The Philadelphia Phillies have the NL’s RBI leader and one of the leading candidates to become what would be the team’s third straight league MVP.
All the Florida Marlins have is baseball’s smallest payroll - and a seemingly legitimate shot to catch the first-place Phillies.
The Marlins will try to cut their NL East deficit to one-half game Wednesday when they continue their three-game series at Philadelphia.
The Phillies (61-51) have a lineup full of big names - Ryan Howard was the 2006 NL MVP and leads the NL in RBIs, while Jimmy Rollins is the reigning MVP. Second baseman Chase Utley (28 homers, 77 RBIs) has a chance to make Philadelphia the first team to have three different players win consecutive MVPs since Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard did it for the 1961-63 New York Yankees.
Florida (60-53), which has been jockeying with the Phillies and New York Mets for the top spot in the East, made an impressive statement in Tuesday’s series opener. The Marlins got four RBIs from Jeremy Hermida in an 8-2 win, their sixth in 10 tries against the Phillies.
“It’s good to get the first one out of the way,” starter Josh Johnson told the Marlins’ official Web site. “Now we’ve got the upper hand.”
Florida can leave Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon with the division lead, but to get that chance it will first have to win back-to-back games, which hasn’t happened since it won four straight July 9-12.
Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 3.18 ERA) will try to help the Marlins beat the Phillies for the fourth straight time. Sanchez, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, made his first start in nearly 15 months Thursday, limiting Colorado to two runs over 5 2-3 innings of a 12-2 win.
“I felt a bit nervous being away from the mound and the team for such a long time,” Sanchez said. “But I just focused on doing a good job and locating the pitches. Thankfully, everything worked out.”
Sanchez, who came to Florida along with shortstop Hanley Ramirez in the trade that sent Josh Beckett to Boston in 2005, is 13-4 with a 3.24 ERA in 25 career major league games, including a no-hitter against Arizona in 2006.
He hasn’t fared well against Philadelphia, however, going 0-1 with a 10.61 ERA in two starts.
The Phillies have scored the second-most runs (558) in the NL, but their offense has been slumping in August. They’ve scored 12 runs in four games, partially due to a lack of production from Rollins. Philadelphia’s shortstop is in a 2-for-15 (.133) funk.
However, the Phillies have been getting solid efforts recently from their starters, who are 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA since July 29. Kyle Kendrick (9-5, 4.59) went 6 2-3 innings at Washington on Thursday, yielding two runs and striking out four in an 8-4 win.
Kendrick’s only start against the Marlins this season didn’t go nearly as well. He gave up a season-high seven earned runs and 10 hits over 4 1-3 innings at Florida in a 9-5 loss July 19.
“He was scuffling,” manager Charlie Manuel told the team’s official Web site. “They could have scored more runs. He had a rough day.”
Kendrick is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his last five home starts.