NL Central Leading Cardinals Come to Town

The Phillies, fresh off a very mediocre weekend which saw them take two out of four games from the lowly Reds, will face the defending National League champion Cardinals to open this week. The Reds series was crucial and the Phillies absolutely needed to take all four games of that series with some very tough opponents coming up in the next two weeks. Nevertheless, St. Louis, minus an injured Scott Rolen, will make their first trip to Philadelphia this season when the series opens today.

Both clubs are facing some injury issues. For the Phillies, Jim Thome looks like he'll be available to take batting practice sometime during this series, with his return on the horizon for this weekend or early next week. Center fielder Kenny Lofton will be returning to the lineup possibly during this series which will require the Phillies to make a roster move to accommodate his return. This could mean the demotion of Geoff Geary, Terry Adams or Ryan Howard to AAA Scranton.

St. Louis is facing some injury troubles of their own. Scott Rolen is out of the lineup with a deep shoulder bruise, which opens the door for former Phillie and West Chester University product, John Mabry to play everyday at third base. Mabry has been on fire this season, batting .349 with two home runs and 8 RBI to go along with a 1.009 OPS in 21 games. Mabry looks to put up big numbers against his former team in this series.

The Phillies swept the Cardinals the last time these teams met back in April, but the clubs have gone in opposite directions since then. The Phillies are well entrenched in the cellar of the National League East with a record of 17-22. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are in top form, leading the NL Central at 24-13. The series won't be as easy for Philadelphia this time around.

In the series opener Cory Lidle (2-3) will be on the mound for the Phillies, opposed by Jeff Suppan (3-3) for the Cardinals. Hailed by Ed Wade as an "innings eater", Lidle has pitched just over six innings per game in his starts. He will need to go deep into this outing and save the Phils floundering bullpen from the hot Cardinal bats. Suppan has been inconsistent this season and the Phillies have seen some success in the past against him. Lifetime as a team, the Phillies are batting .467 against Suppan. Look for Bobby Abreu to continue his hot streak in this one; he is batting .455 in his career against Suppan. Chase Utley went yard against Suppan in St. Louis earlier this year and it wouldn't be surprising to see him hit a longball or two in this game.

The second match-up will see Jon Lieber (5-2) go for his sixth victory of the season when he takes the hill against Chris Carpenter (5-2). In contrast to the hit parade that could be expected in the first game, Wednesday's contest will be a classic pitchers duel between to hurlers emerging as top starters in the National League. Lieber's tiny 3.33 ERA and solid command of the strike zone should keep runs to a minimum. That could all change however, if Albert Pujols, Larry Walker and company have a solid night at the plate. The Phillies offense will be key in this game and has yet to prove that it is up for the task this season. Pat Burrell will need to return to his early April form and the rest of the lineup will need to have a big night in order to put the Phillies over the top in this one. These two pitchers are relatively even and the team with the better offense will win this game.

In the rubber match on Thursday Brett Myers (3-2) will be on the mound hoping for some run support against Jason Marquis (5-2). Myers has a minuscule 1.62 ERA but simply hasn't received the run support needed to better his record. It is unlikely that he'll receive much against Marquis who has allowed just 20 runs in his 8 starts. Jimmy Rollins who has notched an unacceptable .282 on base percentage will be key. If he and Kenny Lofton can get on base at the top of the lineup, then with the red hot Abreu behind them the Phillies may produce enough offense to come out on top in this one. If not, well then hopefully Myers pitches well enough for a no decision, because again, runs will be at a premium in this one.

Prediction: The Phillies will limp into interleague play against the Orioles this weekend, losing two of three against the Cards and further cementing their hold on last place in the NL East.

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