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Luck of the Draw: Phillies at Cardinals, 9/17-19

September 17: Phillies 13, Cardinals 11 WP: Kendrick (9-4) LP: Thompson (6-6) S: Rosario (1)
September 18: Phillies 7, Cardinals 4 (14) WP: Mesa (1-2) LP: Maroth (0-5) S: Condrey (1)
September 19: Cardinals 2, Phillies 1 (10) WP: Flores LP: Myers

For more on the Cardinals, please visit our SBN sister site Viva El Birdos

Go back two weeks. The Phillies, then with a record of 72-65, had followed their four-game sweep of the Mets with a dispiriting weekend in Florida, losing two out of three to the cellar-dwelling Marlins, and sat five games out of the NL East lead, three back of Arizona for the wild card. The St. Louis Cardinals, after five months of struggle, had just reached .500 at 67-67--and sat just two games out of the division lead, closer to a playoff berth than the Phils.

Since then, the Cardinals have gone 3-11, all but dooming their chances for a second straight world championship. Scott Rolen and Chris Duncan are on the shelf, Rick Ankiel has turned into a pumpkin, and the St. Louis rotation might be as troubled as ours. Meanwhile, the Phillies themselves have continued to play bipolar ball, with the focus alternately on their wretched pitching and superb hitting. Somehow, they're 8-4 over these last two weeks, still in both division and wild-card races but in need of help from whoever's playing the Padres.  

In other words, the Phillies have a lot more to play for than do the Cards. St. Louis native Ryan Howard comes home looking to wake up his recently quiet bat: the 2006 MVP is 3 for his last 23, and has hit just .179 in September thus far. For his career, Howard is a .385 hitter (10-26) at Busch Stadium; it's hard to imagine the Phillies staying hot and overtaking San Diego without a big contribution from their most dangerous slugger.

For the first time in recent memory, the Phillies would seem to have the pitching advantage in this series: Kyle Kendrick starts tonight after taking that line drive off his knee last week, against either Anthony Reyes (2-14, 5.76) or converted reliever Brad Thompson (6-5, 5.05). Though the Cardinals have won 10 of Thompson's 14 starts, the right-hander has allowed 21 home runs while striking out just 47 in 114 innings. Tuesday, Cole Hamels is scheduled to return in a matchup against one-time Phillies nemesis Kip Wells. The former Pirate had won five of his six career starts versus the Phillies until a July 13 outing at OFJOAB, when the Phils knocked him out in the second inning en route to a 13-3 win. Though Hamels is unlikely to exceed 70-75 pitches, the psychological boost of his return--and the option of switching J.D. Durbin back to the bullpen--should be helpful. St. Louis likely has the edge in Wednesday's series finale, with de facto ace Adam Wainwright facing Jamie Moyer. But with the young Wainwright approaching 200 innings, it's possible that Tony LaRussa will have his best pitcher on a short leash.

The Padres meanwhile entertain the Pirates for four games in San Diego. You can read more about that series here, but tonight's pitching matchup at least doesn't seem to bode very well for the Phils getting any help.