(Sports Network) – Lately Cole Hamels has been the poster boy for lack of run support for the surging Philadelphia Phillies, who will send their left-handed ace to the mound tonight with intentions of securing a three-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies are in the thick of a playoff race and have been getting postseason-type performances over the past month from Hamels, but the 2008 World Series MVP hasn’t reaped the rewards of his efforts. He is 1-3 with a 2.26 earned run average over his last nine starts, with the Phillies going 5-4 in that stretch. He has lost back-to-back trips to the mound, both 1-0 defeats to the New York Mets.
Hamels tossed seven innings of one-run ball and struck out 11 versus New York in Philadelphia on August 7, then faced the Mets again last Thursday at Citi Field. The southpaw went eight innings this time and allowed one run on five hits with eight strikeouts. Hamels has struck out at least eight batters in four straight starts.
He is 4-1 in seven career starts against the Giants and did not factor in the decision of a 7-6 win back on April 28 of this season. Hamels allowed four runs and nine hits with 10 strikeouts in six frames.
Another 10 strikeouts from Hamels tonight could possibly lift the Phillies to their fifth straight win. They opened this series with a 9-3 victory on Tuesday and got a big night from Jimmy Rollins in Wednesday’s 8-2 triumph. The 2007 NL MVP finished a double shy of the cycle and clubbed a three-run homer during a decisive four-run fourth inning for the NL Wild Card-leading Phillies, who are two games ahead of the Giants and 2 1/2 games in front of St. Louis for the final playoff spot in the National League.
“When there is a lot of focus, Jimmy rises,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. His swing is getting better. He’s running a lot better. When he’s stealing bases, we’re manufacturing runs."
Young prospect Domonic Brown added a pinch-hit homer for the Phils, while Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz each finished with two hits, an RBI and a run scored in the win. Philadelphia starter Joe Blanton recorded his first decision in four starts, allowing just two solo homers among eight hits over 6 1/3 frames. He struck out seven without walking a batter.
The Phillies, winners in 20 of their past 25 games, remained 2 1/2 games behind Atlanta for the top spot in the NL East after the Braves defeated the Nationals on Wednesday. The Phils will also host Washington and Houston on this 10-game homestand.
San Francisco is in dire straits right now, having lost three in a row to fall back in the playoff picture. It is six games behind San Diego in the National League West standings and got a pair of homers from Andres Torres and former Phillie Pat Burrell in yesterday’s loss. Burrell homered for the second straight night and has 12 since joining the Giants.
Newly-acquired outfielder Jose Guillen ended with a team-best two hits for San Francisco, while Matt Cain was dealt the loss for allowing five runs — two earned — and seven hits over six innings.
“We just have to think of the positives and get something going,” Cain said. “We have to go out and get a win sometime.”
The Giants, who are scheduled to visit St. Louis this weekend, look to get a win with Jonathan Sanchez on the hill tonight. Sanchez will try to end a personal two-start losing streak in his 25th start. After he helped beat Colorado on August 3 with six shutout innings, Sanchez was reached for four runs in four innings of a loss to Atlanta five days later.
The lefty previously took the hill in a 3-2 setback versus San Diego last Friday, as he yielded three runs through 5 1/3 frames. Sanchez, who is 8-8 with a 3.60 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) this season, defeated the Phillies back on April 26 with five innings of one-run ball in a 5-1 win.
Sanchez is 2-1 with a 3.38 earned run average in eight career games (four starts) against the Phillies.
The Phillies lost two of three in San Francisco in late April, but have won eight of the last 11 played at home between the two clubs.