Tuesday, September 27, 2011

100 wins for the Phils

The Phillies reached 100 wins last night, taking the first game over the Braves 4-2 in front of stunned, saddened, miserable fans in Atlanta.

The Braves caught a break from our good buddy Ed Wade, as his Astros defeated the the Cardinals, keeping Atlanta one game up in the Wild Card.

Cliff Lee's final tuneup before Sunday's NLDS Game Two went relatively well, despite a slow start.

Chipper Jones hit a two-out solo shot, his 18th of the year, off Lee in the first. Atlanta added another run in the second on back-to-back doubles from Matt Diaz and Alex Gonzalez, and the chop was out in full force.

But as Lee settled down, allowing two runs on five hits, no walks and six strikeouts over six innings, and the Phils started to chip away things started to quiet down.

Jimmy Rollins' 15th home run of the year tied it in the fifth, and RBIs in the sixth and eighth from Raul Ibanez put the Phils in front for good.

It was great to see the bullpen come in and nail down the final nine outs against a desperate Braves' lineup. Lefty Joe Savery retired a batter in the seventh, and Michael Stutes retired the next two in order. Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson followed, each pitching a scoreless inning. Lidge worked out of a one-out, two runners aboard situation by inducing a double-play from Jones, while Madson worked around a leadoff double to secure his 32nd save of the season.

The Phillies are 2-0 since Charlie Manuel moved Chase Utley out of the three-hole. Utley wasn't producing in that spot, and so far, he's not producing batting second either. He was 0-for-4 last night with a strikeout and a runner left on base.

Roy Oswalt (8-10, 3.86) takes the ball tonight against Dereke Lowe (9-16, 4.92).

Oswalt is 1-2 with a 4.57 ERA in his last three starts, and is just 1-3 with a 5.15 ERA in his career against Atlanta. Oswalt pitched well against Atlanta on September 7th, allowing two runs on four hits, four walks and seven strikeouts over seven innings.

Lowe is 0-3 with a 7.98 ERA in his last three starts, and 8-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 113.1 innings against the Phillies. He's 1-3 with a 4.13 ERA in four starts against the Phils this season.

Milwaukee and Arizona both lost, meaning the Brewers stay one game ahead of the Diamondbacks for the second spot.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Revamped lineup helps end skid, Wild Card Race

The losing streak is over.

Charlie Manuel made a long overdue lineup change yesterday, moving Chase Utley out of the three-hole, and it paid dividends immediately.

Utley was moved up to second (I would have dropped him to sixth, for the time being) with Hunter Pence batting third and Shane Victorino sliding into the five-hole.

The Phils ended the losing streak with a 9-4 victory over the Mets. They scored three in the first, one in the second, one in the third and four in the fourth. Pence hit his 21st home run of the year; a two-run shot off Mike Pelfrey in the first.

Roy Halladay cruised to his 19th win, tossing six scoreless innings and throwing just 77 pitches before being lifted from his final tuneup before Saturday's NLDS Game One.

Antonio Bastardo once again struggled mightily, and hopes that he would return to his previous dominant form are in jeopardy.

He allowed three runs on three hits and two walks, while retiring just one batter. His ERA has ballooned up to 2.68. It was 1.38 on September 1st.

The Phils need Bastardo to figure it out if they are to make a deep run in the postseason. The starters aren't always going to throw eight or nine innings.

These last three days are a bit scary and conflicting.

The Phils face the Braves in Atlanta, and it'd be great to see them win a couple games on the road against a division rival fighting for their playoff lives.

That being said, if the St. Louis Cardinals, who are one game behind Atlanta in the Wild Card race, overtake the Braves they'll be Philly's first round opponent. That sounds a bit frightening.

As long as Milwaukee keeps winning, they'll secure the second seed. If the Braves win the Wild Card, the Phils would face Arizona in the first round.

While I would love to see the Phils bounce Atlanta from postseason contention, St. Louis seems to be a much for formidable opponent.

My hope for the Phillies over these last three days: play really well, but maybe not quite well enough.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Postseason picture taking shape as Phils look to regroup

Heading into the final six games of the 2011 regular season, the playoff picture is becoming more clear by the day.

The Phillies, losers of a season high six straight look to get back on track in New York and Atlanta starting with today's doubleheader.

The Braves were struggling, and the red hot Cardinals were closing in on them for the Wild Card spot. Atlanta turned it on and won some big games, and maintain a three game lead. While the Phillies could help bounce their division rival from the postseason in the final three games, it's doubtful they'd want to. St. Louis seems to be a much tougher first rounder match-up than, say, Arizona.

Milwaukee holds just a one game lead over the Diamondbacks for the second best record in the National League. Assuming Atlanta wraps up the Wild Card, the Phillies will play the third seed. Just about everyone should hope that's Arizona. Milwaukee seems much less daunting in a seven game series than in five.

