Sunday, October 4, 2009

Phillies Tune Up Hitting Some Sour Notes


The Phillies appear to still be suffering from the hangover of last Wednesday's victory celebration. Although the team has indicated the importance of winning every game to improve their playoff seeding, they have looked flat and lost three in a row. This could be expected due to the fatigue of the long season's journey and a somewhat ambivalent playoff picture.

Of course, the Phillies would prefer to have as many games at the Bank as possible due to its wonderful atmosphere and the tremendous fan support. But, even so, none of the three potential opponents emerged as a clear preferred choice to play. Also, playing on the road does not strike fear in their hearts as the Phillies had the best away record in baseball and better than their own home record. They won 48 of their 81 road games for a robust .593 winning percentage.

After last night's Dodgers victory, we now know that the Phillies play the Rockies in the National League Division Series and will have home field advantage against the wild card entrant regardless of each team's record. Because the Cardinals have similarly slipped at season's end, the Phillies would also have home field advantage if they were to meet them in the second round.

Besides records and seeding, the other important story line of these last few games relates to the players preparing for the post season. In some cases, it is a matter of tuning up. In other cases, the games are a possible audition for a spot on the playoff roster. The objectives can range from easing back from injury to getting a swing grooved to sharpening a pitching repertoire to re-charging batteries.

Everyone would prefer to win each and every game, but the background events and objectives may have more impact on the team's post season success. With that in mind, some of the more noteworthy ones have not panned out as well as most would like.

The likely three top starting pitchers (Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton) all had shaky tune-ups in their final outings. Besides losing, they did not display the sharpness that they will surely need when the post season curtain lifts on Wednesday. The team also received bad news when JC Romero and Chan Ho Park both had set backs on the injury front, and both appear to be long shots for the playoffs. On the offensive side of the ledger, many hoped to see team leader Chase Utley get locked on in his swing, but unfortunately he has continued to struggle.

On the flip side, some positive occurrences include Ryan Howard continuing his great hitting. Yesterday, he launched his 45th home run and increased his major league leading RBI total to 141. Jayson Werth also hit his 36th home run and moved to within 1 RBI of the century mark. Brett Myers returned to the mound and looked ready to step into a key playoff role. And yesterday, a dark horse candidate for a bullpen spot emerged when rookie Antonio Bastardo made an appearance after a long injury layoff. He threw hard and the Romero-like pitcher could be added as a needed left handed reliever.

With a couple off days ahead, Charlie Manuel will likely have his regulars in today's line-up. It would be nice to get a win, have J.A. Happ improve his Rookie-of-the-Year credentials and see Werth drive in at least 1 run, but the most important outcome would be for players to come away feeling confidence with some positive momentum heading into the playoffs.

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