Eude Brito and the Phillies drop the final game of the series 14-6, but can hold their heads high after a rare series win in Florida. Meanwhile, the Wild Card-leading Astros push the gap to 1.5 over the Phils.
I thought starting pitching would dictate this series, but the only game decided on this front was last night. The Phillies took advantage of the weak bullpen in games one and two, including the uncanny heroics of Saturday afternoon.
The series win is tainted by a little unease however, as the Wild Card-leading Astros keep rolling over the cupcakes in the NL Central. Houston now leads by 1.5 over the Phils, and can push it to two games with a win tonight against Pittsburgh.
How big are those lost opportunities against Houston last week? Very big, and still very bitter.
The Phillies need help from the lame ducks in the Central if they are to reach the postseason, but they also need to win themselves. Yesterday was all Florida, capitalizing on the Eude Brito / Josh Beckett mismatch. The stars would have needed to align just the right way for Brito to beat the Fish for the series sweep. It didn’t happen, and it doesn't come as a shock.
The biggest difference between Brito’s last start and last night was the Marlins forced him to throw strikes, the Braves didn’t. In addition, the Marlins probably knew what to expect from watching the film of last Tuesday. Of course, that may be giving too much credit to Jack McKeon and company. In my opinion, McKeon is a hack and cost them the series with his micro-management in game one.
I hope teams don’t get wise to this, but the way to approach both Brito and Robinson Tejeda is to make them throw strikes. Tejeda has a knack for getting in trouble, falling behind in counts and baiting hitters to chase high and outside. Control has always been his biggest problem. Patience is the way to play the young Phillies starters, because they’ll serve up the long ball. Tejeda, in particular, was atrocious in this department last season in Double-A Reading. Checking the news, it’s still uncertain when and if Tejeda will pitch again.
It’s worth noting the Phils kept at it offensively, even during garbage time. Brito lasted only 2 1-3 innings, and Josh Beckett was basically on cruise control. Once again, the Phils were opportunistic against the weak Marlins bullpen, scoring in the seventh and eighth innings.
If the Phillies don’t make the playoffs, they’ll represent the best team in the league not playing ball in October. The stretch has unfolded just as I thought – whittling down to a two-team dash between the Phils and Astros, with the Astros holding all the cards because of a weak schedule.
The Astros wasted Milwaukee this weekend. The Brewers' season was over weeks ago. Houston starts a series tonight against Pittsburgh, another team whose thoughts must be on golf or traveling to Disney World with the family.
If the Phillies are to make it, they’ll need help. The division is out of the question. Atlanta will not collapse. They are a team of experienced competitors like John Smoltz and Chipper Jones, and this upcoming series, the second stop on a tough, emotional road trip, will be extremely difficult – and a revenge situation for Atlanta.
It's extrememly hard to keep up the intensity on the road. It's already been a very emotional series for the Phils. It will be critical to come out like gangbusters in the first inning Tuesday, to establish an early lead and get to the bullpen.
Until then, let's go, Buccos.