The Philadelphia Phillies’ NL East lead vanished after a lengthy June slump, but the reigning World Series champions entered the All-Star break with a five-game winning streak and a relatively comfortable edge in the division.
This weekend, it could get even bigger.
With a four-game series against the second-place Florida Marlins set to open Thursday night at Land Shark Stadium, the red-hot Phillies will try to improve on the best road record in the majors and gain an inside track on a third straight division title.
Philadelphia (48-38) lost 12 of 15 from June 16-July 2, with its sputtering offense scoring two or fewer runs seven times over that span and its pitchers racking up a 5.69 ERA. The Marlins pulled into a tie atop the East at the end of that stretch.
The Phillies regained their confidence, however, with a 9-1 homestand going into the break - a stretch that included a three-game sweep of the New York Mets and finished with a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh. The club now leads Florida by four games.
The Phillies have been even better on the road this year, winning all three games at Florida from April 24-26 and boasting a league-best 26-15 road record despite going 3-6 on their most recent trip.
They also made headlines over the break by signing right-hander Pedro Martinez(notes), although the former Cy Young Award winner will begin his stint with Philadelphia on the disabled list while another veteran opens the season’s second half on the mound.
Jamie Moyer(notes) (8-6, 5.99 ERA) won the last four starts of what had been a difficult first half for the 46-year-old, although he struggled last Thursday against Cincinnati, allowing six runs in five innings of a 9-6 victory.
The left-hander’s track record against Florida is much better. His loss to the Marlins on May 25 was his second in 14 career starts, and he boasts a 12-2 record and 3.06 ERA against them.
Moyer has never lost at Land Shark Stadium, compiling a 1.58 ERA while winning all seven of his starts there.
“I can’t explain it; I have no idea - and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” Moyer said after allowing one run in six innings of a 13-2 win there April 26.
Moyer is more than twice the age of Marlins starter Chris Volstad(notes), a 6-foot-8 right-hander who is coming off the best start of his young career. Volstad (6-8, 4.44) pitched a five-hitter in a 7-0 win over San Francisco last Wednesday - his first career complete game.
“It’s huge,” said Volstad, who had no walks and six strikeouts. “It’s a good one to think about during the break.”
Volstad has also been solid against the Phillies, going 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA in five starts. Philadelphia’s All-Star outfielder Jayson Werth(notes), who has 12 home runs in his last 27 games, is 1 for 11 against Volstad.
These games will be especially important for the Marlins (46-44) after their deficit behind Philadelphia grew during a 3-4 road trip going into the break. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 home games, but they were outscored 26-9 during the Phillies’ three-game sweep in south Florida earlier this season.
“Four games right now is a lot,” Florida’s Cody Ross(notes) said after an 8-1 win over Arizona on Sunday. “We’ve got them coming in the beginning of the second half. … We’ve got to start getting serious and we’ve got to take those games.”