Thursday, October 6, 2011

And then there was One. Phils vs. Cardinals Game Five

No one donning a Phillies uniform wanted it to come to this. Not the players. Not the coaches. Certainly not the fans.

The best team in Phillies history needs to win on Friday, or else they become one of, if not the most disappointing team in Philadelphia history.

Yes, the Phillies have Roy Halladay on the mound. But Chris Carpenter is damn good. Don't judge him on his Game Two performance. He'd never pitched on short rest before, and it clearly affected him. And Halladay has taken some time to settle down of late, including Game One when he allowed a three-run shot to Lance Berkman in the first inning before retiring 23 of the last 24 batters he faced.

The bats need to come alive, plain and simple. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have been great at the plate; although Utley made a bonehead play on the bases yesterday. Ryan Howard, after a big go ahead three-run homer in Game One and two more RBI in Game Two looks really lost at the plate. He's coming up, time and time again in a big spot with runners aboard and not coming through. Shane Victorino is also really scuffling, which may prompt Charlie Manuel to put Hunter Pence back into the five hole to give Howard some protection. The bottom of the lineup, comprised of Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz is doing next to nothing.

This could be Rollins' last game in a Phillies uniform. It could also be Albert Pujols' last as a Cardinal.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day leading up to Game Five, and a loss with prompt an even longer off-season filled with questions.

Three of the four Division Series are going to a best-of-five, and while it's very dramatic, Major League Baseball needs to seriously consider changing it to a best-of-seven like the Championship Series and World Series. Too many fluky things can happen in baseball, and the best team in baseball all season could be bounced on a fluke. It's time to be nervous, but it's also time to have faith in the great Doc.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Francisco provides spark off bench, Phils up 2-1

Ben Francisco provided the spark off the bench in yesterday's nail biter, hitting a three-run pinch-hit home run in the seventh to break a scoreless tie as the Phils would hold on for a 3-2 victory. That game was about as frightening a Phillies games as I can remember.

Cole Hamels pitched very well, but worked in and out of trouble just about the entire game. His pitch count was elevated from the start, while his counterpart Jaime Garcia was on cruise control.

You had to get the feeling that the Cardinals were going to scratch a run across on Hamels on some bleeder or blooper, and that the bats may have a tough time rallying against Garcia. The game seemed to be heading that way.

But, the Phillies started putting better at bats together in the sixth, raising Garcia's pitch count. Garcia intentionally walked Hunter Pence, with a runner on second, and two outs in the sixth to get to Ryan Howard. He should have gotten fired up that Garcia wanted to face him. Thought he'd be the easier out. Turns out Garcia was right, as Howard bounced out weakly to end the threat.

Hamels also worked in and out of trouble in the sixth. After striking out the first two batters, Ryan Theriot came up with yet another single, and Jon Jay worked a walk. Tony LaRussa opted to leave Garcia in the game, and Hamels struck him out to end the frame.

A similar situation arose for the Phils in the seventh, and this time, they took advantage. With Shane Victorino on second with two outs, Garcia intentionally walked Carlos Ruiz. Francisco stepped to the plate, pinch-hitting for Hamels. Francisco got a high fastball and it crushed it into the Phillies bullpen in left-centerfield for a three-run shot.

St. Louis would threaten against the Phillies' bullpen, scoring one run off Vance Worley in his one inning of work. Antonio Bastardo retired the only batter he faced, before Brad Lidge came on in the eighth to allow the two batters he faced to reach to load the bases.

Charlie Manuel turned to Ryan Madson for a five-out save for the first time this year. Madson induced a huge double play from Allen Craig to end the threat.

Madson would allow a run in the ninth, closing the lead to 3-2, before getting Theriot to finally make an out, as he grounded out to Chase Utley with a runner aboard to end the ballgame.

Hamels threw six scoreless innings, surrendering five hits and three walks with eight strikeouts. He threw 117 pitches.

Garcia allowed three runs over seven innings on six hits, two walks and three strikeouts.

Through three games, Jimmy Rollins (.583), Utley (.400), Pence (.273) and Victorino (.333) are all swinging the bat well. Meanwhile, Howard (.182), Placido Polanco (.083) and Carlos Ruiz (.091) are struggling.

Roy Oswalt looks to close it out tonight against a team with a lot of experience and success against him in the past. Edwin Jackson will oppose him, hoping to force a Game Five back in Philly.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pivitol Game 3 tonight, series knotted at 1

Tonight has to put a bit of a scare into Phils fans. If there was one pitcher on the staff, going into the series, that really causes matchup problems for the Phillies it was Jaime Garcia.

But, if all went according to plan, it wouldn't matter. The Phils were "supposed" to win games 1 and 2 at home with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee on the mound.

We all know that didn't pan out, as Lee couldn't hold a 4-0 lead, and now the Phillies have to beat Garcia to avoid falling behind 2-1.

Fortunately, the Phillies have Cole Hamels on the mound tonight in what could be a very low scoring game.

Of course, Hamels is used to little to no run support. His win total should have been higher by at least four or five games, but the bats time and again failed to back him in many of his starts.

Garcia is 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in his career against the Phillies. Hopefully, John Mayberry Jr. can provide a spark to the lineup against him as a powerful right handed bat.

Hamels is 2-3 with a 3.27 in his career against the Cardinals. He had his worst month of the season in September, going 1-2 with a 3.79 ERA.

Charlie Manuel could have considered a Tony LaRussa like maneuver, and slid Roy Oswalt into tonight's slot and pushed Hamels back to Game Four.

The advantage: if the Phillies are once again unable to hit Garcia and waste a good outing from Hamels, they have to rely on Oswalt to keep their season alive tomorrow. If Oswalt pitches tonight and the Phils still don't hit Garcia, the Phillies have Hamels and then Halladay in an opportunity to win back-to-back games and advance.

Hopefully, the bats will get to Garcia and that will all be a moot point.