Friday, September 11, 2009

Wall Of Worry

The Phillies return to soggy Citizens Bank Park Friday night sporting a 2 - 5 record from the roadtrip through Houston and Washington and, worse, all sorts of problems and inconsistencies.

The finale of the trip saw previously reliable Joe Blanton get rocked while the nearly always slumbering offense waited until the ninth inning to show some life before Ryan Howard grounded into a game-ending double play that halted the rally a run short. They didn't deserve to win this one, though just desserts are never the point.

So, where do we stand with the lead over those pitching-loaded pesky Marlins at five games and dwindling?

Right now Pedro Martinez looks like the sharpest starter and that's not something to be happy about. Blanton, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all showed signs of inconsistency on the trip. J.A. Happ is out with an oblique strain, which depending on the source you read is one of the most difficult injuries to recover from quickly or, in his case, is mild enough not to cause too much concern. Given the Phillies poor history on the forthcoming-about-injuries front, we'll just say there are better than even odds he is going to take some time to come back.

Lee's problems may simply be too much pitching. In his first five starts for the Phillies he threw two complete games and pitched deeply in the others. Now, he is getting rocked early, a clear sign he is fatigued. Hamels has been inconsistent and immature all season. If he doesn't get a grip on his emotions soon, he is always going to be one blown call or play away from self-destructing. It's never a good sign when, after the game, your pitching coach talks about "body language", as in, well, his body language wasn't too bad. To whom is his language speaking, Rich?

The struggles on offense remain the chief concern because, frankly, the Phils were always expected to overcome pitching deficiencies with their bats. Jimmy Rollins remains stuck in the .24o's, going after first pitches and swinging up too often, always looking for lift. Those 18 home runs he's hit don't do anyone any good. Chase Utley continues to wear down at the end of every season, his admirably intense approach to everything about the game a virtue to all who watch him and a liability to his own body. Shane Victorino has also been slumping, perhaps due to his nagging knee injury or just because he, too, goes all out all the time. The rest of the offense is muddling along with Raul Ibanez showing some signs of life but still vulnerable to too many pitches.

It's to worry about.

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