Throughout the course of the year the Phillies have seen some bad stretches. This past week wasn’t their worst. It certainly wasn’t their best stretch, either.
The Phillies carried the momentum from a three game winning streak into Pittsburgh on Tuesday, hoping to improve upon that streak. Although the Pirates started and ended the series in last place in the N.L. Central, each member of their roster is playing for their 2010 big-league lives.
On Tuesday, trailing 3-2 heading into the ninth, the Phillies provided some late inning heroics as Shane Victorino tripled in Ben Francisico, the Phillies go-ahead run after the Phillies had fought to tie the game. Pitcher Matt Capps had blown his second save against the Phils this season. Strange how baseball has a way of evening things out.
In the bottom half of the frame, closer Brad Lidge faced three batters. All three touched him up for extra-base hits, capped off by game-winning two- run home run by the Pirates Andrew Mc Cutchen. Lidge had blown his ninth save of the season and left the Delaware Valley with many questions, such as, “Now what?”
Wednesday was reliever Ryan Madson’s turn to blow a game, as he allowed a ninth-inning, solo shot, allowing Pittsburgh to tie the game at one. Fortunately for the pinstripes, Ryan Howard is hitting his late season stride. Howard gave the Phillies a tenth-inning lead on a three-run bomb, and the Phillies would never look back. Although Madson got the blown save, he also recorded the win as he came back out to finish the bottom half of the inning.
On Thursday J.A. Happ pitched a solid 7.2 innings. It was the last 0.1 inning that will get you every time. After giving up a lead-off homer to McCutchen, Happ cruised through the next six innings. He looked shaky at times, but worked himself out of many jams, via the double-play. In the eight, however, with one on and two down, Happ gave up the second homer of the game for the Pirates, and the Phillies fell 3-2.
The Phillies starters looked good throughout the series, despite the late-inning homerun given up by Happ. It was the Phillies bats that went silent through the series and the Phillies struggles continued in the city of three rivers. Since it’s opening, the Phillies are now 9-13 at PNC Park.
After dropping two of three to the Pirates, the Phillies came home to take on the second-place Braves. Starting the series, the Fightin’s had a seven game lead on both the Braves and the Marlins.
Friday night in a rain soaked affair, the Phillies took the series opener, 4-2. Backed by a strong relief outing from Jamie Moyer and Ryan Howard’s two homeruns, the Phil’s extended their division lead to a season high eight games. The bats were again anemic, but the bullpen was good, giving up only two runs in eight innings of relief.
Saturday fans in Philadelphia got to witness a monumental event, Cliff Lee’s undoing. Lee gave up three Atlanta bombs and gave up six runs in five innings of work. The bullpen was equally sour as they surrendered three runs of their own in a 9-1 shellacking at the hands of the Braves. The bats were again quiet with the lone bright spot coming in the first inning off of a Chase Utley long-ball.
A recurring theme over the last three seasons has been the Phillies inability to hit with runners in scoring position. The Fightin’s tend to go through stretches, long stretches, where they lack situational hitting.
Too many times we saw runners at second and third with less than two outs and time and time again the Phillies failed to put runs across the plate. Raul Ibanez has perhaps been the biggest culprit, and has been awful at the plate since July 1st.
The two blown saves in Pittsburgh this past week prevented what should have been a sweep of the downtrodden Pirates.
The bigger problem in that series wasn’t the bullpen, so much as it was the fact that the offense managed only 10 runs throughout the series, with three of those runs coming in extra-innings.
Sure, the back end of the bullpen needs to improve, and it needs to do so quickly. However, the line-up need to stop relying on the long-ball to get things done.
The Phillies will hope to get the series win tonight, in front of a national audience. The showdown gets underway at 8pm.