Tough slate for Phillies begins with Braves

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it the mismatch of the century, but John Lannan trying to beat Roy Halladay in Philadephia was kind of like Mondale in ’84: Not a chance.

Halladay was brilliant with 10 strikeouts and no walks and Lannan was the opposite of brilliant with six runs allowed over two innings, dropping his career record against the Phillies to 0-10. To those of you who listened to Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast: I was just kidding with my prediction -- I didn’t really think the Nationals would win. Just a joke for Karabell's benefit.

So now the Phillies are 21-9, and they own the best run differential in the National League. As expected, the rotation has dominated as the club has allowed the fewest runs in the majors. In other news, Chase Utley may soon begin a minor-league rehab assignment, and the cheesesteaks are as tasty as ever. The only bad news is the Flyers are down 3-0 to the Bruins.

Actually … hold on, there is some bad news, of sorts. Of those 30 games, just five have come against teams that currently have a winning record, with three played against the Braves and two against the Marlins. The Phillies have also played 17 games at home. Which is why this weekend’s series against the Braves is so intriguing, because it kicks off this stretch of games for Philadelphia:

  • 3 versus Atlanta

  • 3 at Florida

  • 3 at Atlanta

  • 2 at St. Louis

  • 2 versus Colorado

  • 3 versus Texas

  • 4 versus Cincinnati

That’s 20 consecutive games against winning ballclubs, which makes for a little sterner test than the Nationals and Mets have offered. As a comparison, the Marlins are 19-11, but have played 16 games against winning teams. Now, I admit, strength of schedule can be a little overanalyzed, especially in the NL, where there appears to be so much parity this season. But I still think these next three weeks will give us a better sense as to the strength of this Phillies team.

The Braves enter on a bit of a roll, with five straight wins and they have a plus-38 run differential (the Phillies are plus-41). Let’s take a little closer look at the series.

Friday: Derek Lowe versus Cliff Lee

You won’t believe this: Lee walked two batters in his last start. Clearly, something is wrong. Was he moonlighting as one of the Flyers’ goalies between starts?

Fun statistic: The Braves are gunning to become one of the worst basestealing teams in recent memory. They have five steals. Against 10 caught stealings. The last team to steal fewer than 30 bases was the 1994 Mets (in a strike season). But that team was epically bad on the bases: 25 steals, 26 caught stealings. Jose Vizcaino was 1-for-12.

Must-see matchup: If the Phillies let the Phanatic fill in for Charlie Manuel this weekend, could he outwit Fredi Gonzalez?

Saturday: Jair Jurrjens versus Roy Oswalt (probable)

You won’t believe this: Oswalt is expected to return to the rotation after missing a start while tending to his family in Mississippi after the tornadoes down there. Since the Cy Young Award was instituted in 1956, Oswalt is one of only 21 pitchers with 150 wins and an ERA under 3.25. The ones who never won a Cy Young Award: Nolan Ryan, Jim Bunning, Dave McNally, Wilbur Wood, Mel Stottlemyre, Steve Rogers and Oswalt. But Oswalt’s ERA+ (adjusted for park and era) is actually third-best of the 21 pitchers, behind only Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens.

Fun statistic: Nate McLouth is hitting .462 (18-for-39) in the eight-hole. With 11 walks. So we know this: Opponents still fear McLouth more than Braves' pitchers.

Must-see matchup: Chipper Jones is 7-for-28 with no home runs in his career off Oswalt.

Sunday: Tommy Hanson versus Cole Hamels (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)

You won’t believe this: I love this matchup. I mean, I’m sure ESPN is regretting not televising that J.A. Happ versus James McDonald duel, but we’ll settle for Hanson and Hamels.

Fun statistic: Hamels is 10-5 in his career against the Braves (his most wins against any franchise), but just 2-9 against the Mets.

Must-see matchup: Ryan Howard versus Hanson. Can Hanson get Howard to chase something? Howard’s walk rate is dropping yet again, to the point that it’s now about half of what it was in 2007.