A glimpse of October seen in Red Sox visit

Phils gunslinger Cliff Lee will face the most lethal hit men in the majors. Boston, with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, is averaging 5.31 runs per game. Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, below, packs an intimidating 1.86 ERA.
Phils gunslinger Cliff Lee will face the most lethal hit men in the majors. Boston, with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, is averaging 5.31 runs per game. Red Sox ace Josh Beckett, below, packs an intimidating 1.86 ERA. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 28, 2011

Insert the clichés here, because this week is a breeding ground for such robotic talk. The Red Sox are coming to Philadelphia.

Just another interleague series that we have on our schedule. It's another three games.

It's not going to mean anything other than wins and losses right at this moment.

As far as a World Series preview, it's way too far in advance.

Actually, Jimmy Rollins managed to say all of that in the span of one answer Sunday, so that should suffice. It won't diminish the overflow crowds at Citizens Bank Park for the three-game series that begins Tuesday night, or the hype machine that the national media will fuel. So, yeah, it's another three games. But it'll be fun.

"It's good for us," Charlie Manuel said. "It's important for us to play Boston. I think we're going to get a good look at good pitching and a very good-hitting team."

Manuel's reasoning is an oft-repeated phrase by the manager: "To be the best, you have to beat the best." He views this as a solid measuring stick midway through a promising season. World Series preview or not, there is plenty of intrigue.

If anything, these three games can serve as a test (of the smallest sample size) of pitching vs. hitting. Boston has a solid pitching staff, but it is built around offense. The Red Sox spent $296 million this winter on two bats - Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Boston is averaging 5.31 runs per game, the most in the majors, and more than a run greater than the Phillies' 4.05 average.

"I don't think there's a hole in that lineup," Oakland lefthander Gio Gonzalez said. (He allowed four runs in six innings to Boston in April.) "Everyone in there is just powerhouse, powerhouse, and then, hey, we'll give you another powerhouse."

The Phillies, of course, have evolved from a slugging team to the one with the best pitching staff in baseball. Their 3.05 ERA is the lowest in the majors and nearly a run better than Boston's 3.97 mark.

So what is better, a pristine pitching staff or a relentless offense?

"When I'm on defense, I like the pitching," Rollins said. "When I'm up there on offense, I want to be out there banging."

But one team likely will not have the luxury of both, because, as Rollins said, if the Phillies could combine hot hitting with their arms, "that would be the greatest team that ever played this game."

Hyperbolic statements aside, what the Phillies have accomplished - a .620 winning percentage with a below-league-average offense - is remarkable. The last team to make the World Series with a runs-per-game average as low as the Phillies' current 4.05 was the 1988 Dodgers, who scored 3.88 runs per game and defeated the Oakland A's in five games.

In the last 20 years, only six times has the league champion that scored fewer runs in the regular season won the World Series. (The most recent examples: the 2010 Giants, 2006 Cardinals, and 2003 Marlins.)

But the last 20 years have also been largely a period of offensive boom, which appears to have ended. Still, it's rare for a team that has scored at least a run less on average than its opponent to win the World Series. Boston is outscoring the Phillies by an average of 1.26 runs per game.

It has happened three times in the last 30 years - the 1995 Braves (1.35 run differential), 1988 Dodgers (1.06), and 1982 Cardinals (1.24) beat American League clubs that scored more.

Then again, no league winner has had an ERA like the Phillies' currently do since those 1988 Dodgers, who carried a 2.96 ERA into the Fall Classic.

"Usually there's a yin and a yang," Rollins said. "When we didn't have the pitching, we had to slug. Now we have the pitching and it just so happens we haven't been able to score the runs that we used to. But that's baseball. The dynamics of the team have definitely changed, but we're just as good a team - if not even better."

Three games against Boston in June will not decide the season, or the World Series participants. The scoring and pitching statistics only represent one half of a season, with plenty of drama, possible trades, and injuries to come.

That doesn't mean this cannot be fun.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or @magelb on Twitter.

Staff writer Tim Rohan contributed to this article.

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