Series Preview: Philadelphia Phillies @ New York Mets
The Mets were fortunate to get a day off yesterday to re-adjust to being back on the East Coast before they host the Phillies at Citi Field tonight. New York has taken six of their first nine contests against Philadelphia, and unlike their road record would display, they have done most of their damage on the road, going 5-1 at Citizen’s Bank Park. Terry Collins is hoping his team can start a strong week tonight against two bottom dwellers and move into the All-Star break on a high note.
How they’re doing:
Even though they couldn’t come away with the four-game sweep of the Dodgers Sunday, the Mets ended their road trip with a 4-3 record, pushing their overall road record back up to 20-20 in 2012, with their season record at 43-37. They have split their last 10 games, and finished June with a 15-13 record while sporting the lowest ERA in baseball (2.79). On the strength of his sixth All-Star selection, David Wright continues to lead the offense (.354/.447/.560), while the presence of Ruben Tejada and resurgence of Daniel Murphy has provided some extra help. Ike Davis has also been surging lately and is now tied with Lucas Duda for the team lead in home runs (11), and his 45 RBI are second to only Wright’s 50. The pitching has been consistent across the board over the past month, as R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, and Jonathon Niese lead the way. Bobby Parnellhas been able to take over closer duties without a hitch.
As for the Phillies, it has been refreshing for Mets fans to continue seeing Philly sitting at the bottom of the division this late in the year, sporting a 36-45 record and on a current five-game losing streak. Charlie Manuel is elated to have Chase Utley back in the lineup, but his squad is 9-20 in their last 29 games, and after trading away Jim Thome for two prospects of the weekend, a potential fire sale could be on the way. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. hasn’t confirmed that yet, as they’re planning on getting Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard back soon, but if the Phillies don’t get out of the basement soon, don’t be surprised if free agent-to-be Cole Hamels is on the trading block.
Carlos Ruiz (.356/.420/.579) is the NL’s leading hitter, and has been pacing the Philly offense all year. Juan Pierre is having a nice bounce back year, while Hunter Pence‘s average has been on the rise of late. Mike Fontenot (.315/.359/.370) has been a blessing for the middle infield before Utley was able to return. Without Howard in the middle of the lineup, Pence has been providing most of the power, leading the team in both home runs (16) and RBI (49). As for the pitching, it has been tough with Halladay on the DL and Cliff Lee still winless, but they have gotten solid seasons from Cole Hamels (10-4, 3.08 ERA) and Vance Worley, who is on the hill tonight. Jonathon Papelbon has given the back end of the bullpen the stability Amaro, Jr. was hoping for, as he’s converted 18/19 save opportunities and a 3.03 ERA in 29.2 IP.
Probable pitching match-ups:
Vance Worley (4-4, 2.92 ERA) vs. Jonathon Niese (6-3, 3.55 ERA)
Charlie Manuel sends Worley to the mound in the series opener, hoping to set the tone for the rest of the Phillies rotation as they face New York. There is no doubt the Philly right-hander is excited to be on the road, where he’s 2-2 with a 1.89 ERA this year. Also, facing a predominantly left-handed lineup bodes well, as he’s compiled a 2.13 ERA in 38 innings pitched in that situation. Niese is taking the hill, looking to pitch at least six innings for his sixth straight start. June was the best month for the young left-hander, going 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA. However, he will be pitching at night, which has been his kryptonite in 2012, going 2-3 with a 5.94 ERA.
Kyle Kendrick (2-8, 5.35 ERA) vs. Chris Young (2-1, 3.30 ERA)
With the various injuries to the starting rotation, the Phillies have been relying on Kendrick more than normal, and he’s been wildly inconsistent this season. After a tough April, he did settle down in May (1-2, 2.89 ERA), but regressed in June, going 1-4 with a 6.96 ERA in 32.1 innings pitched. The key to Kendrick’s struggles has been his his WHIP (1.55 in ’12 vs. 1.40 career) and his GO/FO average (0.98 in ’12 vs. 1.24 career). Chris Young continues to impress after his shoulder capsule surgery, as he’s pitched at least six innings in three straight starts.
Cliff Lee (0-5, 4.13 ERA) vs. R.A. Dickey (12-1, 2.15 ERA)
Did anyone ever think that it would be July before Cliff Lee would have his first win of the season? I didn’t, and he’s yet to get a victory yet in 2012. While he pitched well through the first two months of the year, Lee was ineffective in June, going 0-3 with a 6.12 ERA. Early in the season, he was a victim of no run support, but it’s hard to have the offense score seven runs in a game to give their starting pitcher a chance to win the contest. On the other hand, Dickey is coming off the best month of his life. Just being named to the NL All-Star team, he went 5-0 with a 0.93 ERA in June; he struck out 55 hitters in 48.1 innings, while giving out only 8 free passes. This match-up is the best of the bunch, as the Baseball Gods have saved the best for last.
Chase Utley has made his return felt around baseball during the past week, but Hunter Pence has been on fire over the last week and a half. He’s hitting .359 in his last 10 games and finished June with a .327/.384/.531 triple slash, by far his best month of the season.
Surprisingly, Pence has been a better hitter on the road than at home in 2012, as he’s hit the majority of his home runs (9 of 16) and driven in most of his runs (28 of 49) away from Philadelphia.
Daniel Murphy has broken out of his June slump in a big way, hitting .357 in his last 10 games, and hitting his first three homers of the year, along with driving in 10 runs. It appears that Murph’s bat is finally back on track after his worst month of the season, and he’s happy to come back to Citi Field (.314/.358/.416 in 2012).
Ty Wigginton has been receiving the bulk of his playing time in the absence of Ryan Howard this season, and although filling in admirably and playing more than expected this season, he’s starting to fade. He’s hit .214 and driven in 4 runs in his last 10 games, and after a hot April (.322/.379/.475), he’s cooled off considerably, having his worst overall month in June, while getting the most at-bats. He’s fared better against right-handers than southpaws, so he will be happy once Niese is out of the game tonight.
Terry Collins has been able to give Kirk Nieuwenhuis some time off to help get his mind right during his recent struggles, but with righties on the mound tonight and tomorrow, Captain Kirk will be in the lineup. His recent slump made June his worst statistical month of the season (.238/.281/.464) despite hitting five of his seven home runs. Nieuwenhuis is hitting .302 against right-handers in 2012 and Collins will be hoping that his bat will get going tonight to help the New York Offense.
We’ll see if the Mets can continue punishing the Phillies in their head-to-head match-ups… let’s go Mets!