendrick.

Missing Halladay and Lee for this series is huge boost for the Giants. I’ll say the Giants can win 2-3; Lincecum beats Worley; Hamels beats Zito; Cain beats Kendrick.

. . .

Many thanks to Chris for taking time to share his perspective as a Giants blogger. Jump over to Bay City Ball to see what I had to say from the Phillies side of things. The crew at BCB do a great job of analyzing the Giants using Sabermetrics. Check out Rory Paap’s recent post on the Giants’ bullpen — there is one chart that is mind-boggling. Here’s hoping the Phillies give them something new to write about.

Marlins Series Preview with Dave Gershman

The Phillies will start the second-half of a road trip with the Florida Marlins tonight after having taken two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays. With a history of failing in inter-league play, the Phillies are 9-6 in such games this year, a victory in and of itself. The All-Star break fast approaches, but they will have to get through two division rivals first: the 38-46 Florida Marlins and the 49-36 Atlanta Braves. I swapped some questions with Dave Gershman (@Dave_Gershman) of Marlins Daily to preview the upcoming series with the Fish. His answers are below; you can read mine over at his place.

. . .

1. 14.5 games behind the Phillies in the NL East. Give me one reason why Marlins fans should have the faintest glimmer of hope for winning the division.

Instead of giving you one reason why Marlins fans should have a glimmer of hope, can I give you 10,000 reasons they shouldn’t? I’ll stick with the former. Despite an awful showing over the past month, the potential return of ace Josh Johnson added in with the stellar mix of Nolasco and Sanchez gives the Marlins a solid 1-2-3 heading down the stretch. With that and the continued progression (over the past week) of Hanley, the Marlins do have a shot at the Wild Card. Of course, they really don’t though. And those Marlins fans who do think there is a glimmer of hope are probably the same people who think the Royals and Astros can win their respective divisions.

2. Has Hanley Ramirez been the biggest disappointment for the Fish this year?

I’d say that Hanley has easily been the biggest disapointment, but that doesn’t excuse the terrible performance of the other members of the Fish. Mike Stanton has been extremely cold over the past few weeks, and along with that, the bullpen has struggled a great deal as of recent. However, Hanley has perenially been one of the best players in baseball, and he’s currently having one of the worst seasons of almost anybody in the game. Despite some recent improvements on the field and at the plate, he certainly has been dreadful this year. Here’s to Fish fans hoping that his performance this past week is going to continue.

3. Ricky Nolasco‘s K/9 was 9.5 in 2009 and 8.4 last year. So far in 2011, it’s 6.5. Is there an explanation for this?

Interesting that you should ask that. It sure is true that he’s not getting batters to whiff as much as he previously has, and his contact percentages both in and out the zone have increased this year, but 2011 could arguably be the best year of his career. A 3.43 FIP and the lowest home run percentage of his career are both reasons for his quiet success. In addition, his walk rate is lower than it was during the season he posted his lowest FIP (3.35), so the defense isn’t bailing him out or anything. Back to his K rate, his slider and curve have both been significantly worse than in the past, so that could be a reason. Of course though, it is strange that the K’s have disapeared.

4. On a similar note, Anibal Sanchez‘s strikeout rate jumped significantly compared to the last two seasons while his control has improved. What, if any, changes did he make to warrant this improvement?

Anibal Sanchez has been one of baseball’s bigger success stories this year. To be honest, I think it all has to do with yet another year of complete health (knock in wood) under his belt. He’s throwing his fastball harder and it’s been as effective as ever. Also, he’s throwing his change up more this year, especially out of the zone and batters have been swinging. His slider also has an additional mile per hour attatched to it, which is a prime reason for his many swings and misses. He’s never been a guy to walk the heck out opposing lineups, but his control has improved as you said.

5. Mike Stanton should be in the Home Run Derby, right?

Yes. Next question.

In all seriousness, he definitely should be competiting in the home run derby. Of course, MLB probably has to have the most glamorous guys in the home run derby, and especially the guys who will generate the most money from whichever outlets or ways could be provided. But come on, he has 16 home runs on the year and almost all of those homers have been hit to the freaking other side of the hemisphere, so it certianly would be fun to watch him hit in the Derby.

6. The Marlins will get to face both Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick, while missing Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Do you think the Marlins win the series?

Despite the Phillies’ two worst pitchers (which doesn’t say much) taking the mound in two out of the three games, I truly believe the Phillies will take the series, if not sweep. Worley is coming off a good start and Kendrick hasn’t been bad this season. The Marlins can’t seem to hit a lick even when they’re facing terrible pitchers, though.

