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NLCS Game 4: A Strange Yet Familiar Script for the Philadelphia Phillies

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NLCS Game 4: A Strange Yet Familiar Script for the Philadelphia Phillies
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Last night’s NLCS game followed a script very familiar to Phillies fans.

The team scratched out a first-inning run, helped along by the miscues of their opponent.  They got key contributions throughout the lineup.  The unexpected hitting star continued to shine.  They were patient and did some damage against an opposing reliever.  The relief ace was lights out.  And they won the game thanks to some late-game heroics.

Since 2008, the Phillies have seemed to follow that script several times en route to six series wins, two pennants and one World Series championship.  Except last night, it was the Giants who managed to follow the winning formula, and the Phillies who came up short.

It was the Giants who took advantage of two wild pitches to score a first-inning run.  It was the Giants who got big hits throughout their lineup.  It wasn’t Carlos Ruiz who continued to emerge as a postseason star—but rather Cody Ross.  Instead of the Phillies beating up on Jonathan Broxton, it was the Giants taking the lead against Chad Durbin.  It wasn’t Brad Lidge shutting down his opponents, but rather Brian Wilson who left the Phillies’ hitters looking helpless. 

And finally, it was the Giants who scored the winning run in the ninth inning.

And now it is the Giants who look poised to capture the National League pennant, which most people had pretty much handed to the Phillies before the postseason began.

The Giants look very similar to the 2008 Phillies right now.  Their lineup might not be nearly as dangerous—but as we’ve seen in the postseason, that doesn’t necessarily matter.  What does matter is that they’re receiving strong pitching performances, making all the necessary plays and coming up with key hits.

On the other hand, the Phillies look lost.  This series is starting to look an awful lot like the August series against the Astros where everything just seemed to go against the Phillies.  Their hitters are struggling.  The pitchers perform decently, but not quite well enough. The manager’s moves don’t work.  Umpire calls go against them.  (I’m certainly not blaming the umps for the loss, but that was one of the worst performances by a home plate umpire in awhile.  The strike zone had absolutely no consistency.)

Even when they appear to get a break, it doesn’t end up helping them.  Pablo Sandoval hit a ball that was ruled foul, but replays showed that it was probably fair.  (To be honest, that was about as close as a ball can come, and I don’t know if they could have overturned it even with replay).  Sandoval just came back and hit a double.

Or when a pitch seemed to hit Juan Uribe on the hand, but it was ruled a foul.  That didn’t stop Uribe from hitting the game-winning sacrifice fly.

So now the Phillies are trailing the series 3-1, and have to win three games against the Giants’ starting trio of Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain.  Considering the way they’ve struggled at the plate, it doesn’t seem like a promising scenario.

There was a lot of debate over Charlie Manuel’s decision to start Joe Blanton last night instead of Roy Halladay on short rest.  I agreed with the move, even though it didn’t work out.

First, Blanton is a much better pitcher than people think.  He’s not as good as the “Big Three,” but he’s proven to be a solid major-league starter.  He’s won postseason games for this team before, and pitched well in the second half.  A start by Blanton was far from an automatic loss.

More importantly, if they had gone with Halladay on short rest, then they would have also had to go with Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and then possibly Halladay again on short rest.  It seems like a bad idea to have the final four games of a series started by pitchers on short rest.

For those who suggested that they could just use Blanton for Game 5 or 6 instead, I don’t understand the logic behind that move.  If you don’t trust him in Game 4 matched against rookie Madison Bumgarner, then why would you trust him in a potentially more important game against Lincecum, Cain or Sanchez?

If there was a move by Manuel that should be questioned, it would be the use of Oswalt in relief.  While it isn’t unusual for a starter to be used in the bullpen between starts, the manager typically prepares the starter ahead of time, and tells him not to take his usual throwing session that day.  Supposedly, Oswalt had already thrown earlier in the day. 

I could understand using him if the game had gone into extra innings, and they were left with no other options.  But Manuel still had three relievers available.  Obviously, using the inconsistent Kyle Kendrick isn’t the preferred option (and they’d want to save him in case the game went long anyway), and I can understand saving Brad Lidge until they got a lead, otherwise he’d have to pitch multiple innings or be replaced. 

But why didn’t Manuel use JC Romero in the ninth?  I’d think that using an experienced relief pitcher would be a much better option than using one of his starters who had already thrown earlier in the day.  Was Romero unavailable for some reason?

Regardless, the game is over, and the Phillies are now faced with the task of winning three games in a row.  It is a difficult situation, but far from impossible.  The upside of going with Blanton last night is that they now have Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels lined up to start on full rest. 

The Giants’ starters may be imposing, but expecting the Phillies to win three straight games (two at home) started by their aces is far from unrealistic.

Hopefully starting tonight, the Phillies can remember how to get back to their winning ways.  Otherwise, they’re going to be faced with a script that has become very unfamiliar to them: Someone else celebrating a National League pennant.

Originally published on my blog: Stranger in a Strange Land

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