I had an email chat with Ethan over at our partner site in Philadelphia, That Ball’s Outta Here, and asked him a few questions about the upcoming 3-day NL East bottom-feeder’s duel:
MM: Chase Utley is back in the lineup after a stint on the DL, and tatered against the Pirates. How much time do you think it will take him to really ramp back up to his pre-injury form, and do you think his knee will continue to be a problem?
TBOH: “Hitting a home run in his first AB rocked Phillies Nation. Then we came back down to earth after they blew the lead and lost. Having Chase back in the lineup is a huge boost, but it’s not a cure for all the Phillies woes. He will be taking every third day off as the team eases him back. His knees are still a concern, and could very well be the type of chronic issue that he never fully recovers from.”
MM: You have two of the best pitchers in all of baseball facing the best of our rotation. However, your bullpen has had some rough patches this year. Do you see Lee or Hamels going game in this series to keep the relief staff in the bullpen?
TBOH: “Lee and Hamels have been doing their best to keep the team afloat all year. Despite being winless Lee has been just as good, including a ten inning performance earlier in the season. For some reason the Fish have Hamels’ number, accounting for 2 of his 3 losses. It’s hard to beat a pitcher 3 times in a year, but you get the sense that their lineup is confident at the plate facing him.”
I think the teams will split the 2 top pitching match ups, despite great outings from Hamels and Lee. With the Phillies bullpen the way it is, it’s hard to feel confident holding any kind of lead.
MM: We’ve had a tough couple of games vis-a-vis catchers and home runs. Care to spill the beans on what it will take for us to neutralize Carlos Ruiz?
TBOH: “The Marlins may be in trouble with Chooch. He has been the team’s best hitter all year, and has already tied a career mark in long balls. If I were the Marlins, I wouldn’t throw any fastballs in the strike zone. Problem is, Ruiz has improved against breaking stuff as well. The solution against the deep fly may just be to pitch around Ruiz, and go after whoever comes next. He’s been that hot all year long.”
So, in a nutshell, we’ve got roughly equivalent good-but-performing-badly teams facing each other in an effort to drown the weaker swimmer.
The Phils have got HOF-bound aces in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, but Lee still needs to tally his first win on the year and Hamels has issues pitching around our bats. The Marlins counter with an ever so slightly weaker rotation that has manhandled Philly this year. Draw.
While the Marlins bullpen had a roughish April, they’ve been pretty solid despite occasional flights of inconsistency from Heath Bell. The Philadelphia bullpen is nowhere near the caliber of Miami’s. Advantage: Miami.
The Phillies have tremendous hitters. Powerhouses that are slapping line drive base hits when they deign to keep one in the park. Their problem is that most of those hitters are either on the DL, or fresh off of it. Conversely, the Marlins have healthy hitters that are not hitting anywhere near where they should be. The recent misery experienced by the Marlins during JuneSwoonII is an anomaly, and performance should be regressing back up to more typical numbers pretty soon. Plus, if anyone hangs a fastball anywhere near Pedro Cerrano Giancarlo Stanton, the Phillies can only hope that no one is on base when it happens. Advantage: Miami.
Prediction: The Marlins will take two of the three, falling to Cliff Lee in a game 1 squeaker. Fish bats are due to wake up, and they’ve already started for Reyes and Infante. Game 2: Cole Hamels is good, but we don’t have any teenage phenoms to plunk. I think he’s in trouble as he matches up to the Marlins’ best starter, Mark Buehrle. Game 3: Joe Blanton has been giving up the long ball lately, and Ricky Nolasco had a solid outing last time.
The heavy tilt on the table for this series comes from the bullpen matchup, and the Fish have that base well-covered.