All eyes are focused on an overworked bullpen and flaky rotation, but if the last two games were any indication, Ryan Howard and the Phillies' offense need a break as badly as the pitching.
The Phils averaged 5.9 runs on the 10-game road trip, a misleading figure in some respects. The Phils capitalized on timely hits, a few breaks and mistakes, and also posted double-digit run totals twice, last Sunday and Monday. However, a good portion of their solid 8-2 finish can be attributed to the failures of opposing relievers, including Jorge Sosa, Mike Maroth, Jesus Colome and Guillermo Mota.
Take away some of the free gifts and we might be talking about how the offense blew it at the worst possible time. Ryan Howard went hitless five times on the trip, and that doesn’t include Saturday night’s 1-for-5, four strikeout misery. Howard avoided the collar and made the last one count, but again, it came off a mistake pitch served up by marginal reliever Chris Schroder. Last season's MVP tied the MLB mark with his 195th strikeout yesterday.
The fatigue issue is best illustrated by the last two games, where struggling right-handers Tim Redding and Joel Hanrahan allowed two runs over 11 1-3 innings, including 14 strikeouts to just three walks. Redding throws two pitches with no velocity, while Hanrahan had not lasted through the fourth inning his previous three starts walks a ton. Each pitcher struck out seven and allowed one run. Only a handful of pitchers have been that successful against the Phils all season. Redding and Hanrahan don't exactly hang in the VIP lounge.
The Phils simply beat themselves yesterday. The game included a handful of quick, wasted outs, including one-pitch swings. Carlos Ruiz led off the fifth against Hanrahan with a first-pitch pop out at a time when Hanrahan was clearly unraveling, demonstrating poor understanding of the situation. He was not alone. By Sept. 23, it should be common sense.
While the offense straddled the fence between good and bad during the road trip, the bullpen came away as the team’s greatest strength, all except the 13-11 game in St. Louis and yesterday. Given a choice, I would have pitched Cole Hamels another inning: he was in a steady groove, missing bats and hitting spots. The Nationals are no threat unless you start issuing free passes, which is what Antonio Alfonseca did in so-called relief. You can’t blame Charlie Manuel for handing the ball to a fresh arm up 2-1 in the 6th against the Nats, although it was a little early to go defensive with Abraham Nunez at third, then Michael Bourn in the seventh.
Nevertheless, the fact that J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon and Brett Myers will be given two full days of rest should be counted as a small victory; they could be set for the duration of the season.
Victorino: Shane Victorino has become the forgotten man, which is pretty amazing considering many of you would have considered Victorino the biggest contributor among corner outfielders during the first half. There’s lots of talk about how Chase Utley’s injury was unfortunate because he was having an MVP season. To a smaller degree, the same can be said of Vic, who was holding his own, certainly, as an everyday right fielder, and probably would have stolen over 50 bags this season.
Nevertheless, his nagging calf injury represents what many had feared about Victorino, physically: he can’t last a full season playing his type of game. Relegated to the bench, those fears have come to fruition.
Helms: Just a brutal season; almost hard to wrap one’s head around. Some were projecting totals as high as 20 homers, 75 RBIs. Something tells me he never got properly started. Not that I’m complaining, since Greg Dobbs has done the job of Helms and more. In the kooky world of baseball, it wouldn’t surprise me if Helms had a better season than Dobbs in 2008, although age is not on his side.