|July 19: Padres 1, Phillies 0 WP: Young (9-3) LP: Hamels (11-5) S: Hoffman (27)|
|July 20: Phillies 7, Padres 3 WP: Eaton (9-6) LP: Germano (6-4) S: Alfonseca (7)|
|July 21: Phillies 12, Padres 4 WP: Moyer (8-8) LP: Wells (5-6)|
|July 22: Phillies 9, Padres 0 WP: Durbin (2-2) LP: Peavy (9-5)|
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If it's true that good pitching always beats good hitting--that the immovable object stops the irresistible force--the Phillies are gonna get swept this weekend: swept in a four-game series at San Diego, and probably swept out of the playoff race.
The host Padres enter the best ERA in the NL at 3.13, an amazing 70 points better than their closest rival. The visiting Phils have the league's worst ERA at 4.98, a mere Adam Eaton meatball from allowing five earned per contest and a dispiriting 23 points worse than the next-lamest staff. And while they're a little better on the road, a 4.82 mark isn't especially encouraging.
On the other hand, even the Phillies should be able to lower their collective ERA against San Diego, which has a less than imposing offensive attack. The Padres rank last the 16 NL teams in batting average (.242), 12th in runs (395), 10th in homers (86) and 13th in OPS (.704). The Phils rank t-1st, 1st, 3rd and 1st respectively in the same categories. If not "irresistible," that's still pretty damn good.
San Diego's very pitcher-friendly ballpark--expect to hear Chris Wheeler mention that a time or twenty over the weekend--depresses those offensive numbers, as it improves the Padres' pitching stats. But the underlying reality is that this is a very strong pitching staff, supported by a mediocre-at-best offensive attack. By the numbers, the team's best hitter is first baseman Adrian Gonzalez; his .815 OPS is 38th in the NL, trailing five of the Phillies regulars. Gonzalez and Khalil Greene are the team's leading sluggers, with 16 and 15 HR respectively. And they don't make up with speed what they lack in power: Mike Cameron is the Padres' leading base thief, with 10 steals.
Of course, all that hitting isn't so crucial when your team has a 3.13 ERA, allows an average of 1.2 baserunners per inning, has given up just 53 homers in 93 games, and has shut out the opposition 13 times. Opponents have hit a collective .244/.302/.352 against San Diego; they've effectively turned the league into Abe Nunez.
The Phillies get the brunt of that pitching excellence in this series, starting with all-star Chris Young Thursday night. Young--acquired with Gonzalez from Texas in a deal before the 2006 season for, no joke, Adam Eaton and reliever Aknori Otsuka--has a 1.97 ERA this season, and has allowed just 4 homers while striking out 107 in 109.2 innings. It's rare that Cole Hamels looks like the underdog in a pitching matchup, but he does tonight.
Young is followed by Justin Germano, the guy the Phils tried to slip through waivers in March after what I can only presume was an afternoon of glue-sniffing in the executive offices, on Friday, and David Wells on Saturday. The series ends with Cy Young award front-runner Jake Peavy facing off against J.D. Durbin, in a mismatch perhaps not seen since Italy's 1935 invasion of Ethiopia. In between Hamels Thursday and Durbin Sunday, Jamie Moyer and Eaton will attempt to keep their own ERAs under 5 and 6, respectively.
As much as any team, the Padres could be described as the anti-Phillies: all pitching, no offense, playing in one of the most laid-back places in America, in a ballpark that pitchers love and hitters detest. The Phils last visited exactly a year ago, avoiding a three-game sweep by rallying late against future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman on a two-run Bobby Abreu double; in each of the previous two years, they swept the Padres in Petco. So it's possible that the spacious dimensions will help more than hinder; for a team at .500 on the nose, barely treading water in the playoff hunt, any cause for hope is worth grasping at.