Up 7 1/2 games in the NL East with less than a month to play in the regular season, things could surely be worse for the Philadelphia Phillies.
However, when one of the best road teams in all of baseball gets swept in a series by an NL central division doormat, it has to be concerning, to say the least.
That is what happened with the Phillies this weekend as they went down to Houston and lost all four games to the Astros, who are everything but statistically eliminated from playoff contention.
It’s not the fact that the Phillies got swept that I am upset about. A bad series, especially on the road, is prone to happen at least a couple times a year. I’m just upset, perplexed, and every negative synonym imaginable about how it happened.
At this point of the season, it’s all about pitching, and it was the hurlers that let the Phillies down this past weekend.
When Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, and Cole Hamels are able to take the mound as the starting pitchers for a series, you should be able to win at least one of those. Lee has been the definition of an ace since he tried on a Phillies uniform, Hamels is still one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball, and Blanton has been a workhorse all season long. All three pitchers are, quite frankly, the main contributors (with all due respect to J.A Happ and Pedro Martinez) to a starting rotation that has been among the best pitching staff’s statistically in all of baseball during the second half of the season.
For the Phillies to not win a game when all three pitch in a series could be an awful sign of things to come.
Because most likely, Lee, Blanton, and Hamels will be the top three pitchers in the starting rotation once the October rolls around and the Phillies are in the playoffs. When that time comes, unfortunately, the Phillies will be playing a team much better than the Astros squad that just swept them.
In all honesty though, this weekend’s debacle against the Phillies went much further than just the starting rotation. In three of the four games, the Phillies had a lead past the fourth inning, and blew a lead in two games past the seventh inning.
I know it’s easy to blame this on the usual suspects, or in this case, suspect.
Yes, Brad Lidge gave up a walk-off once again, now reaching double-digits in the category of blown saves this season, but the major problem did not reside with the much maligned closer in this series. Houston was able to win two of the four games by pouncing on the Phillies middle relief pitching, stealing possible wins for Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer. Most notably, the Astros offense got the best of Chan Ho Park, who has been the best right-handed relief pitcher for the Phillies since he was summoned to the bullpen in June in favor of Antonio Bastardo.
Oddly enough, it was not the Astros bats that got to Park.
It was their eyes.
Up by a score of 3-2 in the seventh inning on Monday, Park walked three batters, including a runner home with the bases loaded to tie up the contest. Park would end up handing the ball over to Scott Eyre with virtually no chance to salvage the situation, as the Astros would tack on one more run, which was all they ended up needing.
So, from the starting rotation to the middle relief and lastly to the closer, the Phillies struggled in all areas of pitching in the series against the Astros. As easy as it is to blame the sweep on pitching, you can’t. While they did have their moments, the Phillies bats didn’t nearly resemble the second-best run scoring offense in the NL.
However, while offense may put fans in the stands, it is pitching that wins games and championships.
In this past series, it was those who reside on the rubber that led the Phillies to the wrong side of a sweep against the Houston Astros.
Sidenote: J.A Happ missed his scheduled start on Monday was a strained oblique muscle. Jamie Moyer took his place and performed relatively well, giving up just 2 runs in 6 innings pitched. While Happ’s injury does not seem serious (he was not placed on the D.L), the Phillies will monitor his condition and recovery on a day-to-day basis.