What a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday (8/17), I was in attendance for the game where the Phillies took the Wild Card lead from the San Francisco Giants. Since that game, the Phillies are 3-6. They have ceded the Wild Card lead to back to the Giants, and the offense has looked anemic. This 9 game slump is reminiscent to the offensive struggles the team experienced during June and July. Since the game I attended, the Phillies have scored 25 runs, an average of just 2.78 runs per game. It’s amazing they have won three games! Somehow they managed to score 8 runs against the Giants on the 18th and 6 against the Nationals on the 22nd (both wins). The other win came in a 1-0 win over the Nationals, where Roy Halladay was his usual dominant self. During this stretch, the Phillies have lost games where their starters have given up 1 (Joe Blanton on 8/23 against the Astros), 2 (Cole Hamels on 8/24, the 16 inning game), and 3 (Halladay on 8/25, the revenge of J.A. Happ). These are games the Phillies should win. The offense, which a year ago was so potent but this year has been streaky, should score more than 2.78 runs per game.
The craziest statistics I came across while researching for this post showed just how under supported Halladay and Hamels have been this season. In Hamels’ 27 starts. the Phillies have scored fewer than three runs 14 times (follow the link and scroll to the bottom to see the breakdown). Of those games, the Phillies have been shutout in 4 of them! With Halladay it is even worse. While the Phillies have been shutout just once with Doc on the mound, they have scored fewer than three runs 16 times. Of those 16 games, they have scored one run in 6 of them. When your two best pitchers have ERAs of 2.22 (Halladay) and 3.40 (Hamels, who has been excellent in the 2nd half with an ERA of 2.83) the team should win more games. Period!
Thankfully for the Phillies, the Braves have lost three straight and are 5-5 in their last 10 games. While the Braves have been swooning, the Phillies have missed opportunities to pick up games. During the last 9 games, the Phillies have lost 5 games to teams they should have beaten (1 to the Nationals and 4 to the Astros). Given that the Phillies won 2 out of 3 against the Nats, I can’t complain too much about that loss. What is incomprehensible is the sweep by the Astros. The team is 11 games under .500 and came into the series 15 games under .500. While the Astros have played better over the last couple months – they are 26-21 (.553) during July and August – they aren’t a contender. During that same period, the Phillies are 29-21 (.580). Most of their starters, with the exception of Hunter Pence (and he might not), wouldn’t start for the Phillies. Their pitching staff consists of a bunch of former Phillies (Brett Myers, Nelson Figueroa, and the aforementioned Happ), Wandy Rodriguez and a guy best known for ESPN comparing him to Chuck Norris after his first start (Bud Norris). Not exactly a staff that strikes fear into many teams, and one the Phillies certainly should have handled.
Given the Phillies previous dominance at home and the Astros weakness on the road, the sweep is even more difficult to understand. Going into the series, the Phillies were 42-22 (.656) at Citizens Bank Park. On the flip side, the Astros were only 22-36 ).379) on the road. Combine these stats and most would have predicted a Phillies series win, if not a potential sweep for the Phils.
As with the Braves, the Phillies’ main contenders for the Wild Card have been playing poorly over the last 10 games. The Cardinals are 3-7, while the Giants are 4-6. The Phillies should give thanks that these teams decided to play poorly at the same time they were slumping. Entering tonight’s games, the Phillies found themselves. 5 games behind Giants, and were even on losses. The Cards have 3 games in hand (but are playing tonight) and have 1 fewer loss. Right now, all Phillies fans should cheer for the Nats who take on the Cards tonight. It could be a tough game for the Nats, as Chris Carpenter is on the hill.
Looking forward, the Phillies need to find their offense and kick it into high gear. Of the teams they are now battling with, the Phillies have the toughest schedule remaining. With a West Coast trip – including stops in San Diego, LA and 1 game in Colorado coming up – the Phillies face tough competition over the next week and a half. The Phillies play just one team the rest of the way who are currently under .500 (the Nationals, for 6 games). According to the latest Hunt for October on ESPN, the Phillies remaining strength of schedule (SoS) is .505. By comparison, the Braves have a SoS of .485, the Cards .467, and the Giants .485.
To make things even more difficult for the Phillies, they have 22 road games and just 13 home games remaining. This does not bode well for a team that is 28-31 (.475) on the road. If the Phillies win 47.5% of those 22 games, that would give them 10 (maybe 11) wins. If they win at home at their current pace, the would give the Phillies 8 (maybe 9) more wins. I’m not sure that between 88-90 wins is enough for the Phillies to win the division, and it will be just as tough to win the Wild Card with that number of wins. What all Phillies fans have to hope for is one of their now patented September runs. If all goes well, the season ending series against the Braves in Atlanta could decide the division and may decide which team is golfing come Columbus Day.
The Phillies clearly have the toughest road ahead and need to take advantage of any missteps the Braves, Cards or Giants make. They haven’t done that over the last few days and might look back at these past 9 games and wonder what might have been.