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Series Nine: Marlins at Phillies Preview

When we first came up with the idea for the series-preview-with-a-mascot-interview thing, I thought it would be big. When I pitched the idea to Mike he said, "it'll be huge!" Well, it's only April and already this thing has exceeded even our wildest expectations.  

The mascot interview series has gotten so big that we've even lined up an "unofficial" sponsor. It's unoffical in the sense that I haven't gotten the green light on this from Mike or the SportsBlogs powers that be, but the remuneration that we're talking about here is so huge that I'm going ahead with the sponsorship. This is definitely one of those occasions when it's better to ask for forgiveness later than to ask for permission up front. So, without further ado:

Today's Marlins - Phillies series preview, featuring the Phillie Phanatic is brought to you by Zombo.  With Zombo, all things are possible.

: Hi, Phanatic. It's great to see you again. How have things gone for the Phillies since we last got together?

: Well, it's been up and down. Overall, we've gone 6 - 7 since last meeting the Marlins. We're in last place at 10 - 12, three games back of you guys and the Braves - of course - heading into this series. We won our last series against the Nationals (winning two of three), but got swept in the series before by the Braves - so we needed to get well.

Pat Burrell has cooled off - but that was inevitable because his opening week was so great. Jim Thome, on the other hand, hasn't heated up yet. Bobby Abreu has been Bobby Abreu so far, which means he's been quietly stellar. He's on base 37% of the time and leads the club in stolen bases. We're just waiting for his power to come around - but it will as it gets warmer. Overall the offense has been pretty average to disappointing.

The pitching staff has mostly been disappointing. We're 14th in the league - out of just 16 teams mind you - in terms of ERA and OPS allowed. It's a little reassuring to see that we're middle of the pack in terms of team WHIP. I guess it's just that we've been giving up more extra base hits than other teams. There have definitely been some standouts so far though. Billy Wagner hasn't given up an earned run to date (in nine appearances). So if the Phillies can get to the ninth with a lead, we like our chances. Brett Myers and Jon Lieber have been our best starters so far this year, but luckily for the Marlins, you won't be seeing them this weekend.

: Interesting.  I've got to come clean man. These snow outs that the Fish have had the past two days really bummed me out. I don't even know who's pitching in this series. Can you lay out the matchups for us?

: C'mon man. Do a little prep for this stuff! I've got better things to do than lay out the pitching matchups for you.  I'm the freaking Phillie Phanatic...

(long awkward pause)

Fine, here they are:

Game 1 (tonight): A.J. Burnett vs. Randy Wolf (look for the Wolf pack at the stadium)
Game 2 (tomorrow night): Dontrelle Willis vs. Vincente Padilla (the D-Train rolls into the Padilla Flotilla - this should be cool)
Game 3 (Sunday afternoon): Josh Beckett vs. Corey Lidle (EDIT: This matchup has been updated with more current information. See the comments...)

: Oh man, you guys are cooked! I mean... wow, those are some really intriguing matchups.

: Is that a question?

: No, but this is: So you guys have this ginormous, $95 million payroll, but for options in centerfield you have a prototypical corner outfielder and an aged, former star. What gives? Who's going to be the everyday guy?

: Well, it's not exactly a platooning situation, but Jason Michaels (the prototypical corner outfielder - with reasonable speed I might add) and Kenny Lofton (the aged, former star) are both performing really well. Lofton has an onbase percentage (OBP) of .426 and an onbase plus slugging (OPS) of .936. Over a full season, those are all-star type numbers. Jason Michaels is doing even better with a .490 OBP and .940 OPS.

The conventional wisdom is/was that one of them would eventually win the job and become the everyday guy. So far though, they've both been earning playing time. And I think the thing that management has in the back of their minds is that neither guy would probably maintain that kind of production if he was subjected to the day-to-day grind of playing.  So we may see this rotation continue for some time. And if they both cool off, well, we'll just wish we'd landed Carlos Beltran.

: You mentioned Jim Thome earlier. What's the story with his power and is he going to come around?

: Well, I think Jim's pressing.  Sometimes it seems that he's trying to break out of his slump with one swing. He's chasing pitches - particularly breaking balls - that are out of the strike zone, which isn't something that he normally does. Charlie Manuel is trying to work with him on his approach in the batter's box - particularly with his stride. I think it's going to take some time though. It's hard to tinker with a guy like Thome who has had so much success in the big leagues.

: Thanks for your time again, Phanatic. By the way, I've heard some nasty rumors about adults trying to get their hands on the plush give-away in your likeness (scheduled for Sunday) this weekend. I hope you guys are taking precautions to make sure that the toys make their way to children.

: Thanks for the tip Grover! Our security forces are all over it. And just as a reminder for anyone out there who's thinking of flirting their way into taking home a Phanatic doll of their own, keep in mind that there is a jail at Citizen's Bank Park, just like at old Veterans' Stadium. I doubt that's how you'd want to spend your Sunday afternoon.

: Enjoy the weekend Phanatic. We'll catch up again before the next series in late May. And, thanks again to Zombo.