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Steep Air: Phillies at Rockies, April 14-16, 2006

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April 14: Phillies 10, Rockies 8 WP: Madson (1-0) LP: Day (1-1) S: Gordon (3)
April 15: Rockies 10, Phillies 6 WP: King (1-1) LP: Lieber (0-3)
April 16: Phillies 1, Rockies 0 WP: Myers (1-0) LP: Cook (1-2) S: Gordon (4)

Nine games into the 2004 season, the five teams of the NL East all had identical 5-4 records. At the end of May last season, as the Phillies were about to begin the stretch of 12 wins in 13 games that catapulted them into serious contention, they sat in last place but just 3.5 games out of first. But if a similar bunching is in the cards for this season, the first two weeks of play haven't given any indication: the Mets have jumped out to a 7-1 start, and they've done 100 percent of their damage against division foes Washington and Florida. By losing six of their first seven games, albeit against stiffer competition, the Phils dug themselves an early 4.5 game hole and sit much closer to last place than first.

After opening the season with three straight series against division favorites, it seemed like the schedule would get softer when the team traveled to Denver for the three-game set that begins tonight. Thus far, though, Colorado has been no pushover: the Rockies boast a 6-3 record and hold first place in the NL West. Four of Colorado's eight regulars--2b Jason Smith, 3b Garrett Atkins, rf Brad Hawpe, and 1b Todd Helton--have put up OPS numbers north of 1.000 thus far, with a fifth, cf Cory Sullivan, just under at .981. No wonder the Rockies are averaging 6.3 runs per game.

But then, the Rockies rarely have a problem scoring runs, especially at Coors Field. Their issues usually come on the pitching side of the equation. Through nine games, however, they've fared well on the mound too: Zach Day, Friday night's starter, notched a win with seven solid innings in his first start of the season, and Jason Jennings and Aaron Cook, who will follow Day to the hill, already have cracked the win column as well. Rockies closer Brian Fuentes has two saves already with a 1.69 ERA, and his setup crew--including ex-Phils closer Jose Mesa--has been strong as well.

Coming off back-to-back strong starts from Cory Lidle and Gavin Floyd, the Phils send Ryan Madson, Jon Lieber and Brett Myers to the mound this weekend. In four career appearances at Coors, all in relief, Madson has yet to allow a run; presumably that streak ends tonight. Lieber has struggled at Coors through his career (3-5, 6.80), while Myers has won all three of his career starts at altitude (3-0, 3.66).

Of Colorado's starters, Day has a 1-2 career record and a 4.93 ERA against the Phils, mostly compiled while he pitched for Montreal/Washington. Jennings--a phenomenal hitting pitcher who might well extend the bizarre early-season trend of opposing hurlers "helping their own cause" against the Phillies--has struggled on the mound against them (1-2, 7.40 in four career starts). Cook, who made his first start against the Phils last summer after a long injury layoff, has fared worst of all: he's 0-2 with a 9.77 ERA in four career appearances against them.