One game. The whole season comes down to one game
If the Phillies win Friday night, we will all take a deep sigh of relief and move on to the National League Championship Series.
If the Phillies lose, all that came before it will be virtually meaningless. The franchise-record 102 wins? They won’t matter. Cliff Lee‘s incredible undefeated months with miniscule ERAs? Lost in the misery of Lee blowing a 4-0 lead in Game 2. Hunter Pence‘s energy, enthusiasm and production? Let us know when he wins a playoff series.
If the Phillies lose Game 5 of the NL Divisional Series, the significance of all their regular-season accomplishments will collapse like a house of cards. Oops. Cards might not be the best metaphor these days.
The good news is that the Phillies have their ace on the mound. Games like this are why the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay.
Halladay gave up three runs in the first inning of Game 1. After a leadoff single in the second inning, Halladay retired the next 21 batters he faced. It would be wonderful to see Halladay extend that streak to … hmmmm … 48 batters. Or, instead of a perfect game, maybe he could merely produce a no-hitter to serve as a bookend to his playoff no-hitter against the Reds last year. But that’s asking too much.
Halladay won’t shy away from carrying the burden of expectations, but he can’t carry the whole load himself. The rest of the team will have to help by producing at least a run or two.
You see, although I haven’t mentioned them yet, there will be another team on the field. The Cardinals are a pretty good team. As good as Halladay is, you can’t count on him throwing a shutout against a lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday, who returned to full-time action in Game 4. Less heralded is the second base tandem of Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot, both of whom are batting .600 or above in this series. And let’s not forget David Freese, who kept the Phillies’ celebration champagne on ice with four RBI in Game 4.
There also will be another pitcher on the mound. Chris Carpenter isn’t Halladay, but he is the Cardinals’ ace. The Phillies chased Carpenter after three innings in Game 2, but this time Carpenter won’t be pitching on short rest.
The way the Phillies are swinging the bats, even Carpenter on short rest might be a difficult obstacle to overcome. Heck, the way the Phillies are swinging the bats, facing Chris Wheeler on short rest might be a challenge. Since chasing Carpenter with four early runs in Game 2, the Phillies have only scored six runs, three of them on an unlikely pinch-hit homer by Ben Francisco, who hadn’t homered in his previous 108 at-bats.
If there’s an area of concern for the Phillies, it’s their everyday lineup. The top of the lineup is exempt from criticism. Jimmy Rollins is batting .563 in the NLDS; Chase Utley is batting .462. Rollins, Utley and Pence (.267), not surprisingly, combined to produce the Phillies’ first two runs in Game 4 before Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson had recorded an out. The problem is the Phillies only produced four hits the rest of the game, one of them by pinch-hitter Ross Gload. The only other run scored when Michael Martinez, pinch-running for Gload, scored on a wild pitch.
The rest of the starting lineup has been terrible the past three games. Even with an 11-run output in Game 1, nobody batting from fourth to eighth in the order is batting above .250.
Ryan Howard is batting .133. He sparked the offense in Game 1 with a three-run homer to put the Phillies ahead, but he went 0-for-8 in St. Louis with five strikeouts. Shane Victorino is batting .250 for the series, as is Raul Ibanez, who looked awful while striking out three times during Game 4. Placido Polanco raised his average to .125 by going 1 for 4 in Game 4. Carlos Ruiz is batting .071 for the series.
The failure of the middle lineup explains why the Phillies aren’t scoring runs despite the top two hitters in their lineup getting on base in half their at-bats. The failure of the bottom of the lineup robs the Phillies of the boost they’ve frequently received — and we’ve come to expect — in the postseason from players such as Ruiz.
The Cardinals’ weakness entering this series was supposed to be their bullpen. Not only have the Phillies failed to exploit that supposed weakness, but Cardinals relievers have stymied them the past three games. After Carpenter was chased from Game 2, Cardinals relievers shut out the Phillies for six innings, allowing St. Louis to rally for the victory and avoid falling into a 2-0 series hole. The Phillies managed two hits against five Cardinals relievers during Game 4, scratching out a run on a wild pitch.
Let’s hope the Phillies get another shot at the Cardinals bullpen. That would mean they did enough damage to force Carpenter out of the game.
The offensive outlook appears bleak; however, Phillies fans can take solace in the fact that Halladay will be on the mound. There might not be a pitcher in baseball who would be a better choice to pitch a winner-take-all playoff game.
Sometimes a lone ace can trump all the other cards. The Phillies may need their ace to trump the Cards in Game 5.
And, right now, after 166 games, Game 5 is the only game that matters.
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