Phillies-Nationals: Philadelphia's Deficiencies Highlighted in Opening Day Loss

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Phillies-Nationals: Philadelphia's Deficiencies Highlighted in Opening Day Loss

The Phillies lost their season opener 11-6 to the Washington Nationals in front of a sell-out crowd on a cold, rainy Monday at Citizens Bank Park. Saul Rivera (1-0) got the win for Washington, while Tom Gordon (0-1) took the loss for the Phillies. The Phils played well, but in the end it was pitching that turned the tide and gave the Nationals their second win in less than 24 hours.

The Phillies had multiple chances to win the game, but didn’t help their pitchers before they eventually imploded. The Phils manufactured an early 1-0 lead in the first when Jimmy Rollins scored on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly after leading off the game with a double down the left field line.

Myers battled his control for the first five innings, and never appeared comfortable. As the ace of the Phillies staff, Myers must give the team more than what he showed in the opener. Myers allowed nine baserunners in his five innings of work, and struggled the entire afternoon before finally cracking in his final inning of work. The inning started to come unraveled after Myers hit Lastings Milledge on the hand with a pitch to load the bases with one out. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Matt Chico, and cut the Phillies lead in half. Nick Johnson followed with a walk to reload the bases before Austin Kearns doubled to the right centerfield gap to give the Nationals their first lead of the day at 3-2. The final run scored when Jimmy Rollins booted a routine ground ball off the bat of Paul LoDuca , allowing Johnson to score and extend the Nationals’ lead to 4-2.

They never looked back.

A half inning before, the Phillies had a chance to change the entire tenor of the game after they started the home fourth with three straight singles. The Phils failed to capitalize on the opportunity, as they scored only one run. After Pat Burrell drove in Ultley, who led off the inning with a single to center, the next three hitters failed to get the ball out of the infield. Pedro Feliz, the team’s main off-season acquisition, struck out. Jayson Werth followed with a strikeout of his own, before Carlos Ruiz popped up to second base to end the inning.

With the patchwork pitching situation this team is saddled with, they cannot afford to squander any opportunities to score runs. Washington starter Chico gave them a golden opportunity to put a big number on the scoreboard with their ace on the hill, and they failed to get the job done. Washington arrived in Philadelphia at 2:30AM after playing on Sunday night against the Braves and a big inning there could have gone a long way toward convincing the young Nationals to fold up their tents, get ready for Tuesday’s off day, and come back ready to play on Wednesday night. Instead, they gave the young team momentum and squandered a golden opportunity to start the year off with a win.

Ryan Madson came on behind Myers in the sixth and gave up a two run home run to Milledge that extended the Washington lead to 6-2. Madson’s troubles foreshadowed more bullpen woes as the game went along.

Despite their pitchers putting them in a four run hole and failing to convert on an opportunity early in the game, the Phils never gave up. That spirit is what got them to the playoffs last season and may be what they have to rely on in 2008.

The Phils got one run back in the sixth on a solo homer by Utley, but the real damage came in the seventh. Jason Werth led off the inning with a single against Washington reliever Joel Hanrahan. Carlos Ruiz doubled to left center, allowing Werth to score and cut the Nationals lead to 6-4. Hanrahan’s afternoon was over and Ray King made his second appearance in as many games. Reigning National League MVP Jimmy Rollins was the second batter King faced and hit a two-run homer to left center field to tie the game at six. Rollins accounted for half the Phillies offense as he seeks to defend his MVP crown.

With Brad Lidge starting the season on the Disabled List, Tom Gordon came on in the ninth to preserve the tie and give his offense a chance to win it in the bottom half. Milledge led off with an infield single. Two batters later, Nick Johnson doubled home Milledge to give the Nationals a 7-6 lead. Johnson took third on the throw home to try and cut down Milledge at the plate. Gordon then walked Kearns to put two on with one out. After what looked to be an attempted squeeze play, Ruiz threw down to third trying to get Johnson straying away from third base, but instead the ball went down the left field line and Johnson trotted home easily. After back to back doubles by LoDuca and Ronnie Belliard, two more runs scored to make it 10-6 Washington and Gordon’s day was over.

After Clay Condrey retired the first batter he faced on a popup fielded by Ruiz, pinch hitter Dimtri Young doubled to right, scoring Belliard and capping a five run ninth inning that gave the Nationals the 11-6 win. The Phillies bullpen performed atrociously in its first appearance of the season.

The offense cannot help this team if its bullpen, and specifically its closer, is unable to finish games and keep the other team off the scoreboard. The Phillies will go as far as their pitching will take them, and their pitching from Myers to Gordon did not give them a chance to win on Monday. Rollins and the offense did all they could do to get a win, but the pitching staff didn’t do their job.

While it is only one game in a long 162 game marathon, it raises some dangerous questions and precedents. If the pitching staff is going to be as ineffective as they were in the inaugural showing, it could be a long season for the Phils. This team needs to get consistent pitching in order to win, and with the veteran Gordon seemingly unable to hold the closer role, someone else needs to step up. Gordon was spotty in the setup and closer’s role last season and amassed an 11.00ERA during 10 Grapefruit League appearances before his implosion in the opener.

The loss to Washington is even more troubling because of how competitive the National League East is. In the NL East, where the race for the crown has come down to one game the last two seasons, you must beat the teams you are supposed to beat. Washington is one of those teams and the Phils didn’t get it done.

It remains to be seen if this loss will loom large in September.

Notes

The team's have off on Tuesday before resuming the three game series on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park. LHP Cole Hamels makes his 2008 debut for the Phils against RHP Tim Redding for the Nationals.  The series concludes on Thursday afternoon with a 1:05PM matinee that will feature LHP Jamie Moyer for the Phils against RHP Jason Bergmann for the Nationals.

The Nationals placed OF Elijah Dukes on the 15-day Disabled List with a sore right hamstring after their Sunday night game against the Braves. RHP Chris Schroder was recalled from Triple-A Columbus to take Dukes' spot and arrived in Philadelphia in time for Monday's game.

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