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Make or break? Seven-game West Coast trip could determine Phils season
Make or break?
Seven-game West Coast trip could determine season
By PAUL HAGEN
Nobody could blame Manuel for preferring to talk about the Cardinals, a team the Phillies had scored 23 runs against in the previous two games, rather than the task that lies immediately beyond.
Because as much as the Phillies may have enjoyed knocking Kip Wells and Mike Maroth around - and as frustrating as being stifled by St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright in last night's 10-2 drubbing may have been - it isn't going to get any easier.
After the sellout crowd of 44,872 and a national ESPN audience witnessed the 10,000th loss in franchise history, the Phillies packed up and flew to California where they'll play three games at Los Angeles and four in San Diego.
The Dodgers have the second best staff earned run average, 3.77, in the National League; the Padres are first at 3.13, with an amazing 13 shutouts.
That's a challenge for a team whose pitching ranks last in the NL and whose best chance to win most nights is simply trying to outscore the other team.
The reflex reaction is to suggest that by the next time the Phillies watch the sun set over Citizens Bank Park, July 24 against the Nationals, they could well have lost visual contact with the rest of the division and the wild- card race.
And while that might be a little hysterical, it wouldn't be overstating the case to say that this week is just about as important as a week in late July can be.
They begin this gantlet in third place of the NL East, five games behind the Mets and 3 1/2 behind the Braves. They're fifth in the wild-card standings, 4 1/2 behind the Padres and also trailing the Braves, Diamondbacks and Cubs.
At Dodger Stadium tonight, they'll run into righthander Brad Penny, who is merely 10-1. And they'll do it after a tough turnaround.
To accommodate ESPN, last night's game against the Cardinals started shortly after 6 p.m. instead of the usual 1:35 on a Sunday. That projected to put them in their Southern California hotel sometime around 3 a.m. PST . . . or when the sun is coming up back in Philadelphia.
They won't have time to catch up on their sleep tomorrow night, either, since Wednesday is a day game.
Then it's down the coast to the Mission Valley where they'll face two of the NL's best starters, All-Stars Chris Young on Thursday and Jake Peavy on Sunday. In between, they'll see Justin Germano and David Wells.
Germano was claimed off waivers from the Phillies during spring training. Since being called up by the Padres earlier this year, he's 6-3 with a 3.55 earned run average after pitching 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Diamondbacks yesterday.
Wells is lefthanded; the Phillies are 11-19 when a lefty starts against them.
Even with the Dodgers now occupying the next three squares of their handy little pocket schedules, the Phillies were reluctant to be too specific about what it means to be facing such strong pitching at a time when their season could be teetering on the brink.
"It's important because it's late July," shrugged centerfielder Aaron Rowand after the game. "They're both good teams. We need to go out there and get some pitching and do our best to scratch some runs across.
"We've got to go to work. It's crunch time now."
Second baseman Chase Utley was even more vague.
"Anybody can beat anybody on a given day," he said. "Who do we face next? Penny? He's not going to be easy. He's a good pitcher."
Manuel has confidence in his offense and he should. The Phillies continue to lead the league in runs scored by a wide margin and are also at or near the top in batting average, hits, total bases, homers, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
"I know both of them have good teams, but I think we can swing the bats with anybody," he said.
Fair enough. But one of the oldest clichés in baseball is that good pitching beats good hitting. And if that holds true, the Phillies will be up against it for the next week.
"Every game is important to us," Manuel said. "We're one game over .500 with 71 to play. Every game we win is good for us, every game we lose is tough on us. That's the way I look at it."
That's also true. The bigger question, though, is whether the Phillies can score enough runs against the Dodgers and Padres pitching.
One more thing: After they come home to play the Nationals and Pirates, they go right back on the road to play four against the Cubs, who have been one of the hottest teams in baseball the last few weeks, and three against the first-place Brewers.
Not that anybody is looking that far ahead, of course. *
Make or break? | Daily News | 07/16/2007
May the odds be ever in your favor.
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