Monday's loss raises concerns about the starting rotation and Charlie Manuel’s tactical wherewithal in September.
It was a general consensus before 2005. It’s a matter that’s been suppressed on this space for five months.
The truth I’ve been hiding from is the Phils don’t have the starting horses to contend. The difference became clear last night when Brett Myers gave up four runs in the first inning, and his opponent Andy Pettitte cruised through 5 2-3 cool innings before leaving with an apparent leg injury.
Pettitte ranks second all time with 13 post-season victories behind Atlanta’s John Smoltz, almost certain to return to the post-season again with the Braves. After last night, both teams are on the fast track to October, with the Phils back in the usual rear-view.
Tonight the Astros will send Cy Young contender Roy Oswalt to the hill against Jon Lieber, whose ERA is almost two points higher.
It’s just another example of the team’s lack of a single dependable pitcher they can count on for a sure win. There’s no stabilizing force, no ace. In addition, two of their starters aren’t healthy with Cory Lidle and Robbie Tejeda missing time with injury.
Who, exactly, will lead this team against the Astros, Marlins, Braves and Nationals? I don’t have a clue.
Monday night in a nutshell
Ninth inning aside (I’ll get to that in a bit), this contest was decided the moment David Bell botched the first hit of the game, allowing Willy Taveras to reach base on an error.
Taveras is widely considered the fastest player in the league, and Myers was clearly unnerved by his presence. He threw over to first about 10 times before walking the next batter, Craig Biggio. Two batters in, Myers had already lost control. Morgan Ensberg then singled, setting up a three-run homer by Lance Berkman that gave Pettitte three more runs than he needed.
If it hadn’t been for Myers’ line drive off Pettitte’s leg, there wouldn’t have been a seventh and ninth inning, when the Phils narrowed the Astros’ lead to one run against their bullpen. Otherwise, Pettitte could have cruised through nine.
Playing catch-up in September is a situation when the manager becomes the most important piece of the puzzle. With more options after September call-ups, it should be easier, not harder. Here’s how manager Charlie Manuel played that game last night.
Crossing off the list of players available off the bench – Michael Tucker, Ryan Howard, Kenny Lofton, Shane Victorino and Matt Kata – the game basically became a race to see if the Phillies could tie the score before Endy Chavez needed to come in to pinch hit. Chavez is basically a guaranteed out, banging out one hit in his last 24 at bats.
Manuel doesn’t have the luxury of adjusting to all the new bodies in the dugout. He can’t keep all the parts fresh or happy, but he can improve his chance to win using the right players at the right times. The Phils’ bench is currently loaded with speed and capable infielders.
That freedom means using the fastest runner, Chavez, to pinch run for Ryan Howard in the ninth, knowing first could be replaced with a handful of options.
Instead, Manuel used Matt Kata to pinch run, calling on Chavez to bat for the pitcher against right-hander Brad Lidge, going with the left-right matchup, even though Lidge must have licked his chops at the prospect of facing an amateur like Endy.
Chavez fell in the count 0-2 before a ball in the dirt hit his bat on a pitch that would have certainly rolled past catcher Brad Ausmus and scored the runner from third. Chavez eventually struck out to end the game, the trashiest AB I’ve seen all season, perhaps in many seasons.
There’s no guarantee Ramon Martinez or Todd Pratt could have tied the game if Manuel would have used them instead of Chavez. I guess we’ll never know. But how can a manager possibly justify using his worst hitter in the most critical spot in the game?
Remember the days when the Phillies traded Marlon Byrd for Chavez to provide speed and defense off the bench? It was such a nice idea. When did it go wrong?