As the pennant races get hotter and hotter, Big League Stew will be there to take a closer look at some of the biggest series taking place down the stretch.
The situation: Both teams still have designs on their respective division titles, but they're also tied atop the NL wild card standings with the Cardinals just half a game behind them. Luckily their success in this series can be applied in both races.
Previously on: The Giants won two of three in San Francisco from April 26-28.
What's left: The regular season series ends after this turn.
For starters: Barry Zito(notes) (8-6, 3.44) and Roy Oswalt(notes) (7-13, 3.34) kick things off tonight. Matt Cain(notes) and Joe Blanton(notes) then tussle on Wednesday before Jonathan Sanchez(notes) and Cole Hamels(notes) close things out on Thursday.
Hey look, it's Chase Utley(notes)! The Phillies second baseman was supposed to be out until Sept. 1 after thumb surgery, but he's returning to tonight's lineup after missing a little over six weeks. In a strange coincidence, two other All-Star second basemen — Dustin Pedroia(notes) and Martin Prado(notes) — are also returning to their teams tonight as well.
And Pat Burrell(notes), too! Pat The Bat played in two exhibition games at a Tampa Bay Ray in 2009, but this marks his first regular season trip to Citizens Bank Park while wearing enemy colors. He'll likely get a nice greeting in his first at-bat, but no more if he continues his recent tear with the Giants. He has 10 homers and 30 RBI since joining the Giants 56 games ago. (He's also reconnected with an old and intimate friend in Aubrey Huff(notes).)
And maybe Ryan Howard(notes)! The first baseman was eligible to come off the 15-day DL today, but Charlie Manuel says the chances of Howard playing before Friday are "slim." Phils fans will hope Howard goes the Utley route and comes back on Thursday.
Is this where The Fightins' take control? The Phillies haven't been in first place since May 30, but this seems as good a place as any to erase the 2.5 games they trail Atlanta by. Tonight's contest will kick off a 10-game homestand at CBP, where the Phillies have won 15 of their last 17 games. Better yet, their next two opponents are Washington and Houston.
Is this where the Giants continue to flounder? Believe it or not, a Giants starter hasn't been credited with a win since Jonathan Sanchez was on Aug. 3. The starters are 0-7 with a 5.88 ERA in their last 12 games and the team has an overall 5-7 record in that span. After losing two of three to San Diego over the weekend, the Giants are now four games behind the Padres in the NL West and could fall farther if they don't shape up during this six-game trip to Philadelphia and St. Louis.
What they're saying
This three game series the most important series the Phils have played to date, but it also kicks off their roughest stretch of the season, not because of who their opponents are, but because they will be playing 24 games in 23 days, with nary a day of rest until the ninth of September.
In other words: It's just where the Phillies want to be.
As masochistic as it sounds, the Phillies want to be in a situation where the chips are down; it's almost as if they are fueled by their perpetual status as the underdog.
"The gauntlet of games against first- and second-place teams. First the Phillies, then the Cardinals. Then the Reds, and then the...well, then the Diamondbacks, so I guess it's a three-team, nine-game gauntlet. After that, it gets easier, what with 53,032 more games against the Padres, 424,323 against the Rockies, and 213,466,917-1 against the Dodgers. Those should all be stress-free, jolly affairs, so let's focus all of our worrying on this stretch of games."