Finally the Rockies play an opponent from outside of the NL West, and conditions are favorable for the hot play demonstrated on the recent road trip to continue. We knew entering the season that the question for the Phillies (3-6 entering tonight's game) would be pitching, but an unexpected problem with their offense has created some daylight between Philadelphia and the division-leading Mets. Most of Philly's reliable offensive stars are performing as you would expect, with Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell all off to good starts. But with Chase Utley in a bit of a slump, at least in the batting average department, the rest of Philadelphia's hitters have been awful or worse, and as a result the team isn't scoring runs at the pace they need to win. As for the pitching, it's as you would expect -- the staff is firmly positioned right in the middle of the majors with an ERA right around 5.00.
I said when I previewed the Phillies' season that David Bell might be a good candidate to bounce back after a horrible 2005, but I could well have been wrong. Mike Lieberthal isn't getting any younger. Aaron Rowand isn't "really" a .300 hitter, and at the moment he's struggling to post a .300 OBP. Philadelphia added a useful part right before the season began in former Texas outfielder David Dellucci, but with Abreu and Rollins entrenced at the outfield corners, where's he going to play? There's not much for Philadelphia to do except hope Utley picks it up (a safe bet) and dream wistfully of the day when Lieberthal and Bell's contracts come off the books. If they were an NL West team, they'd be as in it as anybody, but at this early juncture it looks like New York is the class of the National League, and Philadelphia will be hard-pressed to put up a wild card-contending number of wins with its pitching staff as presently constituted.
In this series the Rockies will get a look at Ryan Madson (0-0, 1.50 ERA) who has been tough to hit in the early going (1.17 WHIP) but is not in the running for a strikeout title (4.50 K/9). Putative ace Jon Lieber (0-2, 8.71) takes the mound in Saturday's game, which I'll probably attend in person, being as I am completely unable to resist the lure of a giveaway magnetic schedule. On Sunday it'll be Brett Myers, who can strike guys out but also leads the staff in walks and home runs allowed. Madson, Lieber, and Myers will face Zach Day, Jason Jennings, and Aaron Cook respectively. The jury's still out on Day as a Rockies starter, but you have to like the fellows taking the bump in the other games. If the Rockies' offense can continue its recent trend of jumping on starters in the early innings, the good times ought to roll at Coors Field this weekend. I feel very confident about the Lieber-Jennings and Myers-Cook matchups, so the game tonight is the tough one to pick. Let's see if the rampaging Rockies bats can stake Day out to a comfortable lead and pave the way for a weekend sweep.