For Toronto fans, this weekend is all about the Doc Halladay love-in on Saturday afternoon. For the Phillies, it’s all about taking care of business.
The Phils and their dream pitching staff may be riding high with the best record in baseball, winners of 16 of their last 23 games, but they can’t seem to shake off the tenacious Atlanta Braves, who sit just four games back.
Toronto represents the start of a stiff test for Philadelphia, which will play 12 of its next 15 games on the road. The one three-game home series in that span is a pivotal one against those same Braves.
The Phils put together a super rotation with the additions of Halladay and Cliff Lee the last two offseasons and it is paying off. They lead MLB in just about every significant pitching category, including ERA (2.98). While the starters get all the accolades, the bullpen has also been strong, with an almost identical ERA (3.07) and a 13-7 record.
“We talk about our starting pitching a lot and we should, but I’m real proud of the back end of our bullpen,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “We have young kids who like to pitch and they gut it out. They’re not afraid.”
Philly’s offence is another story. They’ve struggled to stay in the middle of the pack in the National League stats but their veterans always seem to be able to deliver just enough to win.
Thanks to their pitching prowess, the Phils have won 17 games in which they have scored three runs or fewer. And when they scored four or more runs, they are a gaudy 34-3. In games started by the big three - Cole Hamels, Halladay and Cliff Lee, Philadelphia is 36-14.
The Phils have shrugged off injuries, including Roy Oswalt’s bad back and long absences by Chase Utley and Shane Victorino and remain on pace for a 100-win season. As much as any plan can work, GM Ruben Amaro’s plan to overwhelm opponents with arms has worked.
On the other hand, there are those Braves right there up close in the rearview mirror.
“It’s good that we’ve won 50 games and you say that’s the best in baseball and I look right behind us and there (are) the Braves with 46,” Manuel told reporters before Thursday’s game. “Yeah, we’ve done good, but at the same time, we’re at the halfway point.”
As for Halladay, well, ho-hum. He’s 10-3 with a 2.40 ERA and a WHIP of 1.03. He’s walked 16 batters in 127 1/3 innings, while striking out 123. For 10 years Toronto became accustomed to those kinds of numbers. Maybe even took them for granted. In his last start here in September of 2009, he pitched a complete-game 5-0, seven-hit, no walks masterpiece in front of 20,668. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.
Toronto’s best shot for a victory is in the first game of this series with Ricky Romero going against Kyle Kendrick. With Halladay on Saturday, followed by Lee on Sunday, it’s a tough to see Toronto winning.
In Halladay’s five June starts, he’s 3-0 with an ERA of 2.00.
And Lee? In five starts this month, he’s 5-0, thrown 42 innings, allowed 21 hits, eight walks and - get this - one run. One run in 42 innings.
Prediction: Phils win two of three and the Jays will be lucky to score in either of the last two games.
RHP Kyle Kendrick vs LHP Ricky Romero
RHP Roy Halladay vs RHP Carlos Valenzuela
LHP Cliff Lee vs LHP Jo-Jo Reyes