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A Look Ahead: Gotta Get Away

Now that was ugly. A series sweep from the Marlins and all of the sudden, a road trip looks pretty refreshing for the Fightin’s.

The entire Delaware Valley was suffering from heat related irritability and the Phillies were no exception. After getting embarrassed by the second place Fish on Sunday, the Phillies limp in to the week having watched their division lead slip to four games.

The Phillies spent Monday continuing to sleep off the hangover produced by Saturday night’s UFC event at the Wachovia Center and boarded a plane destined for Chicago to take on the Cubs in a three game set.

Tuesday will premier Phillies rookie J.A. Happ and Cubs righthander Rich Harden. Happ is coming off a beauty of a game against the Rockies in which he shut Colorado down in a complete game gem. Harden meanwhile has been tough as of late and even tougher against the Phils, allowing just two earned runs against the Phillies in his last 20 innings of work.

Wednesday the Pedro Martinez era begins in Philadelphia, as the three-time Cy Young award winner and old man wrestling veteran makes his Phillies debut. Martinez has not thrown a big league pitch since September 25th of last season. He is looking to prove he still has some left in the tank and help the Phillies in their run to October.

The Cubs will counter with Jeff Samardzija. The young right-hander will be making his first ever big league start and carries a 6.29 ERA into the contest. In his only appearance against the Phillies, he gave up the game winning, 13th inning, three-run bomb to Jayson Werth.

Thursday, the rotation’s newest ace Cliff Lee takes the hill for the Phils. Since being acquired, Lee has only allowed two earned runs and 10 hits in 16 innings. He is 2-0 withthe Phillies and looks to extend his unbeaten streak in the series finale. Against the Cubs in his lifetime, Lee is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA.

The Cubs will send right- hander Ryan Dempster to the mound. Dempster is 6-5 this season with a 4.04 ERA.

The Phillies have had success against the Cubs recently, however are in a bit of a funk. The Cubs enter the series just two games back in the Central Division and are 58-51 overall. Their 33-19 home record shows that they are a formidable opponent in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

The Phillies cap off their week with a division showdown in Atlanta. The Braves have been playing good ball as of late and are making noise in the N.L. East. Although they’ve been pretty quiet this season, they are a mere 4.5 games back in the division and will look to close some ground. Oh, and the last time the Phillies traveled to the dirty south they found themselves bewildered by the Braves pitching staff as they were swept handedly.

Joe Blanton starts the party as the series kicks off Friday. The Braves have yet to announce Blanton’s counterpart.

Blanton has been one of the Phillies more reliable pitchers lately. Last week against the Marlins, Blanton allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings, his most since June 30th. In his last six starts he owns a 1.87 ERA.

Starters for Saturday and Sunday have yet to be determined, although expect to see Cole Hamels make an appearance. Jaime Moyer’s status remains a mystery, but could be determined by the weeks end. With Monday’s day off, Moyer would normally get the start Saturday.

Let’s be honest, the Phillies looked uninterested last weekend against the Marlins. They were playing an inferior team, but were beaten soundly. They had a chance to extend their division lead but failed to answer opportunity’s knock at their door. In doing so they have given a glimmer of hope to the Braves and the Marlins and the season remains interesting.

They will be playing two teams who will undoubtedly be playing inspired baseball. Whatever it was that the Phillies trotted out on the field last weekend, it certainly was not inspired.

Should the Phillies continue to play uninspired baseball it is not far-fetched to think they could slip into second place, even third by weeks end.

The Braves and the Cubs will both be playing for playoff spots and will present problems for the Phillies all week long. They are beatable and the Phillies are better than both top to bottom. However if the Phillies recent swoon doesn’t lift, they will find themselves chasing a new division leader.

A five game lead in the division was comfortable. A four game lead and a slump to boot tightens the collar just a bit.

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