The Philadelphia Phillies’ bullpen was a major reason they won consecutive NL pennants. Some improvement from the relievers could help them show they still have championship potential.
The Phillies will try to make things easier on themselves and beat the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds for a ninth time in 11 meetings at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night.
Philadelphia (44-40) saw its bullpen post a 3.55 ERA over the past two seasons, ranking second in the NL in that span. That ERA has risen to 3.94 this season, and the Phillies are third in the East, 5 1/2 games behind first-place Atlanta.
Closer Brad Lidge(notes), who had 72 saves over the previous two years, has blown three straight save opportunities in his last five appearances, posting an 11.57 ERA during that stretch. He was booed by the home fans for blowing another save Thursday before Brian Schneider’s(notes) homer clinched a 4-3, 12-inning win over the Reds (49-38) in the opener of this four-game set.
“That’s what we hired him for,” manager Charlie Manuel said of the save situation. “He’s got to get right.”
Phillies starter Joe Blanton(notes) (3-5, 6.27 ERA) will try to ease the pressure on the bullpen by pitching deep into a fifth consecutive start. The right-hander has reached at least the seventh inning in each of his last four outings, going 2-0 with a 4.55 ERA.
That stretch includes a start at Cincinnati on June 29, when Blanton allowed three runs in 7 2-3 innings before Lidge blew the save by giving up three runs in the ninth. The Phillies won 9-6 in 10 innings.
A big inning victimized Blanton on Sunday, when he didn’t get a decision in a 8-5 loss at Pittsburgh. He gave up five runs - three in the Pirates’ six-run seventh - over 6 1-3 innings.
“Kind of the way it’s gone for me,” Blanton told the Phillies’ official website. “(I) was throwing the ball great and still find a way to give up three or five runs.”
Blanton is 2-0 with a 3.92 ERA in three starts against the Reds.
Cincinnati’s Joey Votto(notes), who connected for his league-leading 22nd homer Thursday, will try to continue his hot hitting a day after being voted to Tuesday’s All-Star game via the final fan vote.
The first baseman has a .395 average with seven homers and 12 RBIs over his last 12 games.
The 22-year-old right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in six starts away from Cincinnati. He earned his first win in his last five outings overall Sunday at Chicago, allowing three runs in six innings of a 14-3 victory.
Leake didn’t fare well opposite Blanton on June 29, giving up six runs in six innings.