Starting Monday, the Phillies will play 13 straight games against teams who finished 2012 with fewer than 80 wins. This stretch could very well tell us more about this Phillies team than the first couple of weeks. If they are unable to rattle off a 9-of-13 or 10-of-13 against the Pirates, Mets, Indians and Marlins, then it has a chance to be a very long season. Pittsburgh comes to town having won nine of their last 12 games, all against legitimate playoff contenders. They just took 3-of-4 from the Braves, which followed a three-game sweep of the Reds, a split two-game series against the Cardinals, and 2-of-3 against Diamondbacks.
"They've been winning some close games, they've been getting some big hits," manager Charlie Manuel said on Sunday prior to the start of the Phillies' night game against the Cardinals. "I've been watching 'em."
Let's break down this upcoming stretch:
Monday, April 22 vs. Pirates: RHP Jonathan Pettibone vs. RHP A.J. Burnett. The Phillies announced Sunday afternoon that they would give Pettibone his major league debut, which was something of a surprise since he is only 22 years old and has allowed 12 runs in his first two starts of the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. LHP Adam Morgan has been the most impressive Triple-A pitcher going back to major league spring training, but the Phillies allowed him to start on Thursday, removing him from consideration to replace John Lannan, who was placed on the disabled list that same day. Calling up Morgan would have required the Phillies to free up a space on their 40-man roster. Pettibone is already on the 40. Charlie Manuel said he does not know much about Pettibone other than what the Phillies' personnel men have said.
"You have to rely on what people see and say," Manuel said.
Burnett is off to a strong start this season, having allowed seven runs with 35 strikeouts and eight walks in 24 innings. The Phillies have a mixed history against him, I imagine the Pirates will be a strong Vegas favorite in this one.
Tuesday, April 23 vs. Pirates: LHP Cole Hamels vs. LHP Jeff Locke. Locke is a lefty who the Phillies have never seen, but he has not pitched particularly well this season (eight walks and four home runs over his last two starts). This is a must win for the Phillies.
Wednesday, April 24 vs. Pirates: LHP Wandy Rodriguez vs. RHP Roy Halladay: Halladay is coming off two strong starts, but Rodriguez fits the profiled of the kind of pitcher that has always given this Phillies team trouble. Rodriguez has allwoed one earned run in 16 innings with 11 strikeouts and one walk. In other words, he is pitching like the guy who in 2009 and 2010 held the Phillies to one run with 13 strikeouts and one walk in 14 innings of two starts. My call would be the Pirates.
Thursday, April 25, vs. Pirates: LHP Cliff Lee vs. RHP James McDonald. The Phillies faced McDonald four times in 2011 and 2012 and they had success: 14 runs, five home runs, 23 hits, 11 walks, 14 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. The Phillies are the choice here.
Friday, April 26 at Mets: RHP Kyle Kendrick at RHP Dillon Gee. The Phillies smacked Gee around when they faced him at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month. Kendrick has a history of success at Citi Field. Give the Phillies the edge in this one.
Saturday, April 27 at Mets: RHP Jonathan Pettibone/TBD at LHP Jon Niese. Like Wandy Rodriguez, Niese is the kind of pitcher that has long stymied the Phillies. Whether the start goes to Pettibone or the Phillies look for another option, the Mets have the edge in this one.
Sunday, April 28 at Mets: LHP Cole Hamels at TBD. Score one for Mother Nature, as the Mets' snow-plagued trip through Minnesota and Denver helped the Phillies miss Matt Harvey, who is 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA through four starts. Harvey would have to pitch on short rest to face the Phillies. Right now, this sets up for Aaron Laffey, but the uninspiring lefty has struggled thus far and the Mets have top prospect Zack Wheeler closing in on his time for a major league promotion. It would be a surprise for Wheeler to join the Mets in time to face the Phillies. Either way, give Hamels a decided edge in this one.