Phillies Struggling

Just when it seemed April couldn't get any worse for the Philadelphia Phillies, it did.

In search of their first consecutive wins of the season, the Phillies are expected to play their second straight game without Ryan Howard as they open a three-game road series against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night.

Oddsmakers have made Cincinnati -1.5 point spread favorites (MLB Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 9.5un total runs (View MLB Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on Cincinnati -1.5 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

The 27-year-old first baseman, who hit .313 with 58 home runs and 149 RBIs last season to win the NL MVP award, has struggled to a .213 batting average and one homer so far in 2007. Then, he injured his leg running out a grounder in the 10th inning of Wednesday night's 5-4, 13-inning loss at Washington.

Howard missed his first game of the season Thursday, sitting out Philadelphia's 4-2 win which salvaged a split of the two-game series with the Nationals. Phillies general manager Pat Gillick said X-rays were negative and Howard wouldn't need an MRI exam, but the slugger is expected to be out at least one more game with a sprained ligament below his left knee.

"Just guessing, I'd say he's going to miss tomorrow's game for sure. Hopefully he'll be back in a couple days,'' manager Charlie Manuel said Thursday. "I don't want him to get hurt any more seriously.''

The injury is just the latest bad news for a Philadelphia club which was expected to contend for the NL East title but now owns the league's worst record. Each Phillies win this season has been followed by at least two consecutive losses.

"Every game at this point is a must-win game for us,'' said center fielder Aaron Rowand, whose .340 batting average leads the team.

Rowand went just 1-for-4 Thursday, but the hit was his first homer of the season. Jamie Moyer pitched eight strong innings as Philadelphia (4-10) allowed fewer than five runs for the first time in the last six games.

Jon Lieber (0-0, 11.57 ERA) looks to give the Phillies another quality pitching effort as he makes his first start of the season. The 37-year-old right-hander, who went 9-11 with a 4.93 ERA in 27 starts in 2006, moved back into the rotation this week when Manuel shifted Brett Myers into the bullpen.

Lieber is 11-8 with a 4.09 ERA in 26 appearances - 25 starts - against Cincinnati.

The Reds counter with Kyle Lohse (1-0, 2.53), who is coming off one of his finest outings. The right-hander struck out a career-high 12, while allowing just four hits and one walk in eight innings of Sunday's 1-0 road win at the Chicago Cubs.

Lohse has made only two career starts against the Phillies, compiling a 2.19 ERA but posting an 0-1 record in those outings.

Even if Lohse pitches well again, the Reds (8-8) will likely need better results from their bullpen to win. Cincinnati relievers surrendered five runs in the eighth inning to squander leads and lose to the Houston Astros on both Wednesday and Thursday nights.

The consecutive meltdowns made Cincinnati's bullpen ERA rise nearly two runs, from 2.54 before the two-game series with the Astros to 4.30.

Josh Hamilton homered in both games against Houston, giving him five in just 30 at-bats this season. He hit a three-run shot in the fifth inning off Astros starter Woody Williams on Thursday.

"He's a feel-good story,'' Williams said of Hamilton, a former top overall draft pick who spent three years out of baseball while recovering from drug addiction. "It's going to be hard not to root for this guy to put a solid season in, on and off the field.''

by: Dave Michaels - – Email Us

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