The Phillies are coming off a horrendous season in which they finished with a 10-20 record, which saw the team's much touted pitching staff get torched during the grapefruit league season. Monday's starter Kevin Millwood even sustained a shoulder injury during the team's exhibition games, and Billy Wagner joined Millwood and others on the sidelines at times this spring. The Phightins are hoping for much different results to start the regular season.
With his opening blast at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday afternoon, Jim Thome proved he is fully recovered from a broken hand that hampered him at times during the month of March. The Phils may not need to depend on Thome though, when they face a Pirates pitching squad who struggled mightily last season, this week.
The three game series will begin with a match up of two right handed aces as Kevin Millwood takes on hard throwing Kip Wells in the season opener. Last season Millwood recorded 14 wins and 12 losses and posted a startlingly high 4.01 ERA. Millwood did however notch an impressive 129 strikeouts last season. The Phils ace will be gunning for redemption when he feasts on the Pirates questionable hitting.
The Pirates will start Wells in the opener. Last season he tallied a 10-9 record and his era was a respectable 3.28. If the Pirates hope to contain the Phillies solid hitting, Wells will need to be on top of his game right from the get go.
Game two will feature a nice pitching match up with Randy Wolf facing off against Kris Benson. The Phillies have been rumored to be seeking the services of Benson through a trade, but nothing has come of it. Wolf, who arguably was the best pitcher on the Phillies staff last season after winning 16 games and losing only ten will take the hill on Wednesday night. Wolf's tremendous off-speed pitches will give the Pirates fits, especially after seeing Millwood's fireballs the night before.
Seeing Benson should be good news for the Phillies, as he was under .500 last season, with a five and nine record. This series offers Philadelphia the chance to get off to a hot start against the Pirates, who really struggled last year and don't seem to see an end to those woes anytime soon.
Vicente Padilla will be on the mound Wednesday night and will look to silence his critics who were reporting some unsubstantiated claims about his personal life this off-season. Padilla's first chance to set the record straight will be Wednesday.
This series will provide fans to see what this year's Phillies team is made of. The offense should have ample opportunities to get started and don't be surprised to see balls flying out of PNC park in great numbers this week. Also, don't get too worried if Thome doesn't produce numbers that many are accustomed to seeing because remember, the Phils slugger is a notorious slow starter. That shouldn't be the case for guys like Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd who should be tearing up the basepaths early and often this week as they look to set the tone for the season ahead.
** Prediction **
The Phillies should get off to a fast start in this series. Look for Pat Burrell to go deep at least once against Pittsburgh and Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd and Placido Polanco to tally at least two stolen bases each by the time the team leaves for Florida on Thursday.
The Phillies will sweep this series and hold first place going into the weekend.
Series Preview: Phils Open Against Rival Pirates
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