The Philadelphia Phillies emerge from the All-Star break looking to continue their momentum and make a run at a fourth consecutive NL East title.
Overcoming injuries will be a major factor.
The Phillies look to match their longest winning streak of the season when they open a four-game set against the struggling Chicago Cubs Thursday night at Wrigley Field.
Philadelphia (47-40) has won consecutive NL pennants and three straight division titles, but injuries have contributed to the Phillies ending the first half third in the NL East, 4 1/2 games behind first-place Atlanta.
The Phillies, though, are gaining momentum and are in position to match a season-high five-game winning streak set April 9-14. They entered the break with a 1-0 win over Cincinnati, sweeping a four-game series from NL Central leader.
“I think things have to fall in place for us,” manager Charlie Manuel told the team’s official website after guiding the NL All-Stars to a 3-1 win Tuesday. “I think when we look at our strengths and weaknesses, our strengths have got to come out. We’ve got to get the right kind of seasons from the guys who’ve been consistent in their careers. And in the areas that we’re weak, we’ve got to improve.”
Ryan Howard(notes), who went 0 for 2 as a designated hitter Tuesday, is tied with Milwaukee’s Corey Hart(notes) and David Wright(notes) of New York for the league lead with 65 RBIs. The first baseman also has a team-high 17 homers.
The 47-year-old left-hander was hit hard in his most recent trip to the mound July 7, allowing seven runs and a season high-tying three homers in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-5 loss to Atlanta.
Moyer spent his first three major league seasons with the Cubs from 1986-88, and is 3-2 with a 4.27 ERA in eight starts against them.
The Cubs are opening a 10-game homestand after entering the break dropping three of four at the Los Angeles Dodgers, including Sunday’s 7-0 defeat.
Offensive struggles have been evident at Wrigley, where Chicago has batted .221 and been outscored 35-12 during a 2-5 stretch. Chicago’s 20-23 home record is one of the worst in the league.
“The only problem is when you don’t hit, you almost have to play a perfect game, and when you don’t, one miscue here, one miscue there, you lose the darn thing,” manager Lou Piniella told the team’s official website. “We just need to hit. What we need to do is, when we get people on, is hit the ball in the gaps and drive in some runs.”
Dempster (7-7, 3.61) is familiar with those issues, going 2-4 with a 3.04 ERA in his last seven home starts while the lineup has provided three or fewer runs of support in six of them.
The right-hander got plenty of help at Arizona on July 7, as he allowed three runs with six strikeouts in five innings of an 8-3 win.
Dempster is 0-1 with a 6.63 ERA in three starts against the Phillies, losing 6-1 at Chicago on Aug. 13.