. . .

Thanks to Dave for his insight on the Marlins. Make sure to stop by Marlins Daily to check out my answers to his questions, as well as information and analysis on the Fish. You can also follow Dave on Twitter (@Dave_Gershman) and read his stuff elsewhere at SB Nation.

Athletics Series Preview with Dan Hennessey

The Phillies wrapped up a short six-game road trip against the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals, splitting both series overall. They have returned home to Philadelphia to prepare for the Oakland A’s for another inter-league series. The A’s are a bit like the Phillies: strong with pitching, but have struggled offensively. The degree of struggle makes all the difference as the A’s have averaged just 3.6 runs per game while the Phillies average 4.1 per. To help preview what figures to be a pitching-heavy series, I caught up with Dan Hennessey (@DanHennessey31) of fellow Sweet Spot blog Baseballin’ on a Budget and asked him a few questions. He did the same with me, so trek on over to BoaB afterwards to check out my take on the Phillies.

. . .

1. The A’s are coming off of a sweep of the San Francisco Giants, and are on a five-game winning streak overall. Just five games out of first place in the AL West, do you see the A’s being contenders going into the second half?

No.

The A’s, despite being just five games out, are chasing a more talented team, the Texas Rangers. Texas suffered through major injury problems this spring (Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, etc.) and still managed to hang onto the division lead. The A’s needed to take advantage of that stretch and didn’t capitalize. The rotation is now without four of its best six pitchers, and not a single hitter has even been average. As of a couple weeks ago, every single regular had underperformed his projections. I don’t think there’s any question that the A’s will be “opportunistic sellers” at the deadline this July.

2. A couple former Phillies are in the A’s starting rotation. How have Gio Gonzalez and Josh Outman looked so far this year?

Gio’s been terrific. He’s limiting walks, which have plagued him throughout his career, while continuing to strike out almost a batter per inning. He’s basically a two-pitch pitcher (fastball/curveball, very occasional changeup), but he’ll throw either pitch in any count and is commanding his fastball much better.

Josh Outman was the seventh stater coming out of spring training after missing the last year and a half after Tommy John surgery. Of course, he’s now the A’s third best starter and has pitched fairly well so far in his six starts. His strikeout rate is way down so far, and it’s only been 35 innings, but it’s something to watch going forward.

3. No regulars in the lineup have an OPS+ over 100. Is this a chronic problem? Can Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore help the offense?

Two of the A’s Opening Day infielders (Daric Barton, Kevin Kouzmanoff) are now in Triple-A; offseason acquisitions David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui have been mostly awful. Only Josh Willingham has come close to being productive. Sizemore and Weeks can help, but they’re average players at best, not the game-changing offensive forces the A’s desperately need.

4. Andrew Bailey recently made his return. How much does his return help the bullpen?

The bullpen performed well in his absence, but Bailey’s return helps to define roles. We saw with Brian Fuentes and Bob Geren that roles and expectations were not always communicated; that shouldn’t be a problem with Geren out and Bailey stabilizing the back end of the bullpen. Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Brad Ziegler, and Joey Devine have all been very good this year. A lot of them might find themselves on other teams come August.

5. Bob Geren found himself in hot water, but was fired two weeks ago. Do you think that was the correct solution to the team’s problems?

Bob Geren, for all the disfunction in the clubhouse, didn’t make a single out this season. The correct solution to the team’s problems would be to find hitters that, you know, hit, and to not have four starting pitchers go on the DL within six weeks of each other. Bob Geren wasn’t helping, but he certainly wasn’t hurting as much as some A’s fans suggested.

6. The A’s will draw Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, and Roy Halladay. Let’s ignore Worley for the moment: which of Hamels and Halladay is a better match-up for the A’s?

Hope for rain? The A’s struggle against even the most mediocre pitchers; they probably won’t have much of a chance against either ace. That said, I’ll say Hamels. The A’s are a right-handed heavy lineup (though the splits don’t suggest they’re that much better against lefties), and Halladay’s command and patience will likely be too much.

7. Grab your crystal ball and give us your prediction on how the series will play out.

Two of three for the Phillies, and it might not be particularly close. I’d say it’s more likely to be a Phillie sweep than a series win for the A’s.

. . .

Many thanks to Dan for his rather straightforward analysis of the A’s and what to expect in this series. Make sure to add him on Twitter and check out his blog for his thoughts on the A’s.