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Series Preview/Discussion: Phillies at Diamondbacks, August 26-28, 2005

Aug. 26: Phillies 11, Diamondbacks 3 WP: Aaron Fultz (3-0) LP: Brad Halsey (8-11)
Aug. 27: Phillies 0, Diamondbacks 2 WP: Brandon Webb (11-10) LP: Jon Lieber (12-12)
Aug. 28: Phillies 5, Diamondbacks 10 WP: Claudio Vargas (8-4) LP: Vicente Padilla (7-12)

Overview/Recent History
I'll say it up front: this is the sort of series that scares me.

The Diamondbacks are coming off a painful, embarrassing sweep at the hands of the New York Mets, who bludgeoned them with 32 combined runs Tuesday and Wednesday, then smothered them with a Pedro Martinez masterpiece Thursday night. Arizona isn't a serious contender, but they're also not nearly as bad as they looked against the Mets this week. For the Phils, there might be some risk of letting down after a couple weeks of mostly very strong play, given that they might be looking ahead to the next month of tough intra-division competition. Hopefully this is just my inner Negadelphian stepping forward, but we'll see.

The D'backs also might be revenge-minded given that the Phils took three out of four against them earlier this year at CBP, starting with a doubleheader sweep on Saturday, June 4. The Phillies took a 10-1 lead in the opener behind two Bobby Abreu home runs, then saw Arizona score five runs in the eighth and bring the tying run to the plate with one out before Rheal Cormier induced a double play from since-traded Jose Cruz Jr to preserve the 10-6 win. Placido Polanco sparked the Phils with two home runs in the nightcap, supporting Brett Myers in a 5-3 comeback win. The Phils won again the next day by a 7-6 score, with the ultimate margin of victory a disputed Mike Lieberthal home run that probably should have been ruled a double. Arizona did take the getaway game, dealing the Phillies their only loss in that 12-1 homestand; in something of a reverse from the series opener, the D'backs took leads of 8-1 and 10-4, then held on for dear life when the Phils scored four in the ninth inning.

As with the Phils' last stop in San Francisco, they visit a team that hasn't exactly represented at home: Arizona is just 27-36 at Bank One Ballpark this season. They've struggled badly against NL East foes, with a 9-20 record after getting swept by the Mets. The Phillies largely owe their status as contenders to the good work they've done against the NL West, with a 21-7 mark this year. They've also emerged, somewhat improbably, as one of the NL's best road teams at 29-31 away from CBP.

Strengths and Weaknesses
With five players who have hit 19 or more home runs this year, the Diamondbacks can mash. 3b Troy Glaus leads the team with 26, followed by journeyman Tony Clark's 22 in just 261 at-bats. Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and Chad Tracy each have 19 homers on the season. As a team, Arizona is third in the NL with 148 homers. (The Phillies are 11th, with 117; any idiot who bashes the team as overly dependent on the longball just isn't paying attention.) Leadoff man Craig Counsell has been a quality table-setter, with 64 walks (against 52 strikeouts), a .369 on-base percentage and 22 steals in 27 attempts. But while Arizona has a better team OPS than the Phils (.754 to .747), they've scored 33 less runs on the season.

It's on the mound, however, where the Snakes have been stepped on. Claudio Vargas, who will start the series finale Sunday night, has been arguably the team's best arm since coming over from Washington: Vargas had a streak of eight straight quality starts snapped when the Mets scored eight runs off him in five innings last week. Brandon Webb, Saturday's scheduled starter, has performed well with a 3.87 ERA and a fine strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.54. Friday starter Brad Halsey, a young lefty, has gotten by despite a very low strikeout rate (4.9 per 9 IP). But Javier Vasquez, whom the Phils won't see this weekend, has fallen off after a strong first two months of the season, in large part because he's allowed 26 home runs in 174 innings. And Russ Ortiz, the former Brave whose signing last winter was ridiculed throughout baseball, has been pretty much as bad as expected: 6.95 ERA, strikeout rate under four per 9, 16 dingers surrendered in just 90 innings. In all, the Diamondbacks have posted a 5.04 ERA, 14th in the NL, allowing opponents to hit .284 with an .812 OPS.

Arizona's bullpen hasn't been any better, with former closer Brandon Lyon lugging around a 5.25 ERA to go with his 13 saves, and sometime co-closer Brian Bruney looking at Lyon with admiration bordering on awe given his 7.60 ERA... in 48 games, no less. Jose Valverde has more recently taken over late-inning duties, and his 58 strikeouts in 47.2 innings suggests an aptitude for the role. Ex-Phil Tim Worrell has posted a superficially impressive 3.18 ERA in 13 games for Arizona, but the 18 hits and 5 walks he's allowed in 11.1 innings might offer a better impression of his actual performance.

Who's Hot/Who's Not (last 7 days)
Kenny Lofton: 6-12, .600 OBP, 1.183 OPS
Pat Burrell: 6-19, .462 OBP, 1.040 OPS

Jimmy Rollins: 3-25, .120 avg, .308 OPS

Tony Clark: 7-21, .391 OBP, 1.010 OPS

Troy Glaus: 2-18, .111 avg, .428 OPS
Kelly Stinnett: 2-12, .167 avg, .417 OPS

Diamondbacks Regulars
C Kelly Stinnett
1B Tony Clark/Conor Jackson
2B Craig Counsell
SS Royce Clayton
3B Troy Glaus
RF Chad Tracy
CF Shawn Green
LF Luis Gonzalez