Coming off a disconcerting sweep, the Philadelphia Phillies look to take out their frustration on the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays as the teams begin a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park on Friday.
Philadelphia (33-33) remains in second place in the NL East, but saw its deficit jump from 6 1/2 to 9 1/2 games after losing all three games against the division-leading New York Mets this week. The Phillies did not hold a lead in any of the series’ 27 innings.
“We just have to keep going,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “There’s a lot of games left, but when you get 10-12 games back, it can be hard.”
A loss Friday would drop the Phillies, losers of four straight and six of seven, below .500 for the first time since they were 13-14 on May 3.
As it has been most of the season, starting pitching was a big problem for Philadelphia against the Mets. Starters Cory Lidle, Ryan Madson and Brett Myers combined to give up 19 of the 23 runs the Phillies allowed, surrendering 23 hits in 13 2-3 innings.
The ERA of Philadelphia’s starting staff is an NL-worst 5.43. The team’s bullpen has a major league-best 3.09 ERA.
“We’re good enough to be in every game, but bad enough not to win,” Lidle said after pitching six innings and giving up all of the Mets’ runs in Thursday’s 5-4 defeat.
The Phillies look for a lift from rookie Cole Hamels (1-1, 3.68 ERA), who will make his fifth major league start and second since a stint on the disabled list with a strained shoulder.
He got his first big league victory in his return, but suffered his first loss in his most recent outing. Hamels had a career-high eight strikeouts, but allowed four runs and six hits over five innings in a 6-0 defeat to Washington on Sunday.
Hamels has made one more start in the majors than his opponent, James Shields (2-0, 2.65 ERA). While Hamels has received more notoriety as a top prospect, Shields is the one who has been more impressive.
The 24-year-old right-hander has thrown six scoreless innings in each of his last two games and won both, totaling three walks and 11 strikeouts while beating Kansas City and the Los Angeles Angels.
“Keeping the ball down in the zone, that’s been the biggest reason for my success,” Shields said. “They’re getting hits off me, but they’re not hitting me hard.”
One batter Shields must be careful with is Pat Burrell, who has five homers and 10 RBIs over his last seven games.
While Burrell homered twice Thursday, Bobby Abreu extended his hitting streak to 14 games. Ryan Howard failed to drive in a run for the fifth straight game, but still leads the Phillies with 22 homers and 54 RBIs.
Tampa Bay (27-40) is having problems producing runs, scoring only 11 this week while losing three of four games to the Detroit Tigers.
Among the Devil Rays to struggle in that series were Ty Wigginton, who went 1-for-15, and Jonny Gomes, who was hitless in 16 at-bats. Wigginton and Gomes are tied for the team lead with 44 RBIs, but have combined for only three over the team’s last nine games.