Despite all of the upheaval on their roster, the Yankees have been alarmingly consistent thus far this year, avoiding slumps, but also failing to go off on any dazzling winning streaks. The Yankees have lost more than two games in a row just twice this year (a fact they hope will remain true after tonight), with both losing streaks having maxed out at four games. On the flip side, they've won more than three in a row just three times, with two five-game winning streaks, one four-gamer and just one other of as many as three in a row.
The Phillies' season has followed a very different course. They started the season losing six of seven, then from the end of April to mid-May won 13 of 14, beginning that run with a nine-game winning streak. That was immediately followed by a five-game losing streak and coming into Sunday's game against the Devil Rays, the Phillies had lost eight of nine. That last spell included a six-game losing streak that was snapped with an 8-5 win yesterday.
The Phillies' big problem is starting pitching. Randy Wolf hasn't thrown a pitch all year, Jon Lieber is currently on the DL, lefty phenom Cole Hamels has also spent time on the DL, while the current version of the rotation includes reliever Ryan Madson and rookie Scott Mathieson, who was in the Florida State league last year. The only Phillie starters to take all of their turns thus far this year have been Brett Myers and Cory Lidle. The result is a rotation that has been the second worst in baseball, just barely allowing fewer runs per start than that of the neighboring Baltimore Orioles.
Good thing then that the Philadelphia bullpen has been so strong. The Phillies' 3.25 Bullpen ERA has been the best in baseball thus far this year, with ex-Yankee Tom Gordon leading the way with 18 saves, a 1.61 ERA and 17 hits, 8 walks and 37 strikeouts in 28 innings. Behind Gordon the Phillies have a strong pair of veteran LOOGies in Rheal Cormier and old Yankee whipping boy Arthur Rhodes. The problem is that this pen is built to win now (Rhodes is 36, Gordon is 38 and Cormier is 39), but the Phillies have a losing record and are 9.5 games behind the NL-best Mets. Good thing there's not much competition for the NL Wild Card (the Phils trail the unlikely Reds by three).
Curiously, given the extreme divergence in performance between their starters and relievers, the Phillies are a terrible defensive team (third worst defensive efficiency in the majors) playing in an extreme hitters park. The primary offenders on defense are Utley and Howard on the right side of the infield (Bell and Rollins have been excellent on the left) and, to a lesser degree Burrell and, believe it or not, Aaron Rowand in the outfield. I'm not sure what's going on with Rowand, save for having seen about eleventy zillion replays of that catch against the Mets during which he broke his face on the chain link fence in center, but it is interesting to note that Rowand's Rate stats haven't been as strong as one would expect over the past three seasons, with the former World Champion rating as simply average in both 2003 and 2004.
Today the Phils send their best starter, Brett Myers, against Randy Johnson, who rebounded from a tremendously discouraging start against the A's to enjoy one of his best starts of the year last time out only to get tossed for throwing at old nemesis Eduardo Perez with one out in the seventh inning. Myers, meanwhile, had turned in ten-straight quality starts before getting mugged in his last two starts by the Mets and Nationals, resulting in a combined line of 5 2/3 IP, 16 H, 12 R (11 ER), 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K.
The Phils typically have four fantastic hitters in a row in their line-up in Utley, Abreu, Burrell and Howard. Fortunately for Johnson and the Yankees, three of them are lefties. The right-handed Burrell, however, will bear some watching tonight.