Both Mets and Phillies could use strong weekend

Updated: April 30, 2009

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Jamie Moyer and the Phillies' pitching haven't been nearly as strong this season as last.

BREAKING DOWN PHILLIES-METS SERIES

The Mets and Phillies have had one of the better rivalries the past few years, and this weekend's series should be interesting. Neither of these teams is playing as well as it expected to so far this year.

Cole Hamels, the star of the Phillies' World Series run last season, has been hampered by arm and ankle injuries and clearly hasn't performed to the standard he set a year ago. The rest of the Phillies' starting staff hasn't been much better.

Friday's starter for the Phillies, Chan Ho Park, has a 7.16 ERA; Saturday starter Jamie Moyer's is 5.09; and Sunday starter Joe Blanton's is 8.46. Pitching was such a key for the Phillies in 2008, and it has been the one thing that has let them down early in 2009. In addition to their starting pitching woes, their closer Brad Lidge, who was perfect last year, saving 41 of 41 regular-season games and going an additional 7-for-7 in the postseason, has already blown a save this year and is dealing with inflammation in his knee. The Phillies also have been fighting a World Series hangover.

Offensively, Raul Ibanez has been a lifesaver for the Phillies, and Chase Utley has made a miraculous recovery from his hip injury. Both of them are hitting better than .340, and each has seven home runs. They've been able to carry the offensive load while waiting for Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins to get hot.

The Mets spent the offseason focused on rebuilding their beleaguered bullpen. J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez were the headliners of the team's offseason moves. New York effectively came back with the same every-day lineup it finished with last season but did add Gary Sheffield after his release from the Detroit Tigers with the hope of reviving his Hall of Fame career. Johan Santana has been everything you'd expect out of the best starter in baseball, but the rest of the starting staff has struggled. The Mets seem to score early, but the offense disappears as games go along, putting more pressure on the starting pitcher and bullpen.

In 2008, the Mets blew seven games in which Santana left with the lead and had the major leagues' second-highest number of blown saves with 29. Rodriguez has been stellar so far, but Putz has been erratic and blew a Santana lead Wednesday. Putz has given up six walks and has only four strikeouts in 11 innings. That's not what New York was counting on from him.

It's actually a bit of a break for the Mets that this series is being played in Philadelphia. The media and talk radio have been pounding the Mets for their lack of offensive production, their bullpen woes and their questionable starting pitching depth. Getting out of town should do them some good.

In Friday's matchup, Mike Pelfrey faces Park. Pelfrey had some elbow inflammation early in the month, but now that he's healthy, he needs to prove his banner 2008 season wasn't a fluke. He pitches almost exclusively with his sinker. Therefore, he has to work ahead in the count and locate his fastball. Pelfrey can have difficulty with left-handed hitters, and the Philly lineup is stacked with some big left-handed bats. If he doesn't hit his spots, he could be in trouble.

The Saturday game is the most intriguing matchup, pitting Oliver Perez against Moyer. Perez has been warned that if he does not pitch well in this game, he'll be headed for the bullpen or, even worse, a demotion to the minors. But if he has another bad start, he might want to get out of New York for a while to figure out what he needs to fix. Perez has pitched well against the Phillies in the past, and his hard slider can help neutralize Utley, Howard and Ibanez. His problems have come in command and control.

In the Sunday matchup, John Maine takes on Blanton. Blanton has been hammered so far this year, having given up 33 hits -- six of which have been homers -- over 20 1/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .371 against him with a .412 on-base percentage. He has not been able to keep the ball down in the zone. Maine is coming off his best outing of the season and is hoping to build on that and establish himself as the No. 2 guy in the rotation behind Santana.

For me, there are two key players in this series. For the Mets, it's David Wright. For the first time in his career, he's been attacked by Mets fans on talk radio in New York. They are questioning his leadership, his intensity and his ability to produce in the clutch. What they don't understand is that Wright is the least of the Mets' problems. It could be that getting out of town for the weekend is just what the doctor ordered, and I think Wright is ready to explode offensively.

On the Phillies' side, Rollins has gotten off to a very slow start. If this team is going to win this division, it is going to need to get on base and make things happen. Rollins is hitting only .207 so far this year and has stolen just one base. He is the catalyst for the Phillies' offense. With the pitching staff struggling, offense becomes that much more important.

