PHILADELPHIA – So we’re here for the next-to-last road series of the regular season and Chipper Jones’ last trip to the City of Brotherly Booooo! And, man, we sure thought six or seven months ago that this would be a bigger series than it turns out to be.
I say six or seven months ago, because seven months ago spring training had begun, but no Grapefruit League games had been played. And so I took the approach that until someone proved otherwise, Philly would find a way and was still the team to beat in the NL East, just as the Braves had been for more than a decade.
But six months ago it was mid/late March and we already had plenty of warning signs that this Philly team might struggle until it got healthy and that its run of five consecutive NL East titles would be put to the test.
Sure enough, the Phillies went 41-54 through July 21, not the thing to do in a year when the Nationals and Braves would have two of the sport’s best five records at midseason.
The Phillies eventually started to get healthy, and after going 13 games under through July 21, they are 35-20 since then. The Braves are 34-22 in that same period. But the Braves went 52-42 though July 21, hence their 10-game lead over Philadelphia entering tonight’s series opener at Citizen Bank Park, and the Phillies’ situation of almost needing to run the table in their remaining 12 games to have any real hope of getting the second wild-card spot.
They trail St. Louis by four games for the second wild-card slot with a dozen games to go, and making that playoff berth all the more unlikely is the fact that Milwaukee and the L.A. Dodgers also stand between the Phillies and Cardinals. And while they can and probably will pass the Dodgers, reeling in the Brewers is another matter.
They are 1-1/2 games behind Milwaukee, and the Brewers are blazing hot.
Given your druthers, you do NOT want to face the Brewers in a first-round playoff series or wild-card game. They are 19-5 with a .302 batting average, 38 homers, 150 runs and a 3.39 ERA in their past 24 games, including 8-1 with a 2.44 ERA in their past nine games.
The Phillies? Also sizzling now. They are 15-5 with a 2.80 ERA and 106 runs in their past 20 games, including 7-0 with a 2.29 ERA in seven home games in that stretch. Which isn’t what the Braves had hoped for as they came to town with already extremely slim chances of making up 5-1/2 games on the Nationals, even if the Nationals go into coast mode (which they show no signs of doing).
Anyway, in regard to the Phillies, if not for their inexplicable 1-3 series at Houston last week, they’d probably have a good shot at the second wild-card spot. Now they face the Braves and Nationals back-to-back, albeit at home.
The Braves are 10-5 against Phillies this season and 5-1 at Citizens Bank Park. What a change from recent years, huh? The Braves are 9-3 with a 3.33 ERA and 61 runs in their past 12 games against the Phillies.
But again, keep in mind the Phillies have played like a different team the past few weeks, and haven’t lost at home in September.
By the way, my man Bob Brookover noted in the Philadelphia Enquirer today that Charlie Manuel’s teams have been a better second-half team in all but one of his eight seasons as Phillies manager, and this team is the sixth of those teams to play above .600 in the second half. These Phillies are 39-24 (.619) since the break.
• Cy Young case for Kimbrel: ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark makes a strong case for Craig Kimbrel as Cy Young Award winner in this article, which has a thorough examination of all the candidates for the award.
After watching Kimbrel slice-and-dice and otherwise devour hitters for the past two seasons, I couldn’t agree more. In the absence of a clear-cut, overwhelming season from an NL starting pitcher this year, Kimbrel should get the Cy. I still don’t think he will, but he should.
Stark did extensive research and found that, among pitchers (starters or relievers) who worked 50 or more innings in a season, Kimbrel’s current season stats would rank as the best strikeout ratio EVER at 16.5 per ninnnings, his .128 opponents’ batting average would be the best since 1900, and his .368 opponents’ OPS would be the lowest of the expansion era.
Oh, a few more: his 0.68 WHIP would also be the best by an NL reliever since 1900, and his 49.5 percent of hitters struck out would rank first in the live-ball era. His 105 strikeouts to 25 hits? That 4.2-to-1 ratio would be the best of all time. Repeat, best of all time.
If any reliever is worthy of the Cy Young Award, it’s Kimbrel in this particular season.
By the way, after Kimbrel failed to strike out a batter Wednesday while recording his NL-leading 38th save to finish off a 3-0 shutout for the Braves and the absurdly hot Kris Medlen against Miami, I went back to see when was the last time Kimbrel had an appearance without a strikeout. It was July 18 at San Francisco.
