Inside the Phillies: Pitching matchups, all-star considerations add intrigue to Red Sox-Phillies series

Cole Hamels will start instead of Kyle Kendrick in Thursday's series finale between the Phillies and Red Sox. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
Cole Hamels will start instead of Kyle Kendrick in Thursday's series finale between the Phillies and Red Sox. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
Posted: June 28, 2011

It was a difficult decision that helped make this three-game interleague series between the Phillies and Boston Red Sox considerably more interesting.

By skipping Kyle Kendrick and handing the ball to Cole Hamels for Thursday's series finale, the Phillies have forced baseball's best hitting team to go against two of the still-healthy three aces in baseball's best starting rotation.

Cliff Lee against Boston's Josh Beckett in the opening game of the series Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park is as good as it gets. Too bad this is not a postseason game, because these two guys have made some of the most impressive playoff starts in the last decade. The two combined are 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts against the New York Yankees, and 14-5 with a 2.65 ERA overall.

The middle game of the series matches Boston's John Lackey and his eyesore of an ERA against Phillies rookie Vance Worley. Lackey, despite his 7.36 ERA, has some big-game pitching experience and the Phillies offense has been a get-well card for a lot of struggling pitchers this season. Worley, on the other hand, has never seen an offense quite as good as Boston's, even if designated hitter David Ortiz and the injured Carl Crawford are sitting this series out.

That leaves Hamels (9-4, 2.49 ERA) against Jon Lester (9-4, 3.66) in the Thursday afternoon game, and that's undeniably more attractive than Kendrick vs. Lester, especially for Phillies fans planning to attend the Business Person's Special. Hamels is 11 days older than Lester and the two men have remarkably similar big-league resumes, including dominance of the team they'll be facing in the series finale.

Hamels, 69-49 with a career 3.42 ERA, is 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in three career starts against the Red Sox. Lester, 70-29 with a career 3.56 ERA, is 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA in two starts against the Phillies. The over-under for combined runs is one.

What's open to question here is whether the Phillies made the right decision by skipping Kendrick and pitching Hamels in the series finale. For the purpose of this series and the final series before the all-star break, it makes perfect sense.

Hamels, as history proves, has a much better chance to beat Boston than Kendrick. By skipping Kendrick, the Phillies can also get three more starts out of Hamels before the break, including one against N.L. East rival Atlanta on July 10.

If that's how things unfold, however, Hamels will not be eligible to pitch in the All-Star Game July 12 in Arizona. The rules say a pitcher who starts a game the Sunday before the All-Star Game cannot pitch for his league. That would not have been such a big deal before the Phillies' Vicente Padilla threw a scoreless bottom of the 11th inning for the National League in the 2002 All-Star Game, leaving a red-faced commissioner Bud Selig to declare a tie.

The commish saw to it that the All-Star Game would never end in a tie again by actually making the game mean more than a little something. Since 2003, the winning league gets home-field advantage. One of the things we're going to see in this three-game series between the Red Sox and Phillies is how important that home field can be.

Unless manager Terry Francona wants to significantly weaken his defense in order to strengthen his offense, he must sit designated hitter Ortiz during all three games of this interleague series at Citizens Bank Park.

That's not too big of a deal when the Red Sox face Lee and Hamels, because the lefthanded hitting Ortiz has a combined .214 (6 for 28) career average against the two lefties, with one RBI.

Still, without Ortiz's bat, the Boston lineup is not nearly as intimidating, because both J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron are in the midst of the worst seasons of their careers. Ortiz sat all three games in Pittsburgh over the weekend and the Red Sox scored a total of nine runs.

Pittsburgh threw two pretty good pitchers - Jeff Karstens and Paul Maholm - against Boston. The quality of the opposing starters will nevertheless rise significantly in Philadelphia.

By pitching Hamels on Thursday, the Phillies have a better chance to win this potential World Series preview with the Red Sox. A complete-game shutout against Boston, however, will not help the Phillies at all come October if the American League wins the All-Star Game 12 days later.

If that seems sillier than a tie in the All-Star Game, it's because it is.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

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