Monday, September 7, 2009

Houston, We Have a Problem

The Phillies headed to Houston toting an 8.5 game lead in the NL East to face an Astros team that was seemingly moving backwards, having lost 8 of the previous 10 games. Four days ago it seemed to be a good opportunity to extend their lead in the 4-game extended weekend set. Unfortunately, it did not work that way as the Phillies came up empty for the series.

Today followed a similar pattern as yesterday, with the Phillies taking an early lead, yielding it to the Astros and then not being able to rally in the late innings. Friday's lopsided loss was followed with three straight one run defeats. Meanwhile, the Florida Marlins took two of three games to narrow the gap to 6 games.

Charlie Manual expressed his great displeasure about the team's weekend effort after the game suggesting that players may have gotten a little too comfortable. Manuel has been around long enough to know that it is dangerous for players to think they can turn it on and off as needed. Perhaps the Mets felt that way the previous two seasons?

The Phillies have gone into September the past two seasons with the inherent motivation that comes from being the team trying to make up ground. This year it will require a different type of mental toughness to make a sprint to the finish line without looking back.
J.A. Happ, Besides losing ground in the standings, a few new situations bear watching. J.A. Happ was pulled from his scheduled start today due to a strained oblique muscle. Also, Ryan Madson was unavailable due to the same type of injury. The team hopes that the injuries are minor and both players will recover quickly, but they also have seen the same injury land Clay Condrey on the Disabled List since late July with no signs of a return anytime soon. Losing either or both of those players for any extended period would be surely problematic.

Fortunately, Jamie Moyer provides some insurance for Happ. Moyer was able to step into today on short rest and produce another strong performance. He has pitched remarkably well since being taken out of the rotation a few weeks ago, going 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA.

Ryan Howard, the August NL Player of the Month, has continued his hot hitting. Today he went 3-4 and crushed a home run high off the concrete facade in left-centerfield. The ball hit well above the yellow home run line in Minute Maid stadium, which seems to have been designed by the firm Wiffle Ball Architectural Associates. Raul Ibanez followed Howard's shot with a home run of his own and is starting to show some signs of emerging from his two month slump.

Lets hope that Charlie's message lands safely on his players. One series sweep is not worthy of deep concern, but the team would be wise to turn up the thrusters to maintain a safe cruising distance.

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