MLB Insiders: Philadelphia Phillies

The Pirates open a three-game series in Philadelphia on Friday night. Right-hander Charlie Morton will be on the mound for the Bucs. The Phillies will counter with right-hander Roy Halladay.

The Philadelphia Phillies are on the verge of their longest losing streak at Citizens Bank Park in nearly a year. Sending ace Roy Halladay to the mound seems likely to prevent it.

The Phillies look to win a 10th consecutive home start by Halladay when they open a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night.

Philadelphia (65-39) has dropped three of four as host, scoring one run in each of the last two games - both defeats. The Phillies mustered six hits in Thursday's 4-1 loss to San Francisco, going 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position.

A defeat Friday would give them their longest home slide since dropping four straight Aug. 23-26, but Philadelphia - 38-18 at home - is relying on another strong performance from Halladay (12-4, 2.55 ERA).

The right-hander is 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA in 12 home starts, winning each of his last six decisions behind a 2.22 ERA in nine games - all wins for the Phillies.

Halladay kept that string going Sunday, yielding three runs - two earned - with eight strikeouts in eight innings of a 5-3 victory over San Diego. That came six days after heat and humidity in Chicago forced him to exit a 6-1 loss after four-plus innings for his shortest outing of the season.

The Phillies still own the best record in the majors, and Halladay is bidding to become the NL's first 13-game winner, but he feels they can get better.

Halladay is 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA in four career meetings with the Pirates (54-49). He was credited with a 7-3 win on June 5 after allowing two runs in seven innings as the Phillies avoided a three-game sweep.

Philadelphia has lost six of eight to Pittsburgh, but seven of those games have been on the road. The Phillies are 11-2 in the past 13 meetings at Citizens Bank Park.

While Philadelphia leads the NL East by five games over Atlanta, the Pirates are percentage points ahead of St. Louis for second in the Central, 1 1/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee.

They gained a split of a four-game series with the Braves by winning 5-2 on Thursday.

Charlie Morton (8-5, 3.69) gets the ball Friday, and will try to beat the Phillies again. He yielded two runs in seven innings of a 6-3 win June 4 after going 0-2 with a 9.75 ERA in three previous starts against Philadelphia.

The right-hander is thriving on the road, going 5-1 with a 3.00 ERA in eight starts. A change in his windup that has him resembling Halladay may be playing a part.

The Phillies' run of winning nine straight series came to an end much as their 2010 season did: with San Francisco closer Brian Wilson celebrating at Citizens Bank Park.

For the first time since June 19, the Phillies lost a series, and for the first time since June 4, they lost two games in a row after dropping a 4-1 decision to San Francisco on Thursday.

The Giants, who ended the Phillies' season in the NL Championship Series last fall, held the home team to two unearned runs combined in the Wednesday and Thursday games. Since last fall, the Phils are 0-5 in games started by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the winning pitchers the last two days.

"I wish I had that answer. But we can beat them. I know we can," manager Charlie Manuel said. "They're not in our heads. I don't think so at all. I think it's just that we've got to get after them."

After leading a four-homer parade in the first game of the series, the core of the Phillies' veteran lineup went quiet in the last two games of the series. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez were a combined 3-for-32.

"We've got to hit," Manuel said. "Our guys -- I've always said since the season started -- our core players have got to hit."

If the Phillies wanted to look for excuses, they could point out that neither Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee pitched in the just-completed three-game series. And Placido Polanco, voted to start the All-Star Game, was out for the fifth straight series with a back injury.

But Manuel wasn't looking for excuses Thursday.

"They're good pitchers," Manuel said. "You say they're great pitchers -- to me, I don't know how great they are. As we move into their career and the longevity part, that's when the greatness might come by. When you see somebody's great, I look up there and saw a fastball 92 at the best. I saw a good changeup, a breaking ball and a cutter. Good pitching, but at the same time, we can beat that. I've seen us beat that."

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Roy Halladay can take the National League lead in wins when he tries to snap the Phillies' first two-game losing skid since early June on Friday at Citizens Bank Park against the Pirates. Halladay won his 12th game of the season in a 5-3 victory against the Padres on Sunday.

Coincidentally, the last time the Phillies lost two games in a row, it was Halladay who snapped that skid against the Pirates. After the Phils had lost the first two games of the series at PNC Park, Halladay held Pittsburgh to two runs in seven innings of a 7-3 Phillies win on June 5.

--RHP Brad Lidge made his third straight appearance without allowing a run since returning from the disabled list last week. Lidge entered Thursday's game in the seventh inning with a runner on second, two outs and the Phils trailing 4-1. He retired Jeff Keppinger on a groundball out to end the inning.

--3B Placido Polanco was 0-for-2 with a walk Thursday in his first game of a rehab assignment with Class AAA Lehigh Valley. Polanco was replaced by a pinch runner in the seventh inning. He is scheduled to play nine innings for Lehigh Valley on Friday and could rejoin the Phillies this weekend. Polanco has been sidelined since July 4 with a bulging disk in his back.

--2B Chase Utley broke a personal 0-for-8 skid with an RBI double off San Francisco LHP Jeremy Affeldt in the seventh inning of the Phillies' 4-1 loss to the Giants. In his first three at-bats, Utley went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against RHP Tim Lincecum, stranding four runners on base.

--RHP Kyle Kendrick did his best to keep pace with two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum in the Phillies' 4-1 loss to the Giants on Thursday. Kendrick held the Giants to two runs over the first six innings. The Giants scored two runs off Kendrick in the seventh, both on an error by 3B Michael Martinez. Kendrick has allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven of his 10 starts this season.

--RHP Roy Oswalt (lower back inflammation) threw four strong innings Wednesday for Class AAA Lehigh Valley in a rehab start. The only hit he allowed was a solo homer. Oswalt walked two and struck out four. He will start for Lehigh Valley again Monday, after which he might rejoin the Philadelphia rotation.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Inherited runners LHP Antonio Bastardo and RHP Michael Stutes have allowed to score. The two young relievers have inherited 33 runners this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got to hit. Our guys -- I've always said since the season started -- our core players have got to hit." -- Manager Charlie Manuel, after the Phillies were limited one unearned run for the second straight night in a loss to the Giants.

ROSTER REPORT
MEDICAL WATCH:

--3B Placido Polanco (bulging disk in back) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to July 5. He received an anti-inflammatory shot July 21. Polanco played seven innings July 28 in the first game of a rehab assignment with Class AAA Lehigh Valley, and he was scheduled to play nine innings July 29. He could be activated July 30 or July 31.

--RHP Roy Oswalt (bulging back disk) went on the 15-day disabled list June 24. He threw a bullpen session July 19 and threw a simulated game July 22. He began a rehab assignment with Class AAA Lehigh Valley on July 27. He will pitch for Lehigh Valley again Aug. 1, after which he might rejoin the big-league rotation.

--RHP Joe Blanton (sore right elbow) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 16. He threw a bullpen session July 4. He had a bullpen session canceled July 16 after experiencing what assistant GM Scott Proefrock called a "hiccup" in his recovery. On July 26, it was revealed that Blanton has nerve damage that could sideline him the rest of the season.

--RHP Jose Contreras (right forearm strain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 20. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection July 22, and the timetable for when he might throw again was uncertain.


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