Going more than three months without losing when its No. 5 starter pitches can help a team do that.
With Monday’s 9-0 victory, Philadelphia (89-48) opened an 8 1/2-game lead over second-place Atlanta (82-58) and reduced its magic number for clinching a fifth straight East title to 16 with 25 contests remaining.
“This is September and we’re trying to finish up strong,” said Ryan Howard(notes), who has five home runs and 11 RBIs in his last nine games. “You can’t let up on them. We’ve been on the other side where the Mets had a big lead (in September) and we came back.”
Howard hit his 31st homer Monday, while Hunter Pence(notes) had three RBIs and Shane Victorino(notes) and Carlos Ruiz(notes) each drove in two. Cliff Lee(notes) had another dominant performance on the mound, tossing a five-hitter for his sixth shutout of the season.
While Lee is a leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, the Phillies likely also wouldn’t be where they are if not for the pitching of Worley (10-1, 2.85 ERA).
Called up from the minors in late April when Joe Blanton(notes) went on the disabled list, Worley has exceeded all expectations. The 23-year-old rookie right-hander has yielded two runs or fewer in 12 of 17 starts, and since losing to the Mets on May 29, is 8-0 with the Phillies winning all 13 times he’s taken the mound.
That streak is the longest for a Philadelphia pitcher since the club won 15 consecutive games started by Steve Carlton in 1972, and longest for any rookie since the 1970 Reds won 14 straight starts by Wayne Simpson.
Worley picked up a victory in Thursday’s 6-4 win over Cincinnati, allowing four runs in six-plus innings and leaving after allowing a three-run homer to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey(notes) with no outs in the seventh.
Worley, who threw an inning of scoreless relief against the Braves on May 13, made his second career start in Atlanta last Oct. 2. He allowed one run and two hits in five innings of a 7-0 win, but didn’t get a decision.
Hudson gave up one run in six innings of Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over Washington, his shortest outing since going six against Baltimore on July 2. The right-hander, who improved to 5-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his last seven starts, had thrown 86 pitches and likely could have gone longer but was lifted for a pinch hitter with two runners on base in the bottom of the sixth.
“My innings have gotten to a pretty high number, so it might be smart at this point of the year to start backing off and saving it for the stretch,” Hudson said.
Hudson, 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts against the Phillies this year, will be making his first start in the series since May 15.
Howard is 4 for 16 with three homers against Hudson since 2009, while Pence is 2 for 8 lifetime against him. Pence, however, is batting .526 with eight RBIs during a five-game hitting streak against the Braves.