After two games in Philadelphia, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies are tied at a game apiece. In the first game, Roy Halladay went eight innings, surrendering three earned runs on three hits while striking out eight, leading the Phillies to an 11-6 victory.
Game 2, however, was not as pleasant to watch for the fans in Philly. The Phillies' second stud pitcher, Cliff Lee, struggled, laboring through just six innings, throwing 110 pitches and allowing five runs via 12 hits and two walks.
For Games 3 and 4, the two teams head to St. Louis, where the Cardinals posted a regular-season record of 45-36. With three games left in the series, the Phillies find themselves in a position where they need to win two out of the next three.
However, the Phillies may find themselves struggling more to earn the two wins they need than most people would have expected when the series started.
Here are three reasons why...
In Game 1, Charlie Manuel handed his ace, Roy Halladay, the ball. After winning the first, he let Cliff Lee pitch Game 2 with the chance to go up 2-0 and put the Cardinals backs against the wall. However, after Lee blew the game and St. Louis tied the series, the series is not looking like such a walk-through for Philadelphia.
For Game 3, Philly will turn to Cole Hamels to put the Phillies ahead again. And while Hamels is a great pitcher, he is clearly a few steps below Halladay and Lee. What's more, the games will be in St. Louis, where the Cardinals scored over four runs a game. Against Hamels, the Cards will feature Jaime Garcia who is a much better pitcher at home, boasting a 2.55 ERA in Busch Stadium. St. Louis is in the driver's seat for this one.
Charlie Manuel has a decision to make for Game 4. Roy Oswalt is scheduled to throw on full rest, but if the series is on the line, could Manuel start Halladay on three days rest. Either pitcher would be facing Edwin Jackson who has also been fantastic at home with a 2.94 ERA. All of a sudden, the Phillies are looking like they might be in major trouble.
With a month to go in the season, the Atlanta Braves seemed to have a stranglehold on the NL wild card. As of September 1, Atlanta held an 8.5 game advantage. However, when the Cardinals went 18-8 in the final stretch, the tides changed and after a wild Game 162, St. Louis found themselves an unlikely fourth combatant in the NL Playoffs.
In the stretch of one month, the Cardinals found help from everywhere in the lineup. Albert Pujols and Allen Craig each hit five home runs, Rafael Furcal hit four and Matt Holliday hit three. In that same month, five players added more than ten RBI and seven players with at least 30 at-bats hit above a .300 batting average.
This Cardinal offense was the best in the National League in the regular season and they are playing their best baseball at the right time of the season. Philly has to be careful throwing to hitters like Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday. The Cardinals can easily strike for a few runs and put games away.
In the last month of the season, three players have more or less carried the Philadelphia offense. These three players are Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Hunter Pence. These three players have accounted for almost half of the Philadelphia RBI and 11 out of 23 Philly home runs. But if Philadelphia wants to win this series, let alone a World Series, they are going to need to get production from everywhere.
Normally, the Phillies could count on Chase Utley to be a major contributor, but that has not been the case in 2011. In fact, he treaded his way through September for a .205 batting average, two home runs, and four RBI during the month. Because of this, Philadelphia has had to replace his production all season. In the playoffs thus far, however, he has done what Manuel has asked of him, going 3-6, drawing two walks, and scoring four times. This is the production Philadelphia needs.
Shane Victorino on the other hand, has been flat out terrible. In the season's final month, he hit .186 with two home runs and eight RBI. Unlike Utley, he has not been able to rebound in the playoffs. The Phillies count on him to reach base, steal bases, and score runs. In the post season, he has been somewhat successful doing the first, reaching base three times in eight at bats, but he is yet to attempt a steal and has only scored one run.
When the season began, Utley and Victorino were expected to have big years and help fuel the Philly offense. If Philadelphia expects to keep winning, that is exactly what they will need. If Utley and Victorino fail to contribute, the Phillies days are numbered.