Marlins Look To Keep Phils In Tail-Spin

Just when the Phillies looked like they might be generating some momentum to finish the month, an old nemesis is set to invade Citizens Bank Park to stop any Phillies' hot streak. If the hard hitting of Carlos Delgado and the speed of Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo aren't enough, the Marlins starting pitchers have absolutely owned the Phillies in the recent past. If great pitching beats great hitting, then well, the Phillies not so great hitting doesn't stand much of a chance this weekend.

The Phillies admittedly are coming off of a very solid showing against the Nationals. All be it, Billy Wagner wasn't exactly lights out in the opener on Monday night and the offense wasn't too impressive over the last three days, but the team did manage to take two out of three from the Nationals at RFK Stadium. Placido Polanco may have been the most impressive player in the series, when he scored a run on Tuesday and even made an appearance in left field in that game. Jimmy Rollins, the most consistent offensive hitter and arguably the best player in this lineup hit a crucial home run in the rubber match on Wednesday afternoon. Still, the Phillies will need all of that and much more against Florida if they hope to steal two wins against the Marlins in this series.

The Marlins have been on an absolute tear in the last ten days, having won seven of their last nine games, sweeping the Nationals, and splitting with the Mets and Rockies en route to an N.L. East leading 12-8 record and look to advance into the month of May in the penthouse of this division. The Marlins have combined solid hitting from the top of their lineup with lights out pitching from their rotation so far this year and look to fight it out all season long with the Braves for the division crown.

In the series opener on Friday night, Randy Wolf (1-2) looks to get back on the right track against A.J. Burnett (2-1). Wolf earned the loss in his last start against Atlanta when he was lit up for six earned runs off of seven hits in four innings pitched. To say the first month of the season has been a struggle for Wolf would be an understatement. Since earning a no-decision against the Nationals in his season debut, a 5-4 Phillies loss, Wolf has watched his ERA balloon to 6.38. Wolf is usually a solid starter the first half of the season and traditionally goes into a tailspin in July and August, the fact that he hasn't even got his season off the ground is troubling when looking towards the rest of the season. Burnett on the other hand has notched 27 strikeouts in four starts and has only given up ten runs in that span. Burnett was also lights out against the Phillies earlier in the month when he tossed a complete game, eight-hit, two-run gem leading the Marlins to victory. It will be interesting to see how this game plays out on Friday night.

In the second game of the series on Saturday, Dontrelle Willis (4-0) will be up against the Phillies Vicente Padilla (0-2). While Padilla has struggled quite mightily out of the gate since his injury in spring training, Willis has been downright dominant. By far his best outing of the young season was against the Phillies (notice the pattern here?), when he tossed a magnificent complete game, three-hit, shutout in which he struck out seven batters in Florida on April 13th. It will be of utmost importance that the Phillies get on base at the top of the lineup and can produce runs when they put runners in scoring position. Jimmy Rollins will be key in this one, as he will need to set the table for the big boppers behind him in the lineup. The bullpen may get a workout in this game, and Padilla will need to do nothing less than keep the game close in order to give the Phillies any chance against the Marlins young phenom.

The best chance for the Phillies to come out on top in a game during this series will be in the rubber match on Sunday. Innings eater Corey Lidle (1-2) is scheduled to take the hill on Sunday against Josh Beckett (4-1). Lidle gives the Phillies bullpen the best chance for an easy workday this weekend. If Lidle can have a solid outing and Jim Thome can launch a home run or two and if Jimmy Rollins can get on base early and often, then Philadelphia should come out on top.

Prediction: This weekend could very easily turn into a mirror image of the debacle in Atlanta from last weekend. The Florida Marlins have been the biggest demons the Phillies have faced in the last three years, and that doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon. The turmoil surround this team will continue this week, after they get swept over the weekend.


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