The Phillies hope they are turning things around after a three-week slide that saw them go from a four-game lead to a two-game deficit in the National League East.
History tells us, however, that the Phils have arrived at that knife in their schedule known as interleague play. Beginning with Friday's game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Phillies will play their next 15 games against American League teams.
Including two home losses to the Red Sox earlier this season, the Phillies' all-time record in interleague play is 97-123, a .441 winning percentage. Only San Diego and Pittsburgh have worse interleague winning percentages among National League teams.
Even as manager Charlie Manuel's teams won consecutive National League pennants and a World Series title in the previous two seasons, the Phillies were still hideous in interleague play, going a major-league-worst 9-27 in that two-year stretch.
"We have been getting outplayed," Manuel said. "That's the only thing I can say. It has been kind of obvious that it hasn't been close. Just because we've played bad doesn't mean we're going to play bad this year. I hope not. I look at it as though we can beat those guys. Champions can beat those guys no matter who you play or where you play."
Manuel said he supported interleague play when it first started in 1997, but he now thinks that it provides too great an imbalance in strength of schedule. It's a solid point. The Phillies, for example, play 12 of their next 15 games against the Red Sox, New York Yankees, Minnesota and Toronto. During that same stretch, St. Louis has three-game series against Arizona, Seattle and Kansas City. Even though the Cardinals are not in the NL East, they could benefit from their schedule in the wild-card race.
"Different teams have stronger schedules," Manuel said.
Who'll be the DH?
Manuel also will have to fill out a lineup card with a designated hitter in the Phillies' next two series. A year ago, the team called up John Mayberry Jr. and he started in the outfield in six of the team's nine road games in American League cities.
Mayberry, who is back at triple-A Lehigh Valley, doesn't figure to get that call this week, but Manuel would not tip his hand Thursday night about who he plans to use at DH during the three-game series with Boston.
A year ago, he used Ryan Howard three times in that role, and it seems likely he'll do that again given that the first baseman has started every game and played every inning this season. Manuel also is likely to use leftfielder Raul Ibanez at DH a couple of times.
It remains to be seen who gets playing time if Howard or Ibanez are at DH. As lefthanded hitters who can play first base and the outfield, Ross Gload and Greg Dobbs figure to see some time in the Boston series because the Red Sox are throwing three righthanders: John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield.
The Yankees will likely throw C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte against the Phillies next week in New York, which could mean playing time for Ben Francisco in left field.
The Phillies announced that Wednesday night's postponed game against Florida will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader Sept. 6, which is Labor Day. Fans with tickets to Wednesday's game can use them for the first game of the doubleheader at 1:05 p.m. The second game will begin at 7:05 p.m.
Manuel named San Diego manager Bud Black and San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy to his National League coaching staff for next month's All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif. Manuel's entire Phillies coaching staff also will be part of the NL staff. Manuel said his relationship with Black dates back to his days as the Cleveland Indians' hitting instructor. Black pitched for the Indians in 1995. Manuel said he has developed a good relationship and strong respect for Bochy while managing against him. . . . Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever said the teams had reached a contract agreement with second-round draft pick Perci Garner, a righthander from Ball State University.