Saturday, September 5, 2009

Not the Phillies' or Cliff Lee's Night

Braves vs. Phillies

Somedays you just seem to get up on the wrong side of the bed. Yesterday appeared to be one of those days for Cliff Lee and the entire Phillies team as they were defeated 7-0 by the Houston Astros. This is not to suggest that the outcome would have been different, but everything seemed to be dropping in for a mediocre Astros team while the Phillies were hitting balls at defenders or just short of where they needed to go.

Last night was the second straight game that Lee struggled after looking like a cross between Steve Carlton and Ron Guidry in their prime in his first five Phillies appearances. When he departed after 3 innings, he had already given up 9 hits and 6 runs. The second inning was particularly painful as Lee threw a total of 42 pitches and surrendered a two-run double to opposing pitcher Wandy Rodriquez (who seemed to be channeling Brett Meyers) on the tenth pitch of the atbat.

The game surely demonstrated the fine line that exists between success and failure. Lee's pitch quality and command did not seem noticeably different than his first five outings, but Astros hitters were able to combine an array of dribblers, dinkers and dunkers with a couple hard hit balls to send Lee to the club house early. Besides Rodriguez's liner down the right field line, Hunter Pence drove a fly ball into the right field stands, just out of the reach of Jayson Werth. These were the only hard hit balls off Lee, but were more than enough to bury the Phils.

Regardless of the soft nature of some of the Astros scoring, the Phillies offense remained stagnant. In contrast to their opponent, they did hit some hard line drives directly at the Astros' infielders, Shane Victorino missed a 2-out, 2-run homer by a couple feet and the game fittingly ended on a line drive double play off the bat of Miguel Cairo. Tough luck notwithstanding, last night's game followed their recent lackluster offensive trend. The Phillies have now scored a total of 7 runs in the past 6 games, and are averaging only 1.6 runs over the last 8 games. Some of that can be attributed to tough pitching opponents, but surely some it falls squarely on their own shoulders.

Last night's game also highlighted that no team ever has the game mastered or can take winning for granted regardless of its lead in the standings, even when you are sending your CY Young award winning ace to the hill against a .500 club. The Phillies team is a compilation of gamers with an intense fighting spirit, but it is also not immune to human nature when an 8.5 game comfort zone engulfs the team.

Games like last night, offensive lulls, stoppers occasionally faltering, balls cracking off the top of the fence, opponents bloopers finding open spaces, etc are a good reminder that the team needs to keep on grinding. And, recent Phillies teams have proven that seemingly large leads in the standings can evaporate quickly. All teams have ebbs and flows in the 162-game marathon of a season, but there is no time better than today to kick up the focus and intensity for the remaining 30 regular season games.

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