If the season ended today, the Phils would host Arizona and Milwaukee would host Atlanta. That's the Phillies' ideal scenario. Let's hope it holds up over these last few days, and the Phillies can regroup and win some ballgames over the Mets and Braves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Scuffling Phillies limping toward the finish line

The Phillies were swept in the day-night doubleheader against the Nationals yesterday. It's the first time the Montreal/Washington organization swept a doubleheader from the Phils since 1997.

They're 5-8 in their last 13 games, scoring three runs or fewer in twelve of them.

It's certainly not time to hit the panic button yet, but sure, be a little worried.

The bats went ice cold in the postseason last year, ultimately leading to their demise against San Francisco. The Phillies have tremendous starting pitching, as everyone knows. But those pitchers can't win without support.

The Phils have nothing to play for right now though. Charlie Manuel calls it just a lack of focus. One has to think that Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee won't struggle to bear down and focus in a postseason game, as opposed to a meaningless regular season game against the Nats.

But still, the Phillies aren't producing runs and meaningful games loom. Hopefully, heading out on the road to New York and Atlanta can help them regain their focus and win some games down the stretch.

Vance Worley makes what is expected to be his last start of the season tonight. The Phillies will move him into the bullpen in preparation of coming out of the 'pen in the playoffs.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Phils clinch home field after loss to Cards

Despite a 4-3 loss to the Cardinals last night, the Phillies clinched home field advantage throughout the post-season because of Milwaukee's loss to the Cubs.

Currently standing at 98-54. the Phils will finish with the best record in the National League. They'll own home field advantage in the World Series, should they advance that far of course, because of the NL's victory in the All-Star game.

The red hot Cardinals took three of four from the Phils, closing their gap in the Wild Card race to 2.5 behind Atlanta. The Phils may have a chance to knock the Braves out of the Wild Card spot with their series next week, during the last three games of the season. Although at this point, many would prefer not to face St. Louis in the first round.

The Phils look to get back on the winning track today, and they'll have two chances to do so during a day-night doubleheader at the Bank against Washington.

Kyle Kendrick (8-6, 3.22) takes the ball in Game One against Ross Detwiler (2-5, 3.76).

Kendrick pitched well, beating the Marlins in the first game of a doubleheader last week. He's 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his last three starts, but just 2-3 with a 6.02 ERA lifetime against the Nats.

Detwiler has been solid this year but has struggled lately, going 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in his last three starts. He's 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA in his career against Philadelphia.

Cliff Lee (16-7, 2.38) looks to continue his red hot streak in the nightcap against Tom Milone (1-0, 4.60).

Everyone knows how ridiculous Lee has been lately. He's 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA in his career against Washington.

Milone picked up his first Major League victory in his last start against the Mets, allowing just one run over 5.2 innings. He's made three career starts, all this month. He picked up no decisions against the Mets and Astros earlier in September. Over 15.2 innings, he's allowed eight runs on 17 hits and three walks. He's struck out nine.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Phils sweep doubleheader, magic number at 2

The Phillies took care of business against the Marlins, despite a still struggling offense, sweeping the twin bill at Citizen's Bank Park. With the victories, the magic number to clinch a fifth consecutive NL East crown is down to two. They could clinch as early as tonight with a win over St. Louis and an Atlanta loss to the Mets.

Kyle Kendrick pitched well in Game One, out-dueling Anibal Sanchez in a 3-1 victory. KK improved to 8-6, allowing one run, on Logan Morrison's 20th home run of the season, on just two hits and no walks with six strikeouts over five innings. Antonio Bastardo, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson all struggled in the late innings, but held on to secure the victory. Hunter Pence and Raul Ibanez each had an RBI double, and Placido Polanco drove in a run.

Cliff Lee was brilliant in Game Two. The Phils managed just one run of support, a John Mayberry Jr. home run in the sixth. Lee was making it stick though. He was one strike away from yet another complete game shutout with Jose Lopez at the plate with an 0-2 count in the ninth. Lee made his first mistake of the night, hanging a high cutter that Lopez drove out of the yard.

Ryan Howard hit a walk-off RBI double in the tenth, scoring Michael Martinez from first base. Lee was left with a no decision, allowing the one run on five hits and no walks with 12 strikeouts. He certainly deserved a better fate. Just one more strike would have given him his 17th win of the year, and a remarkable seventh complete game shutout.

Vance Worley (11-2, 2.92) takes the mound tonight, looking to inch the Phils closer to the crown. Jaime Garcia (12-7, 3.68) will oppose him for the Cardinals. Atlanta's game starts 30 minutes after the Phillies, so if they're to wrap up the division tonight, it's unlikely the celebration will come on the field.

