Top NL contenders meet in Philadelphia

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies play the middle game of a three-game set in Philadelphia on ESPN’s Wednesday Night Baseball.

Two of the top four teams in the National League square off in the City of Brotherly Love, a city where before Tuesday night’s win, Arizona had lost seven straight and eight of the last nine games to the Phillies.

On the mound

Joe Saunders takes the mound for the Diamondbacks tonight. The lefty has turned around his season of late after an ugly start to the year. After starting 3-7 with a 4.50 ERA, Saunders is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA over his last 10 starts.

Cliff Lee This Season

Saunders has not had success against the three Phillies he has faced the most, Placido Polanco (9-23, .391 BA), Raul Ibanez (8-23, .348 BA) and Ben Francisco (5-11, .455 BA).

However, the good news for Saunders is that the player he’s faced the next most is Ryan Howard (0-9, 4 K).

The Phillies counter with Cliff Lee, who’s also had a tale of two seasons. Lee got off to a slow start before having one of the best months ever by a starting pitcher in June.

Over the first two months of the year, Lee went 4-5 with a 3.94 ERA, but is 8-2 with a 1.86 ERA since June (including going 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA in five June starts).

How has Lee done it during this turnaround?

By throwing his curveball more often, which has made his changeup even more effective as a secondary pitch even though he’s throwing it with the same frequency.

Notable NL MVP Candidates
NL Ranks This Season


There are two bona-fide MVP candidates squaring off in this game -- one who gets mentioned all the time (Justin Upton) and one who is routinely passed over (Shane Victorino).

Upton is on the short list of NL MVP candidates this season as he’s broken through to superstardom. He leads all National League players in Wins Above Replacement and is third among all major leaguers.

Victorino’s name doesn’t normally come up when National League MVP candidates are mentioned, but maybe it should, especially since Victorino has played just 93 games to Upton’s 121.

Stat of the game

The Diamondbacks are 33-27 on the road. They haven’t finished a season with a winning road record since 2005 (41-40). One of the biggest keys to that – their pitchers are on pace to allow 67 fewer ROAD walks than last season.