October preview? Phillies set for Red Sox test

October preview? Phillies set for Red Sox test
June 27, 2011, 10:00 pm
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Monday, June 27, 2011
Posted: 6 p.m.

By Jim Salisbury

Back in spring training, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called the Boston Red Sox the best team in baseball.

Nearly three months into the regular season, does Amaro still feel that way?

Yes, he said Sunday.

But its the Phillies, not the Red Sox, who have the best record in the majors at 49-30.

Yeah, but we dont have the total package yet, Amaro said. One phase of our game is a little light right now.

That phase, of course, is offense.

The Phils are winning at a .620 clip despite lackluster offensive production. They rank 10th in the National League with a .246 team batting average, ninth in combined on-base and slugging percentage (.693) and eighth in runs per game (4.05). All three of those marks are below the league average.

Boston, meanwhile, is 45-32, a half-game out of first place in the American League East. The Red Sox are 43-22 since a 2-10 start, and they lead the majors in batting average (.277), runs per game (5.31) and OPS (.799).

The Red Sox come to Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night for their almost annual interleague meeting with the Phillies.

Amaro said he is not that interested in seeing how his club stacks up against one of the ALs top teams. Hes not into all that potential World Series preview hype.

Nope, he said.

Why not?

We just need to try to win games, he said. It has nothing to do with the Red Sox.

Manager Charlie Manuel, on the other hand, is eager to see how his club fares against the Red Sox. The Phils are just 5-16 against Boston during Manuels tenure.

Anytime the Red Sox come in its big for us and, of course, for our fans, Manuel said. Weve had a hard time beating them for five or six years. It would be nice if we can win a series. Its important for us to play Boston. Well get a good look at them. Theyre a good team, a good hitting team. Its a competition. Its a good test for us.

This series will test the adage that good pitching can stop good hitting. The Phillies have the best ERA in the majors at 3.05 and they will send two of the hottest pitchers in the majors Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to the mound in the first and third games. Rookie Vance Worley pitches the middle game on Wednesday night.

Lee has dazzled in June, going 4-0 with an 0.27 ERA in four starts. He has allowed just one run in 33 innings this month and none in his last 23 innings. He is holding opposing hitters to a .170 batting average over that span.

Lees opponent in Tuesday nights series opener is another of the games hottest pitchers. Right-hander Josh Beckett has a 1.51 ERA in his last eight starts.

Bostons offensive juggernaut is led by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The former San Diego Padre is enjoying a huge season in his first year in Boston. Gonzalez entered Monday leading the majors in batting average (.361), hits (114), doubles (25) and RBIs (71). Outfielder Carl Crawford, who signed with the Red Sox in the offseason, is on the disabled list.

With the exception of Ryan Howard, who ranks second in the NL with 62 RBIs, Phillies players are scarce on the NL offensive leader boards.

As Amaro said, the offense is a little light right now. Amaros use of the qualifier right now was interesting. Does it mean he believes things will turn around? Or does it mean he has a plan a lineup addition possibly? to help turn things around?

We can only hope that the players were paying big money to play produce and produce consistently, he said. We need to be more consistent. And we believe they will.

Why does he believe they will?

Because at the end of the day the talent is still there, Amaro said.

It is clear that Amaro is looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder on the trade market, but he does not have much payroll flexibility. The Phils, with the majors second-highest payroll, are about 3 million shy of the 178 million luxury-tax threshold. All this points to a marginal or complementary addition, possibly a player like Josh Willingham or Ryan Ludwick.

Asked about making a trade, Amaro again put the onus on the teams current players to start producing.

It would be like giving a Tic Tac to a whale, he said. These guys need to produce. I could add Mickey Mantle and its not going to have any effect if the guys we already have dont hit.

As much as Manuel craves another bat, he, too, put the responsibility for turning around the teams offensive fortunes on the guys already here.

And like Amaro, he mentioned the high salaries of some of these players.

Theyve got the wood in their hands, Manuel said. Theyre getting paid to hit.

The Phillies are coming off a series in which they scored just five runs in winning two of three against Oakland.

More production would serve them well against a team such as Boston in this series that many believe could be a preview of big things to come.

All we want to do is raise the trophy in October, Jimmy Rollins said. This is just another interleague series on our schedule. Itll be fun. Well enjoy it. But as far a World Series preview theres way too much baseball left to say that.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSalisburyCSN.

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