The Philadelphia Phillies have plenty of work to do to get to first place in the NL East, but their excellent play over the past month is still paying dividends.
The Phillies seized the wild-card lead from the San Francisco Giants in their series opener, and they'll look to add to that cushion Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.Philadelphia (67-51) was seven games behind Atlanta as of July 21, but has since put together a torrid stretch befitting the two-time reigning NL champions. The Phillies have gone 19-5 over their last 24 games to pull within 2 1/2 games of the Braves.While catching Atlanta remains the goal, Philadelphia's hot streak -- much of which has been accomplished without Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley -- started to pay off Tuesday. Utley went 0 for 5 in his return from the disabled list, but his teammates pounded out 13 hits in a 9-3 rout of the Giants to grab the wild-card lead."There's so much baseball to play," said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who had two hits and three RBIs. "Only sure way in (the playoffs) is to win the division. Our goal is to win as many as we can. It's still pretty early to focus on the wild card."Philadelphia leads the Giants (67-53) by a game and St. Louis by 1 1/2. Not that manager Charlie Manuel seems to give that race much thought."We don't care about the wild card," Manuel said.San Francisco might have no choice but to care considering its fading position in the NL West. The loss, combined with San Diego's third straight win, put the Giants five games behind the division-leading Padres.If Bruce Bochy's club doesn't start getting better starting pitching, it won't be catching anyone. San Francisco's rotation is 0-8 with a 5.97 ERA in its last 13 games since Jonathan Sanchez won at Colorado on Aug. 3.Matt Cain (9-9, 3.11 ERA) tries to end the drought, and he'll be looking for his sixth quality start in seven outings. He gave up three runs and struck out nine over six innings Thursday against the Cubs, but left without a decision in an 8-7 win.Cain is 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA in four career starts versus Philadelphia, giving up six homers in 20 innings. Utley has hit three of those and is 6 for 12 overall against Cain, but he's hitting just .111 (6 for 54) in his last 15 games versus San Francisco.Joe Blanton (4-6, 5.69) counters for the Phillies, and when the right-hander starts it usually means the game will come down to a bullpen battle. Blanton has just two decisions in his last nine starts, going 1-1 with a 4.81 ERA.He gave up four runs, eight hits and four walks over 5 2/3 innings Thursday against the Dodgers, exiting without a decision in Philadelphia's 10-9 win that featured a comeback from a seven-run deficit.The Giants will want to jump on Blanton early. He's given up 14 first-innings runs in his last nine starts.Blanton has only given up two first-inning runs in six starts against San Francisco, but he's 1/3 with a 5.08 ERA. Former Phillie Pat Burrell, who went deep Tuesday and has 11 RBIs in his past six games, is 2 for 9 with two homers against Blanton.