When the Philadelphia Phillies take the field against the Atlanta Braves on Monday for the first of their three-game series against the team, they’re probably going to be happy to look over and no longer see Phillie-killer Chipper Jones at third base.
What they will still see is a strong Atlanta pitching staff, and three talented pitchers to face in the opening series. So who has the upper hand heading into the series, and who could be dreading it?
First up is Tim Hudson, who is making his sixth Opening Day start and third as a Brave. He had five starts last season against the Phillies, and allowed two runs or fewer in three of those starts.
Ryan Howard is certainly one guy who is happy to see Hudson. He is hitting .338/.436/.708 against Hudson in his career with seven home runs and 17 runs batted in. He once hit three home runs in a game against Hudson, way back in 2006, during Howard’s MVP season.
Nobody else on the Philadelphia roster hits Hudson that well. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have struggled against him in their careers. Laynce Nix does have eight hits against Hudson in 26 at-bats, and Nix could start in right for the opener, although nothing is decided yet.
In the second game of the series, the Phillies will face a tough left-hander in Paul Maholm. While nobody on the roster has experience as extensive as they do against Hudson, there is some track record to go off of, and it’s not exactly pretty.
Rollins is hitting just .227/.320/.273 lifetime against Maholm in 25 plate appearances, while Howard sports a .558 career OPS against him. Utley is 6-for-18 against him in his career, which is a tad surprising for a tough lefty-lefty match-up. The Phillies have to hope that Michael Young can produce some solid at-bats against him this season.
In the final game, the Phillies will encounter Kris Medlen, who looked unhittable at times in 2012. There isn’t much to go off of here, although Howard does have a couple of homers against him in seven at-bats. Medlen was actually tougher against left-handers last year than righties, as lefties had just a .519 OPS against him, while righties had a .539 OPS.
The Phillies would also like to avoid a very tough Atlanta bullpen, anchored by closer Craig Kimbrel and supported by tough lefty Eric O’Flaherty, along with newcomer Jordan Walden, who was acquired this past offseason.
It will no doubt be a challenging series for the Phillies in Atlanta, but if they can bring the bats, and Howard gets hot early, they will be in good shape. If the left-handed hitters (Utley and Howard) don’t show up, it will be a rough ride in the first series of 2013.