Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Game Time

Everyone ready for some fun baseball? The Florida Marlins come to town tonight to start a three-game set; a three-game series that will go a long way to determining who will be this year's National League Wild Card winner.

The Marlins come to town leading the Phillies by a game and a half in the Wild Card Chase. The Phillies have 12 games remaining; the Marlins have 13. Six of those games will be against one another -- three here in Philly this week, three more in Florida next week. At the very least, the Philly press thinks it's an important series:

  • Ideal time for Phils to turn tables on Marlins -- Todd Zolecki, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • There's nothing fishy about high-flying Marlins -- Marcus Hayes, Philadelphia Daily News

  • Phillies finally get their turn to hit one out of the park -- Sam Donnellon

  • Phillies vs. Marlins: The reel deal -- Ed Barkowitz

  • The stage is set for Phils, Marlins -- Jim Salisbury, Philadelphia Inquirer

  • Heck, even nationwide, reporters are feeling this series:

  • Phillies, Marlins open key series -- Indianapolis Star, IN

  • Phillies in 'sudden death' vs. Marlins -- Rocky Mountain News, CO

  • Sudden death. I am not sure that I would go to that extreme, because even if the Phils and Fish split the six games, the Phillies have six more games to make up that 1 1/2 game deficit. Much tougher to do, yes, but not impossible.

    Regardless, the Phillies do not want to count on those six "other" games. They want to take on Florida head on, they want to make a statement, and they want to win. Straight up, no questions asked. A split would not kill the Phillies, but they are looking for more than that. They want a sweep this week. They want to go from 1 1/2 down to 1 1/2 up in the standings. And if the manager is any indicator, they are not messing around:

    "I don't think you're happy when you take two out of three right now," Bowa said. "I don't think you should be. You've got to try to go for perfection right now. You've got to try to sweep people. And trust me, Florida is a good team. We've got our hands full."

    Hands full, huh? Is that what you call it when a team has your number? Florida leads the season series with the Phillies nine games to four. They have won eight straight in the series. The Phillies have not defeated the Fish since April 15. A lot has happened since April 15.

    After the game on April 15, the Phillies were 9-5, tied for first in the NL East with the Expos, three games up on the struggling Braves, 3 1/2 ahead of the Marlins. Jimmy Rollins was hitting .297 in the leadoff role; David Bell was in the lineup at 3B; Ricky Ledee was getting significant time in CF; and Joe Roa was the starting pitcher.

    Now, Rollins is buried deeper in the lineup, Bell is on the DL, Ledee can't get Marlon Byrd out of the lineup, and Roa is in San Diego. Oh, and the Braves made up that three game difference and have run away with the division -- again. More importantly, the Marlins have swung the difference around five games, and hold the current 1 1/2 game lead over the Phillies.

    Yes, the Marlins have taken the last eight, but they have not run away with them:

    April 16: Florida 3, Philly 1
    April 17: Florida 7, Philly 3
    July 4: Florida 2, Philly 1
    July 5: Florida 5, Philly 4
    July 6: Florida 6, Philly 3
    July 25: Florida 11, Philly 5
    July 26: Florida 10, Philly 5
    July 27: Florida 7, Philly 6

    Eight games: three one-run losses, four games scoring less than four runs. Three bullpen losses (Mesa and Williams, for the surprised). The Marlins haven't made it look pretty, but they have gotten the job done. The question is, have they gotten in the heads of the Phillies. On the season, here are some batting numbers against the Marlins:

    Byrd: .263 (10-for-38), 6 runs, 1 HR, 5 RBI
    Polanco: .262 (11-for-42), 5 runs, 1 HR, 5 RBI
    Abreu: .295 (13-for-44), 6 runs, 2 RBI
    Thome: .260 (13-for-50), 7 runs, 2 HR, 9 RBI
    Lieberthal: .375 (15-for-40), 8 runs, 5 RBI
    Burrell: .186 (8-for-43), 5 runs, 3 RBI
    Rollins: .260 (13-for-50), 3 runs, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB

    Do you see anything spectacular in there? How about the pitching numbers:

    Millwood: 4 GS, 1-1, 6.75 ERA, 21 H, 15 R, 20 IP
    Padilla: 3 GS, 1-2, 5.51 ERA, 15 H, 10 R, 16.1 IP
    Wolf: 2 GS, 1-1, 4.09 ERA, 8 H, 5 R, 11 IP
    Myers: 2 GS, 0-1, 5.06 ERA, 15 H, 6 R, 10.2 IP

    Also not good. The bullpen has been slightly better:

    Adams: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R
    Plesac: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R
    Wendell: 7.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R
    Cormier: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R -- all 5 of those runs came in one outing at the beginning of the season

    I'll ignore Mesa's and Williams's numbers for my sanity.

    So what do all of these numbers mean? Absolutely nothing. The Phillies have to go into this series with the mentality that it's a whole new ballgame. It's time for the Thomes and Millwoods to step up and lead this team. It's time for the Lieberthals and Abreus to make a difference. It's time for the Wendells and Plesacs to show that they have been here before. It's time to make a statement, and just go out and win. And the time to do that is right now.

    The Phillies haven't been to the postseason in 10 years, but they brought Thome and Millwood in for just this reason: to show Abreu and Burrell and Rollins and Byrd what September baseball is supposed to be about. The Marlins haven't been to the postseason since they won it all in '97. But all of those key players were gone in '98. Pudge Rodriguez has been to the postseason, and so has recent acquisition Jeff Conine. But Derrek Lee? Mike Lowell? Juan Pierre? They have as much postseason experience as the core of the Phillies. So who has the upper hand? The team that remains within itself and can grab that upper hand over the next three days.

    Pitching matchups for the series:

    Tuesday: Padilla (13-10) vs. Carl Pavano (11-11)
    Wednesday: Myers (14-7) vs. Mark Redman (12-9)
    Thursday: Millwood (14-11) vs. Dontrelle Willis (13-6)

    Enjoy the games!