By Kyle Soppe
Plot: These are two teams that will be playing more than 162 games this year; that much is not in question. The Phillies have been the league’s best team from the start, while the Brewers have come on strong after the all-star break. As anybody will tell you, it’s not about how you start the season, but rather how you finish it. Both of these teams are looking to gain momentum for what could be a future NLCS matchup.
Setting: The BrewCrew relies heavily on their strong nucleus of hitters. Paced by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers have actually outscored the Phillies on the season. Rickie Weeks may be able to return for this series, providing the Brewers with an offensive jolt that is just icing on their cake. They are near unbeatable at Miller Park, where they have won 50 of 69 contests. The Phillies are no slouch on offense, but it is their pitching that has them atop the NL. On top of the pitching, their ability to win on the road (42-26) has made them immune to losing streaks of any kind.
This series starts on Thursday night, when Cole Hamels (13-7 2.63) takes on Chris Narveson (10-6 4.26). Hamels is the under-appreciated ace of the Phillies staff as he has been as dependable as they come. His 4.45 strikeout to walk ratio ranks him among the league leaders, but ranks him 3rd on his own team. Opponents are only batting .210 off of Hamels, so the Brewers will need to make the most of their scoring opportunities (a must versus any of the Philly starters).
Narveson, as is the case with nearly every Brewer, is much better when pitching at home. He is 6-2 with a 3.76 ERA and gets more run support at home. Narveson has only gone 7+ innings 4 times on the year, and if he can’t accomplish that on Thursday, the Brewers will be in rough shape. Narveson hasn’t lost since July 15th, but he has only registered one quality start over that time.
Roy Halladay (16-5 2.49) takes the mound Friday night, looking to continue yet another outstanding season. The stats, while impressive, don’t tell the whole story. Sure, the 7 complete games and a 4th straight season with 200+ k’s is nice, but the comfort that he gives Charlie Manuel cannot be measured. He gives the bullpen a night off, and relaxes his teammates, as they know a run or 2 will be enough. There is something to be said for consistency, and being consistently great is Roy Halladay.
The Brewers will counter the Phillies leading Cy Young contender with Shawn Marcum (12-5 3.11). Marcum is having a solid season, but is actually more effective on the road. He shut down the Phillies way back in April, but the lineup with Hunter Pence is simply much better. When playing the Phillies, there is a need for perfection, but Marcum has been up to the task of late. In 8 of his last 10 starts he has given up 2 runs or less, which he will need to keep up in this one. If there is an upset to be had, this very well could be it.
After an unbLEEviable (thanks Chas) August, Cliff Lee (16-7 2.47) looks to continue his late push as a potential game 1 starter in the playoffs. He has won his last 7 starts, 5 of which he did not give up a run. In all 7 of those starts, Lee has gone at least 7 innings and struck out 6 batters. Simply put, the man is on top of his game, and is a bad matchup for any offense.
Randy Wolf (12-9 3.47) will face the Phillies lineup with the pressure to be perfect. He has a WHIP of 1.28 on the season, and has surrendered 20 homers this year, roughly the same amount as Halladay and Hamels put together. Wolf has a better record at home (7-3), but his ratios are the same, meaning he just benefits from run support. Counting on much more than 2 runs against Lee is a risky proposition, and expecting Wolf to shut down a playoff caliber team (something he hasn’t done in over a month) is wishful thinking.
The series wraps up on Sunday with surprise rookie Vance Worley (11-1 2.85) opposing Yovani Gallardo (15-10 3.71). When talking about Sir-Vance-A lot, one date says it all: May 29th. That was the last time the Phillies lost a game started by Worley, an unprecedented string of victories. He has won his last 3 starts, including an impressive duel with Tim Hudson, in which the rookie showed that he had the guts to win a big game. This is the Brewers lone chance to score a few runs, but if history tells us anything, the Phillies are likely to score a few more. Gallardo has been far from the ace that the Brewers thought would lead their staff. He has had moments of greatness (8 innings – 1earned run – 9 strikeouts vs the Dodgers) but he has gotten shelled nearly as often (most recently giving up 8 earned to the Cardinals in 4.2 innings). As a right handed pitcher, he may struggle against the powerful lefties in the middle of the Phillies order. However, good Gallardo typically comes out at Miller Park, where he is 9-2. I expect this game to be decided by the bullpens, both of which are solid.
Final Word: The Phillies don’t strikeout a lot (rank in the bottom five in total K’s) while the Brewers rely heavily on striking batters out (rank in the top 5 in strikeouts). Something has to give here, and the Phillies have won battles like this all year long
Soppe Score: The Phightin’ Phils take 3 out of 4 from the Beer Makers. The Brewers are built like the Phillies, with a few big bats and 3 very good pitchers, but to a lesser extent. This series, and the rosters as a whole, is a bad matchup for the Brewers, no matter how good they are at home.