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Consecutive playoff series won by Penguins

Phils Notebook: Moving in wrong direction

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 12

In the euphoria of the moment, after his ninth-inning single Sunday completed a remarkable comeback from a 5-run deficit, Ryan Howard said the team’s fighting spirit indicates the Phillies are headed in the right direction.

Howard should be forgiven for his uber-optimism. After all, he had two game-winning hits in the span of four days, a rarity this season.

Actually, two wins in four days isn’t a frequent occurrence for the entire team this season, let alone four wins in six days, which is what the Phillies had accomplished as Howard’s game-winning single boosted the Phillies to a 7-6 triumph over the Mets. Three of the four wins came in the Phillies’ final at-bat, with two of the game-winners provided by Howard, which is an additional reason for The Big Piece’s figurative GPS malfunction.

Despite the fighting spirit – even their two losses last week featured a ninth-inning comeback and an 11th-inning rally that failed to produce – the Phillies are not headed in the right direction.

Their hot streak, or what passes for a hot streak this season, followed a 3-4 road trip that ended with 11-0 and 4-0 shutouts against the Nationals. Despite the improved outcomes, the Phillies’ offense hasn’t been considerably better this past week. They had nowhere to go except up after the demoralizing consecutive shutouts, but they didn’t go too far “up.”

The Phillies responded by sweeping the Astros. Entering Tuesday, the Astros had the third-fewest wins in Major League Baseball, three more than the Rangers and Rockies. Even so, it took the Phillies 15 innings to score two runs in their series opener, a 2-1 victory that gave the Phillies 2 runs in their previous 36 innings. The Phillies erupted for 10 runs in the second game of the series, but were stuck on one run once again, as they were in the series opener, until scoring 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to steal a 6-5 victory.

The winning blow in the 6-5 win over the Astros was a grand slam by Howard. The fans gave Howard such an enthusiastic ovation that he came out for a curtain call.

The Phillies managed just 1 run again for most of Friday night’s game. They scored three runs in the ninth inning, falling just short in a 5-4 defeat. They dropped a 2-1 decision in 11 innings the next night. They had one run through the first five innings before mounting their comeback Sunday, and their only runs on Monday until the ninth inning came on a two-run homer by Darin Ruf.

This isn’t a team headed in the right direction. This is a team on pace to lose 90 games.

Howard isn’t headed in the right direction, either. His game-winning hits were his only hits in each of those games. He was 1 for 25 on the Phillies’ 3-4 road trip. He only had an opportunity to knock in the winning run against the Mets because they were so unafraid of Howard that they intentionally walked Chase Utley, once Marlon Byrd stole second base, to face the big first baseman.

Howard is on pace for 24 home runs and 90-some RBI. But those numbers are misleading.

The Not-So-Big-Piece enters the Phillies’ current West Coast trip batting .219, with an on-base percentage of .300. His slugging percentage is .376, 10 points higher than Ben Revere.

As was the case with the Phillies after the consecutive shutouts against the Nationals, Howard has nowhere to go except up.

But that’s quite different than concluding that they’re headed in the right direction.

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EXCESSIVE CELEBRATION: I can understand the Phillies’ enthusiasm while celebrating Howard’s game-winning single against the Mets. They don’t get to celebrate game-winning hits too often. But, by actually knocking Howard over and some players jumping on the pile, they acted as if they had just clinched the pennant. Come on, guys, celebrate as if you’ve won a game before.

While I’m complaining about celebrations, the curtain call after Howard’s grand slam against the Astros also seemed out of place for a team mired in last place.

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HONORING MANUEL: The Phillies’ success wasn’t the only reason for the positive feelings at Citizens Bank Park during the most recent homestand. It was Phillies Alumni Weekend, with the highlight being Charlie Manuel’s induction into the Phillies Wall of Fame.

Manuel’s induction was a reminder of better times. The ceremony was terrific, from the video about Manuel’s career to Jim Thome unveiling Manuel’s plaque, but the highlight, not surprisingly, was Manuel’s from-the-heart acceptance speech. For a guy who has well-chronicled difficulties with public speaking, Manuel can give one heck of a speech.

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DAULTON HOSPITALIZED: Darren Daulton was one of the many former Phillies on hand for Phillies Alumni Weekend. Unfortunately, after being introduced during a pregame ceremony, Daulton later had to be taken to the hospital. The Phillies said his condition improved after receiving fluids, but no details of his condition were released.

Daulton has been battling brain cancer. PhillyPhanatics.com continues to wish Daulton all the best in fight the disease.

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DOUBLE DIGITS? Will any Phillies pitcher reach double digits in wins this season? Entering Tuesday’s game against the Angels, David Buchanan, Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett and the traded Roberto Hernandez were tied for the team lead with six apiece.

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ROSTER SHUFFLE: The scheduled starter for Tuesday’s game against the Angels is Jerome Williams, who was claimed off waivers from the Rangers on Sunday. Williams replaces Sean O’Sullivan, who was designated for assignment. O’Sullivan filled in last Thursday for Roberto Hernandez, who was traded to the Dodgers.

I don’t understand the logic of brining in a 32-year-old pitcher with a 6.71 ERA with the Rangers and Astros, two bad teams. I’d rather see O’Sullivan or a younger pitcher receive an opportunity.

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YOUTH ISN’T BEING SERVED: Speaking of older players taking spots that could be filled by younger players, 32-year-old mid-season pickup Grady Sizemore and 36-year-old Marlon Byrd continue to start in the outfield while Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf sit on the bench. The only way this makes sense is if the Phillies have already decided that Brown and Ruf aren’t everyday players.

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ROYALS FLUSH: One of the great stories in baseball is Kansas City moving to the top of the American League Central Division. The Royals won eight straight games to move past the Tigers. The last time the Royals were in the playoffs was 1985, when they won the World Series.

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GOING BACK TO CALI: The Phillies open their road trip Tuesday and Wednesday with games against the Angels before, after an off day on Thursday, heading to San Francisco for a weekend series with the Giants. The Phillies return home on Monday to face the Mariners at the start of a nine-game homestand.

 

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