That’s two months without a strikeout-less outing for Kimbrel, who before that last had such an outing May 18. Two months again.
Between that May 18 game and Wednesday’s outing, Kimbrel pitched 41-1/3 innings in 41 appearances and piled up 82 strikeouts with four walks. That’s not a typo. Eighty-two strikeouts with four walks. He had a .101 opponents’ average in those 41 appearances.
•Tonight’s matchup: It’s Tommy Hanson (12-8, 4.33) against Phillies righty Kyle Kendrick (9-11, 3.95). It and the rest of the pitching matchups for the series are in this preview.
Hanson is 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA and .281 opponents’ average in his past six starts, and the Braves scored two or fewer runs while he was in all six of them, including one or no runs in four.
He’s 2-0 with a 2.48 ERA in his past seven starts against the Phils, and 1-0 with a 5.91 ERA in two this season. After allowing four runs in 3-2/3 innings for no decision May 5 in Philly, he gave up three runs in seven innings and won July 7 in Atlanta.
Ryan Howard is 2-for-15 with a homer and eight strikeouts against Hanson, the only Phillie with a homer against him.
Kendrick is 5-3 with a 3.13 ERA in nine starts since moving back from the bullpen, including 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA and .199 opponents’ average in his past seven. He has 37 strikeouts and only seven walks in 47-1/3 innings in the latter period.
Against the Braves, Kendrick is 6-1 with a 2.87 ERA in 18 games (12 starts), including two dramatically different ones this season. He threw seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball against them July 6, but gave up six runs and seven hits in 3-1/3 innings on Aug. 8. He got no decision in either game, both won by the Braves.
Against Kendrick, slumping Michael Bourn is 7-for-14 with two homers; Martin Prado is 8-for-17 with a homer, and Chipper Jones is 8-for-26 with two homers
The Braves still dead last in majors in average with RISP at .231, behind Astros (.235), Marlins (.235), Cubs (.235) and Padres (.233).
They’re also last in the majors in pinch-hitting average at .162 and next-to-last in pinch-hit OPS (.493). By comparison, the Nationals lead the majors in pinch-hit average (.306) and pinch-hit OPS (.847). Nats pinch-hitters are 57-for-186 with 19 extra-base hits, while Braves pinch-hitters are 33-for-204 with nine extra-base hits….
Ryan Howard has two homers, 13 RBIs and a .500 slugging percentage in his past seven games, including a grand slam in Thursday’s 16-1 destruction of the Mets. Only Miguel Cabrera (14) has more RBIs in the past 10 days than Howard (13).
Howard is third in the NL with 19 RBIs this month. In his past five games against the Braves, he went 7-for-19 (.368) with three homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.373 OPS….
Don’t look now but the Cardinals, after dropping eight of 10 games, are 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA in their past four, and have Chris Carpenter about to return from the DL.
* Let’s close this with one of the half-dozen or so sublime songs that Jimi Hendrix did with The Isley Brothers. Man, this stuff is good. Hear it by clicking here.
“MOVE OVER AND LET ME DANCE” by The Isley Brothers (with Jimi Hendrix)
I know you like to dance, Oh, but uh, give somebody else a chance. I like to express myself, Get back you're ruinin' my hair, uh. Oh, move over, Let me dance. I need some room, so I can Really, really work out now. Oh, but uh, if you don't move over, Then I can't dance. I wanna show ya, Show ya what it's all about, now. Oh, but you gotta get back, uh, You're on the wrong track, uh, You gotta learn how to relax, uh, Oh, get off of my back. Move over, Oh, let me dance. I wanna really, I mean really, turn you on. Get it now! Oh, if it's all the same to you, uh, Do what the other folks do. Oh, don't be so, uh, Nasty. Just move over, Oh, let me dance, uh. Don't get me wrong, uh, I don't, uh, mean you no harm, ah. Look like you still refuse, You got a nasty attitude. But I pay my dues just like you, uh, I wanna do my thing too. So move over, Why can't you dance someplace else? You're steppin' on my shoes, uh, Oh, you're spoilin' everything. Move over, Move over. --David O'Brien, Braves/MIB blog