Talk about your classic example of momentum swinging only as far as the next day's starting pitcher.
Last night's disappointing loss cannot be overstated for a team trailing the Wild Card with 12 games left to play. It was bad, and it was bitter.
Any talk of carrying the Houston flame back home was snuffed before the Phillies could light an offensive fire. The Phils were burned in two areas they've evaded over the past month. First, starting pitched was scorched early. Second, they committed costly errors. Right off the gun, one man, Jon Lieber, was responsible for both.
Starting pitching hasn’t received nearly enough credit for keeping their Wild Card hopes alive, maybe somewhere else, but not on Beerleaguer. In the Phillies’ last 18 games, the starting pitchers have posted a righteous 3.38 ERA (41 ER, 109.1 IP) and pitched at least 7.0 innings in nine of the 18 games.
Defensively, the gloves also cost them. Like pitching, utter failure has been a rarity lately. The Phillies currently rank 6th in the NL with a .984 fielding percentage. However, since Aug. 1, the Phils have the best fielding percentage in the NL at .989 and have made only 19 errors since Aug 1. They had two official errors yesterday.
Last night felt like April: This was a bad breakdown against a weaker opponent, shades of the early season games with Florida and Pittsburgh. They got behind 5-0 early, and answered with impatient at bats. It took far too long to catch up with rookie Sean Marshall, who was very hittable. Then when they finally made it a game, the bullpen couldn’t hold it.
The next two games represent 1/6 of the final dozen, two chances to capitalize on the worst team in the National League. These are precious opportunities that cannot be wasted.
Abraham Nunez may be the ugliest flailing hitter among the regulars, but Chase Utley’s hacks haven’t been much better lately. Utley has one extra-base hit in his last eight games. He’s still managing about one hit per game, but his on-base percentage has dipped below .370 for the first time since July 1. Most of his solid contact is jerked way foul; and a lot of the stuff put in play is weakly topped. It can be safely assumed Utley has entered a late-season cooling pattern.