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Series Forty-Nine: Phillies at Marlins

When these two teams met last weekend, some of us thought (ok, maybe it was just "hoped") that the Marlins could effectively eliminate the Phillies from Wild Card contention. That didn't happen though, as the Phils took two of three from the Fish. Not only that, but the Phillies have stayed hot all week. Now we've got a real race for the Wild Card (and Houston's still in the mix too).

We sat down, once again (and for the final time this season), with our good friend the Phanatic to talk about the series. We're going to do something a little different this time though. I'll give you some keys for the Marlins and the Phanatic will give you some keys for the Phillies.

Grover's Keys for the Marlins
1. Starting Pitching:
While starting pitching is definitely a strength for the Marlins, it wasn't last weekend. On Friday night, A.J. Burnett went 2.1 innings in a loss. Jason Vargas followed that on Saturday with a 2 inning outing; fortunately the Fish came back to win that game. Sunday was much like Friday, as Ismael Valdez went 2.1 innings and the Fish lost.

This weekend the Fish will start Brian Moehler, Dontrelle Willis, and Josh Beckett. Moehler had been bumped from the rotation, but it's hard to imagine he'll be a downgrade, at least relative to what the Fish have gotten of late. Willis and Beckett should be big upgrades compared to what the Fish got in the last series.

2. Timely hitting:
This has plagued the Fish all year long. They hit --and particularly score runs-- in bunches. Now's the time for that to happen a bunch of times.

In the Marlins past six losses, they've scored 12 runs (two per game). Nearly half of those (5) came in last Friday night's loss to the Phillies.

In their past five wins, the Fish have scored 39 runs. That's nearly 8 runs a game. While the pitching has been shaky, it's a lot easier to win when you score 8 runs than it is when you score 2.

3. The bottom of the lineup:
Juan Pierre quietly has 50 stolen bases. That's hard to believe, if only because Pierre has been on base so infrequently.

Of late, the most dependable hitter in the bottom third of the Marlins lineup has been the starting pitcher. Beckett and Willis have homered of late. It also feels that Willis has hit as well as he's pitched lately (although that's probably common when your batting average is "higher" than your ERA).

For the Fish to win and reach the post-season, the bottom of the lineup has to produce.

4. Health for LoDuca:
Paul LoDuca has not hit for power this season. But that's about the only negative that you can say about the guy. He's tough, he gets the job done, and he gets on base.

Hopefully LoDuca was healed by some magical airplane powers on the flight back to Miami. The poor guy is going to need it, as he is really dinged up.

The Phanatic's Keys for the Phillies
1. Keep up the offense:
The flip-side to the Marlins complaints about poor starting pitching last weekend is that the Phils have pretty much been knocking the cover off the ball.

In their past seven games, the Phillies have scored 54 runs (nearly 8 per game). Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, and rookie sensation Ryan Howard lead the charge. For the month of September, Burrell and Howard have an OPS over 1.000 and Abreu's is over .900. Jim Thome is hardly missed.

Can you imagine what the situation would be if Carlos Delgado or Miguel Cabrera wasn't in the Marlins lineup? Well that's pretty much the situation that the Phillies are in. What's that you say about Mike Lowell?

2. Starting pitching:
Hey, this is big-time baseball. Isn't this everyone's concern?

Well, it is for the Phillies - if only because the bats don't seem to be an issue. Really the issue here is getting the ball to the bullpen - particularly Billy Wagner - late in the game. The Phils pen may have some question marks, but the back end is solid (much like it is for the Marlins with Todd Jones).

3. Control the middle innings:
The Phillies weak spot all year has been innings 4 - 6. In the early going (innings 1 -3), Phillies pitchers are allowing a batting average against of .255. Not too shabby. In the late going (innings 7 - 9), they're only allowing hitters a .224 clip. That's pretty darned good.

Innings 4 - 6 are the trouble spot though. During those innings, opponents are batting .276 off of the Phillies. This is the trouble spot. It's where starts get tired and give up runs. And it's also where middle relief has failed the Phillies.

This weekend's games may be won in the middle.