|May 29: Phillies 11, Nationals 2 W: Condrey (1-0) L: O'Connor (2-3)|
|May 30: Phillies 4, Nationals 2 W: Myers (4-2) L: Armas (5-3) S: Gordon (15)|
|May 31: Nationals 3, Phillies 2 W: Hernandez (4-5, 5.35) L: Lidle (4-5) S: Cordero (8)|
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In a season when four Phillies regulars have legitimate cases for a spot on the all-star team, it's probably unfortunate that the club has only nine home dates scheduled for the month of June. With a .319 average, 9 homers and an OPS of .930, Chase Utley has a strong case to start at the keystone--but the greater name recognition of Craig Biggio (.285/.811) and Jeff Kent (.256/.797) probably will do him in. On the same side of the infield, Ryan Howard is tearing it up with a .307 average, 17 home runs and a .983 OPS... but he's not going to beat Albert Pujols (.314/1.234, 24 HR), and he shouldn't. Hopefully he'll get picked as a backup, but with names like Berkman, Delgado and Garciaparra out there, he might have an uphill climb.
In the outfield, Bobby Abreu seeks his third straight all-star appearance; Abreu's .281 average and 6 home runs aren't spectacular, but that .460 on-base percentage is pretty sweet. Pat Burrell has a case as well: despite his ongoing foot woes, the Phillies' lone right-handed power threat is on pace for the best season of his career: .285, 13 HR, 36 RBI, a .976 OPS. Fans can vote online at mlb.com; why not send our guys some love.
The Washington Nationals, visiting CBP for the second time in this still-young season, have two bona fide all-star contenders as well. Oft-injured first baseman Nick Johnson can't quite match Howard in the power department, but most teams would take his .302 average, 12 homers, .983 OPS, solid defense and nonstop hustle. Outfielder Alfonso Soriano, whom I and just about everyone else pegged for a disappointing season after his winter move from hitter-friendly Texas to cavernous RFK Stadium, is making all of us look really dumb: the 30 year-old is on pace for his best season by far, with a .301 average, 18 home runs and a .961 OPS. Surprisingly, given his careerlong habits and Frank Robinson's general disinclination for plate patience, Soriano is also on pace to set a career high in walks: he's got 16 already, but has never drawn more than 38 in a season.
Jon Lieber takes on this Washington lineup in the series opener, after showing uncharacteristic wildness in his start against the Mets last Wednesday: Lieber walked a season-high four batters in 6 innings, after issuing just 5 in his previous 9 starts. With the bullpen somewhat taxed after working 12.2 innings this past weekend, including four scoreless frames in yesterday's 6-2 win over Milwaukee, the Phils need an efficient and effective outing from Lieber tonight, followed by strong performances from Brett Myers and Cory Lidle in the next two games.
As if bullpen fatigue weren't enough of an issue, the team doesn't have an off-day until June 12, two weeks from today. By then, they'll have visited Los Angeles, Arizona and Washington--and soon after will see the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox on the schedule. Having mostly come up small over the last two weeks against decent-to-good teams in the Brewers, Mets, and Red Sox, the Phillies now must clean up in this series against a Washington team that they match up well with on paper.