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Series Preview/Discussion: Phillies at Giants, Aug. 22-24

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Aug. 22: Phillies 0, Giants 5 WP: Noah Lowry (10-11) LP: Jon Lieber (12-11)
Aug. 23: Phillies 10, Giants 2 WP: Vicente Padilla (7-11) LP: Brett Tomko (7-14)
Aug. 24: Phillies 7, Giants 4 WP: Robinson Tejeda (4-3) LP: Brad Hennessey (4-6)

Overview/Recent History
The Phils have happy memories of their last encounter with the San Francisco Giants, a three-game sweep that kicked off the 12-1 homestand that saved the season. Since-injured Randy Wolf got things started on May 31 with 6 2/3 shutout innings as well as a double and a run scored in the 5-2 win. Chase Utley was the hero the following night, with an eighth-inning pinch-grand slam that provided the margin of victory in a 10-6 win. Jon Lieber threw six innings for the win and Jimmy Rollins added a two-run homer as the Phils took the series finale 6-5 to reach .500 on the season.  For the Giants, the loss was their seventh straight; between May 26 and June 14 the team lost 15 of 17 games. Overall San Francisco has gone 31-40 since their visit to Philadelphia. Though 15 games under .500 for the year, they're still not quite dead in the NL West, trailing first-place San Diego by 7 games. But with a moribund offense and inconsistent pitching--not to mention the likelihood that Barry Bonds isn't coming back at all this year--a turnaround seems extremely unlikely. Several major contributors to the contending Giants teams of recent years, notably outfielder Marquis Grissom and starter Kirk Rueter, have earned their releases by the team, and additional changes are possible over the rest of this season and through the winter.

The Giants are one of baseball's worst home teams, with a 25-33 record at beautiful SBC Park this season. They've gone just 6-15 against the NL East this year. The Phils are 19-6 versus NL West opponents, and 27-30 overall on the road.

Strengths and Weaknesses
Over the last 12 years, countless people have asked, "Where would the Giants offense be without Bonds?" Now we know, and it ain't pretty. With the future Hall of Famer sidelined, San Francisco's leading slugger is Pedro Feliz, with 18 home runs; only Ray Durham, Moises Alou, who's had his own injury problems this year, and recently acquired Randy Winn boast OPS figures above .800. Last winter's big free agent additions, shortstop Omar Vizquel and catcher Mike Matheny, actually have performed better than many expected: Vizquel boasts a .350 on-base percentage and has 19 steals, while Matheny has already set a career high with 10 homers this season. But as a team, the Giants' 517 runs and 94 homers both rank 15th in the NL, only ahead of Washington; their collective .722 OPS is 14th; and their .325 OBP is 12th.

Things aren't all that much better on the pitching side. San Francisco's 4.64 staff ERA is 13th in the league, and the team's strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.59 is 14th. Giants starting pitchers have collectively gone 35-51, with a 4.79 ERA and an OPS allowed of .787. Noah Lowry, a lefty who starts against the Phils in the series opener, has been San Francisco's most consistent rotation member this year: at 24, averaging nearly 8 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched, he's also this team's brightest young prospect. The Phils miss Jason Schmidt in this series; the veteran righty has had an up-and-down campaign coming back from injuries, but leads the Giants staff with 10 wins and 137 strikeouts. The San Fran bullpen did get a major boost recently when closer Armando Benitez returned to action after missing nearly four months with injury.

Giants Regulars
C Mike Matheny
1B J.T. Snow/Lance Niekro
2B Ray Durham
SS Omar Vizquel
3B Edgardo Alfonzo
RF Moises Alou
CF Randy Winn
LF Pedro Feliz