Philadelphia (70-39) at San Francisco (61-49), 10:15 p.m. EDT
The big-name acquisitions recently made by the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants were intended to improve both clubs’ chances in the race for the NL pennant.
However, only one of these teams has looked like a playoff contender of late.
After snapping a five-game skid, the Giants try to prevent Cliff Lee and the Phillies from matching a season high with their seventh consecutive victory Thursday night at AT&T Park.
With the majors’ best record and an eight-game lead in the East, Philadelphia (71-39) could be headed to a fifth consecutive division title. The Phillies have averaged 6.7 runs during a six-game winning streak, five with All-Star Hunter Pence in the lineup.
“We’ve collectively been putting pressure on the other team, getting guys on base and driving guys in when we need to,” outfielder Raul Ibanez told the Phillies’ official website.
Pence, 1 for 4 for with an RBI in Wednesday’s 8-6 win at Colorado, has hit .286 (6 for 21) with three RBIs since being acquired from Houston on Friday.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate to jump on the team with the best record in baseball,” Pence said.
There’s little doubt that the right-handed hitting Pence is providing ample protection in the lineup for slugger Ryan Howard, who is 9 for 22 (.409) with four homers and nine RBIs the last five games. Howard hit his 24th home run and had four RBIs on Wednesday.
Pence was not with the Phillies when they dropped two of three at home to the Giants (62-49) last week. Though Philadelphia has lost seven of nine regular season games at AT&T Park and went 1-2 there in last year’s NL championship series, San Francisco has dropped eight of 13 and avoided a season-high sixth consecutive defeat with an 8-1 win over Arizona on Wednesday to take a one-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the West.
“I was starting to worry,” said Giants infielder Orlando Cabrera, who was acquired from Cleveland on Saturday.
Cabrera, 3 for 15 in four games with his new team, drove in three runs and All-Star Carlos Beltran had three hits with an RBI as the Giants matched their run total from the previous five games. After going 1 for 14 with six strikeouts in his first three games since coming over from the New York Mets last Thursday, Beltran is 7 for 16 (.438) without a strikeout in his last four.
“We have good hitters in our lineup,” said Beltran, batting .205 with a homer and five RBIs versus Philadelphia in 2011. “Sometimes we get caught up in trying to do too much.”
Beltran is 1 for 8 against Lee (10-7, 3.14 ERA), who faces the Giants in the regular season for the first time since his first stint with the Phillies in 2009. Lee is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in the regular season versus San Francisco, but went 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in the World Series with Texas last season.
After he allowed one run in 42 innings while going 5-0 in June, the left-hander went 1-2 with a 4.91 ERA in five July starts. That lone victory came after he gave up four runs and fanned 11 in 7 2-3 innings of a 7-4 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The Giants will counter with a left-hander of their own in Madison Bumgarner (6-10, 3.80), who allowed three runs in 4 2-3 innings of the Giants’ 6-5 win in Game 4 of the NLCS in his only previous start against the Phillies. He also threw two scoreless innings during the pennant-clinching Game 6 victory at Philadelphia.
Bumgarner had allowed five runs over 21 2-3 innings while going 2-0 in his first three starts after the All-Star break before he surrendered seven – including five in the first – in four innings of a 7-2 loss at Cincinnati on Saturday. He has yielded 18 first-inning runs this season.