Clash of the Contenders

With the regular season nearing the final month, bullpens will take on added importance for contending teams. That could be a source of concern for the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Padres look to extend their lead in the wild-card race on Friday night when they open a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park against their closest pursuer.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Philadelphia -115 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 10 total runs (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 55% of bets for this game have been placed on Philadelphia -115 (View MLB Bet Percentages).

Despite a dismal series from closer Trevor Hoffman, the Padres (68-58) head to Philadelphia after taking two of three games from the NL East-leading New York Mets.

Adrian Gonzalez hit a go-ahead homer in the 10th inning after Hoffman suffered his fifth blown save of the season as San Diego outlasted the Mets 9-8 on Thursday.

Khalil Greene and Josh Bard had three hits apiece for the Padres, who pulled within three games of NL West-leading Arizona and extended their lead in the wild-card race to two games over Philadelphia.

Hoffman blew two saves in the three-game series, sandwiched around a successful conversion on Wednesday. He is 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA in his last seven appearances, allowing 13 hits and five walks in six innings.

"I'm not going to worry about Trev. He's had a great season and he's one of the best ever," Padres manager Bud Black said.

Hoffman, however, isn't the only member of San Diego's bullpen that is struggling. The unit is 1-3 with a 5.82 ERA in the past eight games.

The Phillies played the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 1-1 tie into the seventh Thursday before relievers J.C. Romero and Tom Gordon surrendered four runs in one-plus innings.

The 5-2 loss was the fourth in five games for Philadelphia (66-60), which remained five games behind the Mets.

The Phillies' bullpen has given up runs in five of the last six games, allowing 32 hits in 17 2-3 innings for a 12.74 ERA during that span.

"It's part of the game," Romero told the Phillies' official Web site. "The bullpen has always been a question mark since the day I got here, and before I got here. We're trying to stick together and do our job. We win some and lose some. We have to get this one out of our system."

Since completing a sweep of Pittsburgh on July 29, Philadelphia is 11-11. Missing during that span is All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, who is close to returning.

Utley, out since having hand surgery on July 27, is scheduled to start a rehab assignment at Double-A Reading on Friday, and could be ready to play Monday when the Phillies open a four-game series against the Mets.

Greg Maddux (9-9, 3.90 ERA) looks to win his season-high third straight start for San Diego. The future Hall of Famer had another strong outing Sunday in a 5-3 victory over Houston, allowing one run and two hits in six innings. Maddux won consecutive starts for the first time this season, improving to 2-1 with a 1.53 ERA in his past three games. It was the 342nd win of his career, tying Tim Keefe for ninth on the all-time list.

The right-hander, however, hasn't been nearly as successful on the road, going 2-5 with a 4.56 ERA in 13 starts.

Maddux is 28-17 with a 3.38 ERA in 57 starts against the Phillies, including 13-8 with a 3.19 ERA in 26 appearances at Philadelphia. This is his first start at Citizens Bank Park.

Philadelphia's Pat Burrell should be happy to see Maddux. He is hitting .368 (14-for-38) with two home runs against the right-hander.

The Phillies counter with Jamie Moyer (11-9, 4.97), who is the only starter left from the rotation that opened the season. The 44-year-old Moyer couldn't hold leads of 4-0 and 6-2 Saturday in an 11-6 loss at Pittsburgh, allowing eight runs and nine hits in four-plus innings.

The left-hander, however, is 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA in his last three home starts.

Moyer is 7-5 with a 4.05 ERA in 15 starts against the Padres, including a 12-4 victory at San Diego on July 21. He gave up four runs and eight hits over 6 2-3 innings in that game.

Philadelphia won three of four at San Diego from July 19-22.

by: Michael Cash - thespread.com – Email Us

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