Many picked these two teams to finish 1-2 in the NL East, but the Marlins made a statement early that they are a legitimate contender in this division and have some outstanding young starters. The Atlanta Braves have shown that they can pitch with anybody, and if they can score, they are going to stay in the race into September, as well. Right now, this division looks like a four-team race instead of the two-team race everyone was expecting. That makes this series that much more important.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 29 | April 28 | April 27 | April 26 | April 23

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
M. Scutaro, Tor5KCDaviesTop 1: 0-0, 0 Outs. None on.
H. Blalock, Tex6OakSpringerBot 8: 2-1, 0 Outs. None on.
M. Holliday, Oak1TexJenningsTop 9: 1-0, 2 Outs. None on.
A. Jones, Tex3OakWuertzBot 9: 1-0, 2 Outs. None on.
A. Lind, Tor4KCWrightTop 8: 3-2, 0 Outs. 1 on.

The complete list of Thursday's homers

ON DECK: WEEKEND'S BEST MATCHUPS

Red Sox at Rays

The series got an early start Thursday, with the Rays getting to Red Sox starter Josh Beckett in a 13-0 win while their own pitcher, Matt Garza, flirted with a perfect game. Brad Penny and James Shields close the series Sunday.

Angels at Yankees

The best pitching matchup of the series takes place in the opener, when Andy Pettitte and Jered Weaver face off. Both pitchers come in 2-1, with Weaver toting a 2.45 ERA and Pettitte carrying a 2.96.

White Sox at Rangers

Brandon McCarthy, a former top White Sox prospect who is 2-0 this season for the Rangers, pitches Saturday against Jose Contreras.

For the rest of Friday's schedule, click here. To see what's on tap for Saturday, click here. And for Sunday's full slate of games, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: FRIDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Tim Kurkjian, Eduardo Perez
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BBTN MINUTE: BREAKING DOWN METS-PHILLIES

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Matt Garza, who flirted with a perfect game Thursday in the Rays' rout of the Red Sox. When Garza is on, he's really on:

Matt Garza (Past 15 wins, including postseason)
IP 112 1/3
ER 9
Hits 53
K-BB 90-27

WEB GEMS

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Matt Garza• Well, Matt Garza, of course. The Rays righty retired the first 18 batters he faced before the Red Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury came up with an infield single for Boston's only hit in Tampa Bay's 13-0 win. Over his 7 2/3 innings, Garza struck out 10 and allowed a lone walk, that coming after Ellsbury's single.
John BuckJohn Buck hadn't had an RBI since April 19. In fact, Buck hadn't had a hit since April 19. On Thursday, he had five RBIs in the Royals' 8-6 victory over the Blue Jays. Buck went 3-for-3 on the day and raised his average to .300 for the season.
WORST
Aaron Heilman• The Cubs and Marlins needed extra innings after finishing nine innings locked at 2-2. The game lasted only one more inning because Chicago imploded in the 10th, giving up six runs in an 8-2 loss. Aaron Heilman had the night's ugliest line -- zero outs recorded, three hits, six runs and two walks allowed.
Josh BeckettMatt Garza was quite good. His opponent, Josh Beckett, was not. Over 4 2/3 innings, the Red Sox starter gave up 10 hits, seven runs and three walks as his ERA climbed to 7.22. Beckett has given up 20 hits and 15 runs in past 9 2/3 innings.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Raul Ibanez signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies this past offseason to replace Pat Burrell. The lefty slugger has lived up to the task: He's hitting .359 and was tied with Chase Utley for the team lead with seven home runs entering Thursday. Ibanez is proving to be a tough out for pitchers with his ability to hit the ball to all fields.

Raul Ibanez
Ibanez NL avg.
Side of field BA SLG HR BA SLG
Left .524 1.048 2 .312 .454
Middle .375 .563 1 .362 .456
Right .355 .806 4 .343 .617

-- ESPN Stats & Information

BBTN FANTASY MINUTE

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF FRIDAY'S GAMES

AJ Mass examines the 15 games on Friday's slate.

Fantasy Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Friday. Daily Notes