Crucial week ahead for Phillies, who are just 4 games out

Crucial week ahead for Phillies, who are just 4 games out

May 13, 2013, 6:00 pm
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The Phillies have revenge on the mind this week as they prepare to face two teams that shut them down in Ohio several weeks ago.

A scheduling quirk has off-days Monday and Thursday sandwiching a two-game series with the Cleveland Indians at Citizens Bank Park. Then this weekend, the Cincinnati Reds come to town for three games.

When the Phillies played the Indians at Progressive Field they were outscored 20-2, outhit 31-8, and watched the Tribe hit seven homers in one game. And that was without the Indians’ two prized offseason acquisitions, Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher.

The Indians are still cruising, having won 13 of their last 15 games. They lead the majors in slugging percentage and OPS. They won the first game of their Monday doubleheader with the Yankees, 1-0, behind a four-hit shutout from Justin Masterson. They were firing on all cylinders on April 30 and May 1, and they still are.

“We've got to play good,” Charlie Manuel said. “We owe Cleveland something. They beat us. They smoked us. We need to repay them at Citizens Bank Park.”

“They put it to us. They scored a lot of runs and we didn't,” added Chase Utley, who hit .393 with four extra-base hits and four walks on the Phils’ west coast road trip. “That's the bottom line. Hopefully our fans will get behind us at home and make it tough on them and we'll try to score more runs.”

Jonathan Pettibone goes in Game 1 against Scott Kazmir, who last Thursday made his best start since 2009, allowing one run over six innings with 10 strikeouts against the A’s.

Kazmir, a former first-round pick and top prospect, looked like his old self last week. He was regularly touching 93-94 mph on the radar gun and even hit as high as 96. Velocity had been a problem for him in recent years – he was between 87-90 in 2010 and 2011, and went unsigned in 2012.

A positive sign heading into Tuesday’s game against the southpaw Kazmir was the ability of Utley and Ryan Howard to hit a tough lefty in Matt Reynolds on Sunday. Utley and Howard entered that game a combined 10 for 70 against left-handers. Injuries and inconsistency over the last few seasons have prevented that duo from producing concurrently very often.

In the second game, Cole Hamels (1-5, 4.18) takes on Corey Kluber (2-2, 5.64), a mediocre righty with a .311 opponents’ batting average. Kluber is a 6-foot-4 fastball-cutter guy.

Hamels has been excellent over his last six starts, pitching to a 2.41 ERA and holding opponents to a .186 clip. He has just one win in that stretch, though, because the Phillies have scored a grand total of four runs in the 41 innings he’s pitched.

A look at the weekend

The Reds outscored the Phillies 16-4 last month, but that was at Great American Ballpark. Cincinnati is a markedly different team away from home.

The Reds have hit .265 with a .777 OPS and 28 home runs at home, compared to .224 with a .641 OPS and nine homers on the road. The pitching has been affected too – at home, Reds pitchers have a 2.87 ERA; on the road, 4.70.

When the Phillies went to Cincy, they were in the midst of that four-game walk-less streak. They aren’t going as bad as they were then, and some notable Reds aren’t going as good.

Shin-Soo Choo, the top offseason acquisition made by any NL contender, is hitting .200 in his last 16 games. He still leads the majors with a .451 on-base percentage, but he’s come back to earth after a torrid start. Teammate Joey Votto is second in the NL with a .444 OBP.

But for some reason, Dusty Baker insists on splitting them up in the lineup with two-hole hitter Zack Cozart. The shortstop is batting .207 with a .237 OBP and doesn’t have the skills typically found in a second batter. Cozart rarely pulls the ball.

Because Cozart makes so many outs, Votto’s RBI opportunities have been limited. He has just 15 on the season, three fewer than Domonic Brown. Votto has already led off an inning 35 times this season because Cozart so frequently makes the final out in an inning. Literally any other starter would fit better in the two-hole for the Reds ... but let’s hope Baker continues to plug Cozart in there until next week.

In that series the Phils will face Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey. Latos (4-0, 3.04) was off to a great start this season, but has faltered of late, allowing 10 runs and 21 baserunners in his last 11 innings. The Phillies missed him in Cincinnati.

A final look back

Had someone told you a week ago at this time the Phillies would go 4-3 on their trip to San Francisco and Arizona, you'd take it. It was the way they went about winning four of seven that was frustrating. They lost three straight one-run games and managed no runs in eight inning against Brandon McCarthy, who entered with a 6.75 ERA and the highest hit total in the NL. A fruit basket should be sent to Kirk Gibson for taking McCarthy out after 88 pitches. (Gibson did the same thing two weeks ago when Trevor Cahill threw an 88-pitch gem. J.J. Putz came on and immediately gave up a game-tying homer.)

A positive takeaway from the road trip was the Phillies' late life. On two different occasions they came back from a two-run deficit in the ninth inning. Comebacks were rare last season. From 2008-11, when the Phils were their most productive and fun to watch, they caused 36 multi-run blown saves after the seventh inning. In 2012, they did it just four times. After getting to Sergio Romo and Heath Bell last week, they've already caused three multi-run blown saves after the seventh in 2013.

Every week is important, but this one especially. The Phillies have a chance against two good teams to make up more ground in the NL East, which is looking more and more winnable. The Braves and Nationals are each on losing streaks and dealing with major problems.

Atlanta has gotten nothing from its highest-paid player, B.J. Upton, has seen its starting pitching struggle after three unsustainably strong weeks to open the season, and would be on pace to set the single-season strikeout record if not for the Astros K'ing even more this season.

Washington has been ravaged by injuries. Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos have all missed time.

As inconsistent as the Phillies have been, they're only four games out of first place.