Ryan Howard and the Phillies will face Brian McCann and the Braves in a crucial three-game series this weekend. (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)
The Phillies are 9-10 in July, with a win total matching their month of June. If not for a recent stretch of magic and fantastic finishes, it would be way worse, and the Phillies would still be driving themselves further into the ground.
In the beginning of July, the Phillies finished a three-game series with the Marlins, where they were swept, faced the Mets on the road, where they lost two of three games, and hosted the Braves, where they were also swept.
Nine games against division foes; just one win. If there is anything that has caused the Phillies problems this season, it's losses in winnable games to division opponents.
The Braves are in second place in the NL East. The Phillies are a half game out of fourth and three games out of third. They are 9 1/2 behind the Braves. You could argue that this is a series the Phillies must sweep. I'm still going to hold to the winning series method. If the Phillies can take two of three games this weekend, there's a good chance that they won't be in last place in the NL East anymore.
But that is a task that is easier said than done with a lineup that features Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Martin Prado.
Additionally, the Braves have been a tough pitching team this season. The Phillies get to see three tough matchups this weekend.
Here are the pitching matchups for the series.
In the opener, Cole Hamels (11-4, 3.23 ERA) goes against Ben Sheets (2-0, 0.00 ERA) - Fresh off his new contract, Hamels makes his first start since last Saturday against the Giants. He allowed five runs in 7 1/3 innings in a no-decision, allowing three home runs including one to pitcher Matt Cain. He also hit his first career home run in the game. In his career against the Braves (25 games, 24 starts), Hamels is 11-6 with a 3.69 ERA.
Sheets has been excellent since returning to the majors after a near two-year break. In his first two starts, he has combined for 12 scoreless innings and two wins. In his career against the Phillies (eight starts), Sheets is 2-4 with a 4.88 ERA.
In the middle game, Joe Blanton (8-8, 4.70 ERA) faces Mike Minor (5-7, 5.49 ERA) - Blanton allowed three runs in his last start over eight innings, two on home runs. In four of his last five starts, Blanton has limited the opposing offense to three runs or less and is 2-2 in that stretch. In his career against the Braves (13 games, 12 starts), Blanton is 2-5 with a 4.87 ERA.
Minor suffered a tough-luck loss after allowing just two runs in seven innings to the Marlins in his last start. In his career against the Phillies (two games, one start), Minor is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA.
In the finale, Roy Halladay (4-5, 4.32 ERA) gets the start against Tim Hudson (9-4, 3.71 ERA) - Halladay allowed six runs in six innings to the Brewers on Wednesday, but managed to avoid taking the loss thanks to a four-run ninth-inning comeback. In his one start against the Braves, Halladay allowed eight runs over 5 1/3 innings in the Phillies' wild 15-13 loss in 12 innings. In his career against the Braves (eight games, seven starts), Halladay is 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA.
Hudson was having an up-and-down season before a start against the Phillies on July 6, where he fired seven shutout innings, started him on a hot streak. He has not lost since July 1, winning three of his last four decisions including his last start against the Marlins. In his career against the Phillies (23 starts), Hudson is 8-8 with a 3.54 ERA.
July 27 - Phillies 5, Braves 2
July 28 - Phillies 4, Braves 6
July 29 - Phillies 3, Braves 5
The Phillies need to win this series. They may even need to sweep this series. But I just don't think they can do either.
They may have some life from their sweep over the Brewers, but the Braves are very different from the Brewers obviously. If the Phillies want the rest of the league to believe that they are a force to be reckoned with in the second half, this series could define that. But much like anything else right now, they have to prove themselves.
The Phillies should be able to beat Ben Sheets, honestly because he's due for a rough start. But the other two pitchers for the Phillies, much like the remaining two for the Braves, are hit-or-miss this season.
Minor and Blanton are both lower-end rotation guys that could surprise at any time. Blanton is coming off a strong start and facing a lineup that has his number, so I'm not confident. But, Blanton has also shut out this lineup this season.
Meanwhile, Roy Halladay isn't the pitcher he's been in the past this season. It could just be a rough year for Doc, but that likely won't cut it against Tim Hudson, who dominated the Phillies in a start earlier this month. The Phillies have been able to hit Hudson around before, but that doesn't mean he's not capable of repeating the performance he had earlier this month.
The outlook isn't good if my prediction holds. But for the Phillies to make a run, they're going to have to prove people wrong. They can start by proving me wrong.