Out of Left Field: West Coast Swingin'

Immediately following Thursday afternoon's "getaway" game at the Vault, the Phillies begin what could be a critical visit out west, with 10 games in Arizona, San Francisco, and Colorado. West coast swings are normally trouble for eastern teams, which should be cause for concern since the Phillies have yet to reach the .500 mark, but there is good news to be gleaned in this case.

The Phillies had a winning record last season (18-14) against teams from the NL West. In fact, only three teams in the entire National League (Atlanta, Montreal, and San Francisco) had better records against NL West opponents. Also, the Phillies are facing the three worst teams in the NL West, none of whom had winning records (even at home) during the first month of this season. While the Phils are West Coast Swingin', the Florida Marlins will face a surprising San Diego Padres club in Miami, followed by road trips to Houston and St. Louis. With a good trip to the left coast, it's possible the Phillies could close the gap with the first place Marlins.

The trip begins Friday night, with a three game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who left Philly Sunday night with their tails between their legs after a wild 14-inning Phillies victory that ended on Ricky Ledee's bases-loaded "walk-off walk." Pat Burrell began the festivities by knocking a screaming line drive into the left field seats with two out in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game—a shot that also knocked Arizona relief pitcher Matt Mantei out of the closer's role. Buh-Bye to him. Vicente Padilla, Eric Milton, and either Brett Myers or Ryan Madson will start for the Phils in the series. Despite Myers' struggles again Tuesday night against St. Louis, Phillies manager Larry Bowa insisted before the game that Myers would make his regularly scheduled start against Arizona on Sunday. The Diamondbacks are led by leftfielder Luis Gonzalez and rightfielder Danny Bautista, but are sorely missing first baseman Richie Sexson, who will be out for a few more weeks due to a shoulder separation.

SERIES NOTES: The Diamondbacks have struggled against left-handed pitching this season, although they hit Eric Milton well on Sunday in Philadelphia. Vicente Padilla allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings in his only start last season at Bank One Ballpark. The Phillies went 1-2 at the BOB last year, despite Jim Thome hitting .455 with two home runs at the park.

After an off day on Monday, the Phillies resume the road trip with a three game series at SBC Park in San Francisco, against Barry Bonds and the Giants. The Giants have somehow managed a losing record this season despite Bonds' torrid .463 batting average, 10 home runs, and 1.815 OPS. Besides Bonds, centerfielder Marquis Grissom is also off to a solid start for the Giants, but manager Felipe Alou still has not solved the problem of finding someone to provide protection for Bonds in the order; teams have walked Bonds nearly 50 times already this season. The Phillies will send Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, and Vicente Padilla to the mound. Randy Wolf was shelled on August 8th, 2003 in a 9-1 Phillies loss in San Francisco. Wolf allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings in the loss that dropped the Phillies into a tie for the wild card with the Florida Marlins. I apologize for that flashback.

SERIES NOTES: Giants opponents are batting nearly .300 against them this season. The Giants had an April record of 6-9 at home; getting swept by the Dodgers, and losing three of four to the Padres. Pat Burrell had one of his best games of 2003 in San Francisco during an 8-6 Phillies win on August 9th. Burrell went 3-4 with two home runs and three RBI while getting his average back up over the .200 mark.

The swing finishes a mile-high with four games in the beautiful monstrosity known as Coors Field, where the Phillies were also 1-2 last season. The Rockies field a lineup that includes first baseman Todd Helton, third baseman Vinny Castilla, catcher Charles Johnson, and outfielder Jeromy Burnitz. Together they have accounted for nearly as many home runs as the entire Phillies roster. Eric Milton, Brett Myers (or Ryan Madson,) Kevin Millwood, and Randy Wolf will hit the mound for the Phillies. The Rockies were 6-6 at home during April, but this included a 13-7 loss to the Houston Astros and our old friend Brandon Duckworth. Eric Milton's first start in the thin air of Coors Field should be interesting since he has a propensity for allowing the home run ball.

SERIES NOTES: Kevin Millwood also had poor outings last season in his only visits to San Francisco and Colorado. Jim Thome and Pat Burrell were a combined 2-16 with zero home runs in Coors Field last season, but Bobby Abreu hit .400 with two home runs in three games.

The Phillies have played winning baseball against every team not named Marlins, and they have found new and unique ways to make games interesting. (I honestly have never seen a game end the way Tuesday night's game against St. Louis ended, with the bases loaded, Burrell striking out, Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny misplaying the ball and having to gun Burrell out at first to prevent the tying run from scoring. It was remarkable to say the least.) The time is right for the Phillies to begin laying claim to the notoriety they received in the off-season. They have won their last two road series after starting out the year 1-6, and a good west coast swing could have the Fightin's returning to Philly with a .500 record or better.

DN Curry comes to you Out of Left Field every Thursday at PhillyBaseballNews.com. You can email him at dncurry@comcast.net

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