Coming off a resounding 5-2 homestand, including the recent split with NL West leading San Francisco Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals have to be feeling good about where they stand. With the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds sliding a bit in the past week, the Cardinals sit just 5 games back of the Reds for the division lead and a mere 2.5 games back of the 2nd Wild Card leading Pirates. Having faced 3 elite pitchers this week in Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, and Madison Bumgarner and coming away victorious in two of those three games, the Cardinals proved that they can beat top-flight pitching with a combination of timely hitting and economical pitching. That combination bodes well for the Cardinals if they want to make a run for the playoffs and beyond.

Next up for the Cardinals: the Philadelphia Phillies. By far the most disappointing (and shocking) team in the MLB this season, the Phillies sit at a mind-boggling 50-61, 18.5 games back of the Washington Nationals in the NL East and 13 games back of Pittsburgh for the 2nd Wild Card spot. No one can really put a finger on where things went wrong for the Phillies this year. Of course, they started the season with their studs, Chase Utley (knee) and Ryan Howard (achilles), nursing serious injuries, but that has not excused their futility in the minds of Philly fans and baseball pundits alike. The blame can be put squarely on the starting pitching which was supposed to be the best in all of baseball with top-line arms like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee who are owed $41 million combined this season. Between the formerly formidable tandem, they have a combined record of of 7-11, Halladay with a 4.02 ERA, Lee with a 3.78. Halladay also spent almost 2 months on the DL which really sent the Phillies spiraling uncontrollably into oblivion so that has played a role in the debacle as well. Cole Hamels has been a rock for the Phillies staff, having just inked a monster contract extension worth $144 million over 6 years a couple of weeks ago. Once the Phillies continued to fall further and further out of playoff contention, General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made a decision to make the Phils sellers at the July 31 trade deadline and sellers they were. They unloaded Hunter Pence to the Giants and Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton to the Los Angeles Dodgers (in separate deals). One other notable development was that the Phillies pulled Cliff Lee back off of the waiver wire after the Dodgers reportedly claimed him on waivers. Evidently, they never intended to trade him or let him go anyway.

As mentioned in previous previews, the Cardinals need to keep beating up on the subpar teams in the National League to keep abreast until they have an opportunity to play the teams above them in the standings. However, this is not your run-of-the-mill 50-61 team. The Phillies still have the ability to beat any team with a Howard-Utley combo in the middle of the lineup and Halladay/Lee starting the first two games of the series. The Cardinals need to play this series as if it is the 2011 championship-caliber Philly team across the diamond and avoid a let-down in an unfriendly environment at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Let’s take a quick look at the  pitching matchups in the series:

Friday: Kyle Lohse (12-2, 2.79) vs. Roy Halladay (5-6, 4.02)

This should be a tremendous pitching duel; Lohse has outperformed everyone’s expectations this season, and Halladay is, you know, Halladay.

Saturday: Jake Westbrook (11-8, 3.78) vs. Cliff Lee (2-6, 3.78)

Westbrook continues to give quality starts to this Cardinals squad and will need to keep his sinker down in the band box that is Citizens Bank Park. Cliff Lee has been a hard-luck loser in many starts this year so don’t let his record deceive you all too much. He has the ability to shut down the Cardinals, and the key may be working the count and jacking up Lee’s pitch count early on.

Sunday: Lance Lynn (13-5, 3.52) vs. Vance Worley (6-7, 3.83)

Lynn has a 6.35 ERA over his last 3 starts so you have to wonder if he is tiring after being a reliever last season. Worley is a solid 4th starter in this league and has been solid all season long. His goggles and goatee make for quite the intimidation factor.

 

For more Cardinals news, notes, and thoughts, follow Bradley Baskir on twitter: @BradleyBaskir