With the Phillies' win on Wednesday, they've rattled off seven in a row, and have (as of this post) come back to be 3.5 games out of the Wild Card. But perhaps the best news following the sweep is their next opponent, as they travel to Houston to take on the 45-97 Astros in a four game set.
The Astros, for lack of a better word, stink. Since the All Star break, they are 12-44, and have all of six wins - 6! - at home in that span. Their offense is bad, their defense is bad, their pitching is bad, and the red-hot Phillies get to play them four times. It's the perfect storm for a team that is an arm's length out of the second Wild Card spot.
But the one thing the Phillies can't do is look at these next four games like automatic wins. That is the kind of hubris that can only end with you face down on the pavement because you underestimated the worst team in baseball. It sounds like it couldn't possibly happen, but consider how the Astros have handled the Phillies in September over the last few seasons, most notably in 2005, when a sweep at the hand of the Astros all but knocked the Phillies out of the postseason. They nearly did it again in 2010, where the Phillies were swept – at home – in four games by the lowly 'Stros.
Whether or not the Astros have the Phillies' number when it comes to late season games is a question for another day, but the Phillies need to march into Houston and treat the Astros like the joke of a team that they are. Even though they got the best of the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade, there is no reason for the Phillies not to trounce them indiscriminately.
And really, that shouldn't be too tall an order, given that their roster is a veritable who's who of mediocre players. Their home run leader is Jed Lowrie, but he hasn't played since the middle of July. Their RBI leader, J.D. Martinez, has a robust .683 OPS, and their leading hitter, Jose Altuve, is batting .290. So, in short, they aren't very good, and the stats bear that out. They are at the bottom of the NL in runs per game (3.58), OPS (.720), slugging (.369), OPS+ (82), and so on.
They also aren't very good at pitching, either. Their 4.66 team ERA is next-to-last in the NL, and their rotation doesn't do much to instill fear in opposing hitters. Here is how the pitching matchups look for the four game set:
Tyler Cloyd (1-1, 4.24) vs Lucas Harrell (10-9, 3.83)
Cole Hamels (14-6, 3.03) vs Bud Norris (5-12, 4.93)
Kyle Kendrick (9-10, 3.83) vs Edgar Gonzalez (2-0, 1.74)
Roy Halladay (10-7, 4.01) vs Dallas Keuchel (1-7, 5.35)
The pitching matchups are very much in favor of the Phillies, who will be matched up against average arms, at best. Of the four starters, the one that the Phillies need be most concerned with is Bud Norris, who can strike guys out with the best of them, but he is also not averse to walking a handful, either.
On paper, this series belongs to the Phillies. But, quite literally anything can happen, and they shouldn't sleep on the Astros, even if they do only have 45 wins. And, like the Marlins series, if the Phillies want to have a shot at making the postseason, they'll be best off to leave Houston with nary a loss.