Worley is 2-1 with a 4.34 ERA in his last three starts and has never faced St. Louis. His last few starts have been a rough stretch for Worley, but he's battled and pitched out of a bunch of jams.

Garcia is 2-1 with a 5.82 ERA in his last three starts. He's 2-1 with a 1.17 ERA in his career against the Phils with 17 strikeouts over 23 innings.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Halladay's first shutout ends three game losing streak, clinches playoff berth

Well, Doc put an end to that mini skid. The Phillies avoided being swept for the first time in a three-game series all season by beating the Houston Astros 1-0 yesterday afternoon. The win also clinched a playoff berth for the Phils, setting a franchise record for fewest games to clinch a spot.

Roy Halladay's masterful complete game shutout was his first shutout of the season. Yes, as unbelievable as it sounds, that was his first shutout. In eight complete games, that's the first time he's blanked his opponent for nine innings this season. Last season, he completed nine games with four shutouts. He allowed six hits and one walk while fanning seven.

The offense continued to sputter; the first two batters of the game accounted for its only run. Shane Victorino led off with a double, and Placido Polanco drove him in with a single up the middle. The Phils finished with just four hits.

Today, they're faced with the tough task of a day-night doubleheader against the Marlins today. Rather than making a September call-up to start one of the games, as many anticipated, Kyle Kendrick will take the ball in Game One.

Kendrick (7-6, 3.29) will face the Marlins' best pitcher this season, Anibal Sanchez (8-7, 3.64).

KK is 6-2 in his career against Florida with a 4.60 ERA. He's appeared in 30 games this season, 13 of which have been starts.

Sanchez is 3-7 in his career with a 5.24 ERA, but he's pitched some really good games against them. He's 1-1 with a 0.86 ERA in his last three starts. This is his fifth start of the season against the Phils, and he's yet to pick up a decision against them; an indication that he keeps his team close. The Phillies just saw him on September 4, when he allowed two unearned runs on six hits and three walks over six innings.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Phils finish 6-1 vs. Playoff contenders, lose to Astros

The Phillies wrapped up their "Playoff Preview Week," finishing a ridiculous 6-1. After sweeping the Atlanta Braves, which essentially wrapped up a fifth consecutive NL East crown, they won the first three in Milwaukee. Vance Worley pitched well in the finale, but was unable to best Yovani Gallardo who struck out twelve over seven strong innings.

Two of the three Phillies' victories against the Brewers came without Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard or Chase Utley in the starting lineup.

They opened a series last night in Houston, and former Astros Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence were unable to defeat former Phillie Brett Myers in their return to Minute Maid Park.

Oswalt dropped to 7-9, allowing five runs on eleven hits and two walks over seven innings. He struck out two. Pence fared much better, going 2-for-4 with a double in his first at bat.

Joe Blanton made his first appearance since May 14, tossing a scoreless inning. He allowed one hit and struck out one.

Myers allowed just one run on six hits and one walk over eight dominant innings. He struck out four. He improved to 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA lifetime against his former club.

The Phils will face another former Phillie tonight when Cole Hamels (14-7, 2.60) takes on J.A. Happ (5-15, 5.77).

Happ beat the Phillies in his only appearance against them last season. Hamels is just 3-2 with a 4.82 ERA in his career against Houston.

The Phillies magic numbers are:

1- to clinch a playoff berth

5- to clinch the NL East

7- to clinch home field advantage throughout the postseason.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Phils handling business against NL playoff teams

The local media made a big deal out of this week for the Phillies. Many dubbed it "Postseason Preview Week," as the Phils were set to take on the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers. So far, they're 5-0.

The Phils swept the Braves, all but ending any possible NL East race down the stretch. Atlanta now stands eleven games behind the Phillies in the standings.

The Phillies have also taken the first two from the Brewers, even winning the opener 7-2 without Ryan Howard, Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins in the lineup.

Each magic number continues to shrink, as the Phillies could even clinch a playoff spot as early as tomorrow with about three weeks still remaining in the season.

Is this the best team in franchise history? Is there really even a question?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Phils take series against Atlanta behind Worley, Ibanez

The Phillies secured a series victory over Atlanta on a rain soaked night with a 6-3 victory, moving 9 1/2 games ahead of the Braves in the NL East.

They're the first team to win 90 games this season; and reached 90 victories the fastest in franchise history, five games fewer than in 1977.

The Phils won their 14th straight game in which Vance Worley took the rubber. Worley was very good once again, battling through six innings to improve to 11-1. He allowed two runs on seven hits and three walks with six strikeouts.

Worley, as he typically does, battled out of some tough jams. Leading 2-1 in the sixth, the Braves loaded the bases with no outs. He settled down, and retired the next three batters, allowing just one run to score on a sacrifice fly.

