So the Phillies have a problem on their hands. They're eight games up in the NL East, outpacing the Marlins and Braves. The Marlins have been cooperative enough to not be able to beat bad teams like the Padres. Add in a two losses to the Braves and a loss to the rueful Mets, and the Phillies are lucky enough to benefit from what they themselves were unable to do.
Yes, it wasn't that long ago that the Phillies had a chance to bury the Marlins in the NL East standings. All they had to do was win two of three games. In Philly. Instead, they lost all three games, cuminating with a wretched 12-3 loss that inspired a closed door team meeting with Charlie Manuel.
Then they seemed to right the ship. Three wins over the Cubs. Two of three from the Braves. A three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks. Three of four from the hated Mets. And then, the easiest mark of all - the Pirates. Surely, a three-game sweep was in order, right? Yeah. That should have been a gimme.
So the Phils lose two of three to the Pirates, wasting three excellent pitching efforts in the process. The Phillies starters against Pittsburgh - Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and JA Happ gave up a total of 6 runs. And all three either lost or "earned" a no decision.
So what's the "problem" the Phillies face?
Most Phillies fans would tell you it's Brad Lidge's problems with nailing down saves. Yes, this is a problem, but it doesn't seem to really be the main issue with the Phillies. Long term, it could be a big problem, but it's not something that I am worried about at this time. I can assume that Lidge will come around or that Manuel will stop trotting Lidge out there in situations that he's proven unreliable thus far this season. There are other pitchers to take on the closer role.
I think that the problem is that the Phillies leave too many freaking runners on base. They get baserunners - that isn't the problem. Despite Chase Utley's cavalier "the hits will come" attitude, this is a problem. If the hits will come, where have the hits been for the past, oh, five or so years???
The Phillies are leaving too many runs on the field. Period. That's as simple as I can state it. And there is no shortage of Philiies fans that are okay with this. The excuses are easy to come up with. Even I am guilty of the excuse game - I give Lidge a lot of space, based on his dominance of last year.
But the hitting has ticked me off for a while now, and something needs to change. I suggested that the Phillies might try bunting. "You can't have them bunt. They're not built for that" is what the Phillies fan will tell me. Why can't you bunt? I agree it might not sound like the best option, but when you are a team that is so crappy with runners in scoring position, why CAN'T you bunt? If your players (who are major leaguers, right?) are not skilled enough to lay down a decent bunt, then that is a different problem entirely.
Moving the runner along? Hitting to the right side of the infield? No thanks. We'd rather strike out or hit into a double play. We'd rather load the bases, leave everybody on base and score no runs. This is a team built for hitting - they live and die by the longball. And lately, they've died an awful lot.
It's cool, though. Why should Cliff Lee, Blanton, Hamels or Happ expect to win a game in which they've given up only three runs? This is a team that hits the longball. They score runs. Except when they don't.
Last night's game was 4-2. The Phillies scored four, four and two runs against the last place Pirates.
The starting pitching was considered a weakness for this team. Lately, it's been more than up to the task. The same can't be said for what should be a potent offense. The potent offense has left a lot to be desired, quite frankly.
What would be desired? How about scoring some of those runs? How about not leaving so many damn men on base? Eight men left on base in the 6-4 loss to the Pirates. Nine men left on base in the 4-1 (extra inning) win. Eight men left on base in the 3-2 loss to the Pirates.
It's nice that Ryan Howard has suddenly started hitting home runs at a fantastic clip. Some of the homers have even provided the margin for victory for the Phils. But do you want to count on that continuing? I sure as hell don't. I'd rather see some strike outs, gound outs and fly outs become baserunners. And then I'd like to see some clutch hitting turn that into runs. Think about it. If the Phils had left six, seven and six men on base, that Pirates series has a totally different outcome.
Close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. It's great that the Phillies can get runners on base. But there's another part of getting runners on that they seem to be missing. I am getting so so tired of the Phillies half of innings ending with the bases loaded. It seems like it happens twice a game.
If Phillies pitchers give up three runs in a game, they should expect to win. And if the offense would get it's crap together and perform as they are capable of performing...the Brad Lidge situation would have plenty of time (and a lot less pressure) to work itself out.
So I am not excusing Lidge - he's been pretty bad. Instead, I will call out the hitters. How about some more timely hits? How about some smarter at-bats? Let's get those runs across the plate - however it needs to be done - and give those pitchers the runs and the wins they deserve?