They were supposed to be the top two contenders in the
National League East Division. Instead,
the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies are a half-game apart at the bottom
of the standings as they head into a crucial weekend series down in waterlogged
It will be the first trip into new Marlins
Park for the Phillies, and the set
begins with one of two great pitching matchups this weekend when lefty Cliff
Lee gets the call for the visitors against Miami's Josh Johnson. The overnight MLB odds
had the game a pick in some places, but we will call the openers Miami -110 with an
even-money take-back on the Phils. A 7 run total was priced -120 on the OVER.
will have 81 games under its belt once this series concludes Sunday, and even
with a sweep the Phillies will not be close to where a team that was -185 chalk
to win its division should be. Charlie Manuel's crew is wallowing six games
below even (36-42) and approaching the Chicago Cubs in the red ink column at
The Phils are getting healthier with the return of 2B Chase
Utley a couple of days ago. Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard are also inching
toward active duty and should be back in the second half of July. But with
under half of the season remaining when they return, will it be enough?
Miami isn't much better off at 35-40 (-12.0 units), and has
actually been the worst NL East team over the last half of June with just three
wins the last 14 times out. Marlins starting pitchers have just one win in that
span (Mark Buehrle, June 24), and they have been outscored 92-51, roughly three
runs per game.
Noting that one win is not meant to suggest the tailspin has
been entirely the fault of Miami's
rotation. Indeed, both clubs have been getting decent overall efforts from that
part of their rosters with Philadelphia
starters seventh in the NL with a 3.89 ERA and the Marlins ninth at 3.98. The
shared shortcoming for the Phils and Fish is their relief corps. Philly's 4.67
bullpen ERA is 28th in the majors while the Marlins' 4.81 mark checks in one
spot behind at 29th. Only the Mets (5.09) have a leakier group of relievers.
Having let Philadelphia
starters off the hook a bit, we come to one Mr. Clifton Phifer Lee whom we
cannot excuse so easily. It is not merely coincidence that the Phils are six
games under .500 as a team and also six games short of level with Lee on the
mound (3-9). Earlier this season, you could point to a lack of offense or the
bullpen as the key factors in losses when Lee pitched, but that has not been
the case lately with a 14 ER addition in his last three starts (20 IP).
Perhaps this is a good time and place for Lee to break out
of his doldrums. Philadelphia won all three of his assignments vs. the Fish
last season while he fashioned a 1.50 ERA over 24 innings.
ain't exactly tearing it up when Johnson takes the hill at 8-7, and this time it
is a case of shoddy relief and little support from Marlins hitters that has
thwarted their big righthander's recent efforts. Johnson got off to a rough launch
to 2012, but seemed to get it together in Houston
on May 9. Miami won all six of his starts in May, and Johnson has a 2.56 ERA
the last nine games.
It is even better at 1.95 in June, yet the Marlins are 1-3
in his four tries. Last Saturday was the real kicker as Johnson held the Blue
Jays to two hits and a run, leaving the game 1-1 through seven. Marlins hitters
never added anything while the Miami bullpen let
six runs up in the ninth for a lopsided victory.
The season series between these two stands level at 3-3 with
the OVER 4-2, but all six of those games were played in Philadelphia. The Phils were 5-4 in Florida at the old park last year, and 22-7 their last 29
played in Miami.
Taking a Chance: There
might not be two more underachieving teams this season than the Phils and
Marlins. And it is appropriate that they kick this series off with a couple of
pitchers that both teams have let good performances fall to the wayside. My MLB pick will be from the streak-busting angle for Lee who picks up his first win
of the season in this game. Phillies +100.