The Philadelphia Phillies are well on their way to a fifth straight NL East title, and the only uncertainty seems to be by how many games will they win the division.
Having nearly twice as many victories as losses can produce this kind of thinking.
Cliff Lee looks to help the Phillies move 36 games over .500 for the first time in 34 years Tuesday night when they face the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Philadelphia (75-40) took Monday’s series opener 5-3 to win for the 10th time in 11 contests and move 35 games over .500 for the second time this year. The Phillies, who finished the 1993 season 35 games over .500, haven’t been 36 games over the break-even mark since ending the 1977 season 101-61.
Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard led the way Monday for the Phillies, owners of an 8 1/2-game lead over Atlanta in the East.
“We’ve been really good,” reliever Ryan Madson told the team’s official website. “Tomorrow we’re going to go out there with the same kind of confidence we had today. That’s been the thing. We’ve just been really confident in what we’re doing.”
Victorino, who is appealing a three-game suspension imposed Monday for his part in a weekend brawl at San Francisco, homered, doubled twice and scored three runs, while Howard had two RBIs. The Phillies are 45-10 when Howard drives in a run and 19-1 when he has a two-RBI game.
The All-Star first baseman, who has an NL-best 87 RBIs, is 4 for 14 with two homers against scheduled starter Ted Lilly (7-11, 4.86 ERA).
The Phillies counter with a left-hander of their own in Lee (11-7, 2.96), who threw a seven-hitter with eight strikeouts in Thursday’s 3-0 win over San Francisco for his major league-leading fifth shutout. He is the first player to have this many shutouts through his team’s first 111 games since 1992, when David Cone and Tom Glavine each had five.
Although the three-time All-Star allowed one run in 42 innings while going 5-0 in June, he felt Thursday’s outing – his first against the Giants since going 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in last year’s World Series – was his best performance of the season.
“That’s probably the best game I’ve had as far as commanding the ball,” said Lee, who followed up his superb June by going 1-2 with a 4.91 ERA in five July starts. “I felt like I could throw any pitch at any time to any location.”
Lee’s magnificent June started with a gem against the light-hitting Dodgers. At Citizens Bank Park on June 6, he allowed seven hits while striking out 10 in seven scoreless innings of a 3-1 win over Don Mattingly’s club. He has a 0.63 ERA in two career starts versus Los Angeles.
Lilly opposed Lee back in June and pitched well, allowing two runs and five hits in six innings, but was saddled with the loss. He is 0-5 with a 6.55 ERA in his last six starts against the Phillies.
Lilly gave up one run and four hits with seven strikeouts over six innings in Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to San Diego. The Dodgers have lost six of his last nine starts.
Los Angeles (52-62) had plenty of opportunities Monday, pounding out 13 hits, but went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base.
Matt Kemp singled twice but left five runners on, and has now gone five straight games without an RBI. Kemp, third in the league with 84 RBIs, is 1 for 7 with three strikeouts lifetime against Lee.