Miami – Well, well. Opportunity is knocking, kiddos. The Phillies are flopping right now, and here’s the door: the Braves are only 2 ½ games back in second place behind the Phillies, and Tim Hudson is on the mound tonight against the Marlins with a chance to take the series and make some noise.
Not only has Hudson had a great month (4-0 with a 1.26 ERA), not to mention a very solid season (5-1, 2.09 ERA), and oh by the way, a great stretch at the plate (he’s hitting .261, had a three-game hitting streak and is 6-for-his-last-17 with two RBIs), he is quite the Fisherman.
In his career, Hudson is 8-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 15 starts against the Marlins. This is the team he beat going into surgery – he had six shutout innings against them down here with his elbow all but falling off on July 23, 2008. Then he beat them his first start back from Tommy John last Sept. 1, holding them to two runs in 5 1/3 innings.
He did get a no decision in Sept. 29 against the Marlins in Atlanta. So, wait, quick, let me find a stat to counterbalance that. Yep. Here it is. He’s 6-1 with a 2.67 ERA in nine career games at Sun Life Stadium, so it’s called now. (You know, the stadium with blue and orange seats, the jagged center field wall, and the terrible attendance.)
Anyway, Hudson is going against Ricky Nolasco, who is 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA. He’d been doing all right, with three consecutive quality starts to begin the month but then he got blown up by the White Sox – for eight runs on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings on Friday night.
In the not so distant past, though, Nolasco has had his moments against Atlanta. In his last start against them last Sept. 30, he had a Marlins’ franchise record 16 strikeouts against the Braves in 7 2/3 innings of a 5-4 Marlins win. Oh yeah, you say here. He struck out nine consecutive batters at one point, falling one strikeout shy of Tom Seaver’s major league record from 1970.
Nolasco had had a day the likes of which the Braves have only seen in recent years against Sid Fernandez (16 Ks in 1989), Ramon Martinez (18 Ks in 1990) and Ben Sheets (18 Ks in 2004) and he did it in only 7 2/3 innings. And he manhandled the Braves at a time when they were desperately fighting for a wildcard spot.
Come to think of it, maybe this will be a more interesting matchup than I think. But before anybody starts to worry, let’s get back to those Phillies for just a minute.
It’s hard to believe, given the kind of thunder they have in that lineup, but the Phillies have been shut out in back-to-back games by the Mets and three times in the last four games. Really? Yep.
Wednesday night it was six shutout innings from the Mets’ Hisanori Takahashi. Tuesday night it was six shutout innings from Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. And Saturday it was eight shutout innings from Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, who no-hit them until the eighth inning.
Completing the four-game losing streak was Sunday’s 8-3 loss to Boston in which Tim Wakefield pitched eight shutout innings. So the Phillies saw two knuckleballers in back-to-back games Sunday and Tuesday (with an off day Monday).
Thanks to Paul Hagen of the Daily News and our notes group, and Elias Sports Bureau, we know that the last time the Phillies faced knuckleballers in back-to-back games was against the Niekro boys: Phil Niekro at Atlanta on April 27, 1983 and Joe Niekro vs. Houston on April 29. They won the first game and lost the second.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel wound up calling a closed-door 15-minute meeting in the clubhouse after last night’s game.
Here’s Hagen’s account:
He basically told the players that they needed to go back to the one-game-at-a-time approach that has served them so well the last few years.
It wasn’t the losing, exactly, even though they’d dropped four straight and 6 of their last 8. They’re still in first place and, besides, it’s not even June yet.
It’s not the lack of offense, even though they’re batting .203 as a team (52-for-256) in those games while being shut out three times and been held to a single run twice going into Thursday night’s series finale. Elite lineups are sometimes going to make mediocre pitchers look like Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson all rolled into one for awhile. It happens.
“He just said to play with some intensity. That’s it,” center fielder Shane Victorino said. “It’s not about winning and losing. It’s about conducting ourselves in the right way. No reaming. No yelling.”
In that context, the flippant remark made by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. before the game seems pretty pointed. After he observed that the Phillies “hitting stinks right now” he was asked if he anticipated a turnaround. He said he hoped so. “They’re paid not to stink,” he zinged.
Maybe Amaro meant to throw a dart at a $137 million payroll and an entire starting lineup with the exception of Jayson Werth signed beyond this year. Maybe he didn’t. But even before last night’s dull thud, Manuel talked about how his team had been “outplayed and outhustled” the night before.
Did I neglect to mention if the Braves win this Marlins series and take care of things over the weekend at home against the Pirates, then things could get real interesting when the Phillies come to Turner Field on Monday for the start of a three-game series? Well, might as well throw that in before it’s too late.
OK, time to post. I will have an update on Brian McCann from the yard this afternoon, but I wouldn’t bet on him being in the lineup. Why risk injuring the quadriceps further at this point?