The offense put Worley back on top and in position for the win in the bottom of the sixth. With runners on second and third with no outs, thanks to a Ryan Howard leadoff walk and Hunter Pence's 33rd double of the year, Raul Ibanez was at the plate. Howard would end up scoring on a wild pitch; a decision that could have been costly had Brian McCann handled the ball cleanly as he retrieved it. The bobble allowed Howard to score easily. Ibanez followed by crushing a ball to the deepest part of right-centerfield, just to the right of the Phillies' bullpen. It drilled the top of the wall, just eluding a home run, but Pence scored and the Phils took a 4-2 lead.

The Braves would put pressure on the Phillies' bullpen, but Michael Stutes, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson got the job done. Stutes allowed a run, while Lidge and Madson each pitched a scoreless frame. Lidge struck out three in the eighth, and Madson picked up save number 28.

The Phils had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Braves' starter Tim Hudson a little after 9pm. Chase Utley, who is starting to swing the bat much better, belted a solo shot into the Phillies' bullpen, and Raul Ibanez knocked in a run to complete four straight hits in the inning.

Ibanez had a huge night, going 3-for-4 with three RBI.

Cliff Lee was named NL Pitcher of the Month for August; which is a surprise to no one.

The Phils will go for the sweep tonight with Roy Oswalt (7-8, 3.80) on the mound against Brandon Beachy (7-2, 3.37).

Oswalt is seeking some consistency in the last month of the season to earn the fourth spot in the playoff rotation. He's 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in his last three starts. He's struggled against the Braves in his career, going 1-3 with a 5.56 ERA. He picked up that one win back in April, allowing one run on five hits over six innings in his second start of the year.

Beachy has been tremendous for Atlanta this season. He hasn't lost since July 19. He's 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his last three starts. He's 0-3 in his career against the Phils with a 4.50 ERA in five starts.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lee cruises in CG SO over Braves

What a way to start out a potentially big three-game series against Atlanta.

Cliff Lee extended him dominant August into September, and the bats kept producing as the Phils cruised to a 9-0 victory over Derek Lowe and the Braves.

Lee picked up his 16th win and sixth complete game shutout of the year. He allowed just five hits and no walks with six strikeouts. He's 6-0 with just two runs allowed over his last six starts. He eclipsed 200 strikeouts in a season for the first time in his career last night.

Hunter Pence drove in three runs, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz each drove in two and Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard knocked in one.

Howard smacked his 31st homer of the season; a solo shot in the seventh.

Chase Utley, who's been struggling mightily, went 2-for-5 with a triple and two runs scored.

The Phils moved 8.5 games ahead of the second place Braves in the NL East. Only an Atlanta sweep would have put pressure on the Phils in the division, but they squashed that possibility early.

The Phillies would do well to keep sticking it to the Braves, to continue drilling it in their heads that they have Atlanta's number once the postseason rolls around.

Vance Worley (10-1, 2.85) takes the ball tonight against Tim Hudson (14-8, 3.05).

The Phillies have won each of Worley's last 13 starts. His September could be an audition for the playoff rotation, as he continues to make a strong case over Roy Oswalt, who has been inconsistent.

He's 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA in his last three starts. He hasn't allowed a run in six career innings against the Braves.

Hudson is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in his last three starts, and is 7-7 with a 3.65 ERA in his career against the Phils. In two starts against Philly this season, he's 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lee closes book on dominant August

Cliff Lee finished off a brilliant month of August with 8.2 shutout innings in Cincinnati last night in a 3-0 victory. He allowed six hits, one walk and a hit batter, with seven strikeouts while picking up his 15th victory of the season. Ryan Madson came on with the bases loaded and picked up the final out.

Lee all but assured himself Pitcher of the Month for the second time in three months. He finished August 5-0, with a 0.45 ERA, 39 strikeouts, eight walks, one complete game shutout, two runs and 23 hits allowed in 39.2 innings pitched. In June, when he won Pitcher of the Month, he went 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA, allowing just one run that month with three consecutive complete game shutouts.

The Phils extended their NL East lead over the Braves to 7.5. Vance Worley takes the mound this afternoon, looking to complete a remarkable four-game road sweep over the Reds.

Worley (9-1, 2.65) will be opposed by Mike Leake (11-8, 4.04). Worley struck out a career high nine batters in his last outing against the Mets, in which he allowed just one run and five hits. He's 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in his last three starts, but he lasted just three scoreless innings against Arizona in one of those starts because of rain. He pitched five innings against the Reds back on May 24, allowing three runs on six hits, four walks and three strikeouts in a no decision.

Leake is 1-1 with a 5.50 ERA in his last three starts. He's 0-0 with a 6.91 ERA in 14.1 innings in his career against the Phillies.