(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien this series.)
Philadelphia – First thing’s first….as in first base and Ryan Howard. The Phillies slugger is likely to be back in the Phillies lineup tonight, and wouldn’t you just figure that’s how it would be when the Braves arrived at Citizens Bank Park for the first time this season?
Howard will get his first action since rupturing his Achilles tendon in the final at-bat of the Phillies’ Division Series loss last year to the Cardinals.
I don’t think anybody expects that Howard is back to 100 percent and apparently it’s going to take a while for his leg to regain full strength – this was no minor injury he suffered – but he’s to be back in the Phillies lineup, joining Chase Utley who re-joined the Phillies a week ago. And this is no small this for the psyche of that team and in front of a home crowd of Phillies fans. He brings a presence, and Tim Hudson knows it.
Howard has hit Hudson at a .327 (17-for-52) clip for his career with two doubles, six home runs, 14 RBIs and 10 walks.
Utley is 7-for-23 (.304) in his return, but the Phillies are only 1-7 since then. Three of his hits came in his first game back when he hit a home run in an 11-7 loss to the Pirates.
But this gives the Phillies something they can build on or rally around. They enter this series 37-47, in last place in the NL East and 13 games behind the Nationals. They’ve got management mulling whether to take the plunge and sell, sell, sell, trading the likes of Cole Hamels, who is in his free agent year, and possibly Shane Victorino at the deadline.
Despite the way things have gone in 2012 for the Phillies, they still have an upper hand on the Braves. It’ll be that way until the Braves break through against them on a consistent basis head-to-head.
The Braves are 38-55 against the Phillies since they started their run of five straight NL East titles. The Braves are 13-32 against the Phillies since the start of the 2010 season, including nine losses in their past 10 meetings.
The Braves lost two of three to the Phillies on May 1-3. And the one win in that series – a 15-13 11-inning affair that ended on Chipper Jones’ walk-off two-run homer off Brian Sanches - snapped a streak of eight consecutive losses in the series. The Braves have lost four straight series to the Phillies, dating back to last May 13-15 when they took two of three at Turner Field.
Normally it’s good news when a team comes to Philly and doesn’t have to face Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels or Roy Halladay (who’s still on the disabled list)….or at a ballpark where the Phillies are tied with the San Diego Padres (17-24) for the worst home record in the National League.
But the Braves know better than to breathe easy. The three starters they’ll face this weekend have given them enough fits to take anything for granted. Tonight’s starter Kyle Kendrick has pitched as well against the Braves as anybody in his career. He’s 6-1 with a 2.53 ERA in 15 career games against the Braves, including 10 starts. (The six wins are his most against any team, and the 2.53 ERA is second-lowest. He has a 1.69 ERA against the Cubs but in only four appearances, three starts.)
Kendrick has never give up more than three earned runs in any of those starts against Atlanta.
His last start against them on May 7, 2011, he pitched five shutout innings in a 3-0 win in Julio Teheran’s major league debut in Philadelphia. He faced them three times in 2010, giving up two runs in five innings, one run in seven innings and no runs in eight innings over three starts. The Braves managed to win two of those games in 2010 but no thanks to Kendrick.
Then you have Joe Blanton pitching Saturday vs. Tommy Hanson. Blanton shut out the Braves and out-dueled Randall Delgado in a 4-0 game on May 3 that lasted all of two hours and two minutes. Granted, part of that had to do with the four-hour marathon they had played the night before, when the Braves won 15-13 on the Chipper walk-off, and it was a quick turnaround with a day game. But still, the Braves managed only three hits, all singles and one on the infield, in nine innings against Blanton, who walked none and struck out six that day.
And going Sunday for the Phillies against Jair Jurrjens is Vance Worley, who is 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in four appearances against the Braves, including two starts. He pitched five shutout innings allowing one hit in a no-decision on Oct. 2, 2010, one of those games the Braves had to have in the final series of the season. Then last September 6, Worley out-dueled Hudson for a 6-3 win to move to 11-1 on the season.
Hudson faces the Phillies for the first time since that final game of the season last year, when he pitched with such heart, out-dueling the Phillies’ bullpen approach to the game (Blanton, Hamels, Worley combined to give up three runs in the first six innings) He left with a 3-2 lead after pitching 6 1/3 innings, allowing six hits, walking one and striking out four. Craig Kimbrel gave up the tying run in the ninth, then Hunter Pence did his thing against Scott Linebrink in the 13th. Oh yeah, remember him?
Guessing FOX had something a little more in mind when they chose this game for their Saturday night slot this weekend, but then again, this is still a good rivalry. It just is….
Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, the old thorn in the Braves side, is apparently a thorn in everybody’s side this year, putting up an All-Star first-half. He enters the series second in the majors in batting (.355) behind Andrew McCutchen (.356) and Melky Cabrera. Guess it’s about time the rest of the league figured out what the Braves already know – the guy is good.
And by the way, no catcher has won the National League batting title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942. …
Glad to read today about the resumption of the U.S.-Cuban exhibition game that was played in Havana between college All-Stars and a Cuban national team (U.S. team won 4-3) after a 16-year absence. They played at Latin American Stadium where I got to watch the Industriales play while on a mission trip with my church in February.
1. Michael Bourn CF
2. Martin Prado LF
3. Jason Heyward RF
4. Chipper Jones 3B
5. Freddie Freeman 1B
6. Brian McCann C
7. Dan Uggla 2B
8. Andrelton Simmons SS
9. Tim Hudson P
1. Jimmy Rollins SS
2. Shane Victorino CF
3. Chase Utley 2B
4. Ryan Howard 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz C
6. Hunter Pence RF
7. Juan Pierre LF
8. Mike Fontenot 3B
9. Kyle Kendrick P