Battlin' Aces: Previewing Cardinals-Phillies Game 2

With Roy Halladay on the mound yesterday against the likes of Kyle Lohse, it wasn't particularly surprising to see the Phillies come out on top. The game's final score was a tad unexpected, 11-6, but they did manage to walk away from another Halladay start with the expected result: victory.

Today's task should be slightly less difficult for St. Louis, but somehow it's not due to facing a lesser opponent. Rather, it's about who's pitching for the Cards, and that man happens to be a substantially better pitcher than one Kyle Lohse. While ace Chris Carpenter may not be able to personally carry the Cards to victory, taking a strong outing deep into tonight's game would do wonders for an offense that may not be able to score as much as usual.

Yesterday, the Phillies really showed off their own offensive firepower, tossing up 11 runs on 14 hits, most of them coming in a three-inning span as Lohse faltered after a strong beginning. The team's best players- Utley, Pence, Howard, Rollins- did what good players are supposed to do, and Halladay was positively dominant after making a couple of costly mistakes in the first inning.

But the bigger story of the series is likely to be how Philadelphia's league-best pitching rotation is able to stifle St. Louis' league-best offense. The Cardinals, with Lance Berkman's first-inning home run yesterday, have shown that they're capable of doing some damage even against the game's best pitchers, but now they're already looking at a one-game deficit against a team that's essentially always going to have the advantage from a starting pitching perspective.

The Phillies are essentially built around the "my-starter-is-better-than-yours" idea, with three pitchers that qualify as legitimate aces and a couple more above-average options as well. It's a rare sight when the other team genuinely feels better about their pitching than the Phils do, and things will be no different tonight with Cliff Lee on the mound.

But if there's any team that will be able to put up runs on the Phillies, it's going to be the Cardinals. Typically, there's one kind of hitter that can truly challenge an elite pitcher, and that's an elite hitter. St. Louis happens to employ three of those in Berkman, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, as well as other solid hitters like David Freese, Yadier Molina, Jon Jay and Allen Craig.

At this point, Phillies fans should feel pretty good; they're already up a game on the Cardinals, and they still have the starting pitching advantage. But as Rany Jazayerli noted, a great offense is often kryptonite for great pitching, and the Phillies have some very serious question marks in their bullpen. If one of Philadelphia's starters falters and the Cardinals can get to the Phillies' bullpen, there are some very real reasons to believe that the Cardinals can sneak past the heavily-favored NL East champions.

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