Phillies Take 6 out of 7 Against NL Contenders: What We Learned

Jed ZaslowContributor ISeptember 12, 2011

Phillies Take 6 out of 7 Against NL Contenders: What We Learned

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    It is always fun for the fans when the Phillies go on a tear, but how about defeating two playoff contenders, one a division rival, in connecting series'?  Let the fun begin!

    Earlier today, the Phillies, fresh off a sweep of the Atlanta Braves, finished up a four game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, taking three out of four at Miller Park where the Brewers are 51-22. There had been many questions earlier:

    "Will the rotation continue their consistent dominance into September?"

    "Does the young bullpen possess the longevity and experience to pitch well the rest of the season and into the playoffs?"

    "Will the offense continue to be streaky?"

    Well, this is what we learned in the last seven days.

The Rotation

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    Since the beginning of the season, the rotation has put the team on its back and carried them through the jungle that we call the regular season.  Many wondered if the rotation would become faint from their hard work, but now in early September, I think the answer is clear.

    The Braves are not exactly famous for their offense, but they have the capability to produce ample run support.  No matter, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley and Roy Oswalt each went at least six innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in their starts.  

    Cliff Lee threw his sixth shutout of the year and recorded his 200th strikeout.

    Vance Worley allowed two runs in six innings of work and recorded the win.

    Roy Oswalt went seven innings and allowed two earned runs while striking out seven batters.

    So, yes, the Braves do not boast the best hitters, but all three pitchers still cashed in great performances against a contending team in a somewhat-playoff atmosphere.

    The Brewers hitting is a step up from the Braves, however, if the right pitcher is on the mound, they can be shut down.  The Phillies pitched four of those "right" pitchers.

    Cole Hamels threw a complete game, two-run gem.

    Roy Halladay tossed eight one-run innings, striking out nine batters.

    Cliff Lee went seven strong innings allowing one earned run.

    Vance Worley took the loss after going 6.2 innings allowing three earned runs.

    Ultimately, the rotation was able to tame a great hitting team in a hitter-friendly ballpark.  Between the two series, the Phillies pitchers allowed no more than three runs a game.

    We learned that Halladay has longevity (as if we did not already know).

    We learned that the Lee acquisition is certainly paying off to an extent; he came off an unbelievable August and brought his magic into September which is traditionally a great month for him.  Hopefully, in the playoffs, he will play according to his tradition.

    We learned that Cole Hamels can still pitch, even after his injury, and now he is a bit more well-rested.

    Lastly, we learned that Worley is great, but he is probably the weakest in the rotation; even weaker than Oswalt.  

The Offense

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    God bless Ruben Amaro Jr. for acquiring Hunter Pence.  We could not have done it without him.  Okay, maybe we could have, but Pence sure improved our unbalanced lineup.  

    All season, Charlie Manuel had been bugging Amaro for a right-handed batter that can hit lefties; getting a solid right-handed bat would balance the lineup and provide Ryan Howard with solid protection and get him some better pitches.

    Since joining the team, Pence has hit .320/.393/.551 and he has a .318 batting average against lefties this season.  Think that's the best part?  Think again!

    Ryan Howard, in the 33 games he has started since Hunter Pence joined the squad, is hitting .273/.374/.613 with 14 home runs and 34 RBI's. In the five games Howard started against the Braves and Brewers, Howard hit three home runs. Whether he is on another September tear, or he really is getting better pitches and taking advantage, we learned that we like Ryan Howard with Hunter Pence.

    Like Howard, Carlos Ruiz has also been experiencing some September magic.  In the last two series, Chooch is batting .400.  Chooch raised his batting average from .277 at the beginning of September to .285, just 11 days later.  What we learned about Chooch is that he is the same catcher as last year; the one who got on base when he needed to get on base; the one who hit when he needed to hit.

    Not much success has come to Shane Victorino these two series.  He only had four hits (one was a homer).  Victorino is having a phenomenal year offensively and defensively in center field for the Phillies, but now, in September, is when it really matters, and even more can be said about October.

    Moving on to the left side of the outfield, Charlie Manuel seems to have a platoon. Raul Ibanez, who has hit only .197 against lefties this year, appears when a righty is on the mound and John Mayberry Jr., who has hit .293 against lefties, faces the southpaws.  

    Against the Brewers, Mayberry started two of the games and recorded only two hits.  

    Ibanez seems to be benefiting more than Mayberry from this platoon.  In the two series, Ibanez went 7-for-18 and knocked in five runs.  Ibanez is a very streaky player and he is hitting very well.  What we learned from Ibanez is that a cold streak is due.

    In the last seven games, the Phillies have lacked Jimmy Rollins as a starter, Chase Utley for four games and Ryan Howard for two games; all of these impact starters were missing for periods of time throughout the two series and the offense still produced runs for the majority of the games.  What we learned from this is, injury or not, the Phillies have deep hitting.

The Bullpen

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    The bullpen has probably been the biggest question mark heading into the stretch.  Can Antonio Bastardo handle the pressure?  Who else do the Phillies have to turn to besides Madson and Bastardo?

    Well, in the Braves series, thanks to Cliff Lee, that question was left unanswered.  

    In game two, Worley only made it to the sixth inning, so a shaky Michael Stutes took over and allowed one earned run in one inning of work.  Brad Lidge played the role of set-up man and pitched a scoreless inning, then Madson finished it off with his 28th save of the year.

    In game three, Bastardo and Madson both pitched scoreless innings, Madson picking up the save.

    Moving onto Milwaukee, Cole Hamels pitched a complete game in the first meeting of the two teams.

    In game two, the ninth inning was set to be closed by Bastardo, however, after allowing two runs with still none out, Madson was given the save opportunity; he converted his 29th save.

    In game three, the Phillies bullpen held its composure as the game went into extra innings.  Stutes, Lidge and Madson each got an inning of play and each pitched a scoreless inning.

    In the last game of the series, Worley went 6.2 innings, so Schwimer finished the seventh and Herndon pitched a scoreless eight, but due to lack of run support, the Phillie pen had no shot at pitching the ninth.

    What we learned about Bastardo is that he needs rest because he will be Manuel's go-to man for the eight inning.

    What we learned about Madson is that he is on fire and his motivation should be at its highest due to the upcoming free agent market that he will likely have to deal with this offseason.

    What we learned about the rest of the bullpen is that they will allow a run here and there, but in order to ensure victory, the Phillies offense will have to put up at least two more runs than the other team for insurance, you know, just in case.

The Conclusion

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    When the Phillies play teams that are in contention, that is when we learn the most about the players, and it is important to analyze these series because the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers will bring a playoff atmosphere to the table.  

    So the Phillies took six out of seven huh?  The future feels great!