With about one-fourth of the season over, Roy Halladay (5-3), Cliff Lee (2-4), Roy Oswalt (3-1) and Cole Hamels (4-2) have a combined record of 14-10, which is good but below preseason expectations.
It's not that the Philadelphia Phillies quartet has pitched badly. It is just the opposite. They have pitched pretty much as expected, but the Phillies have become an offensively challenged team.
In 2011, the Phils have averaged 4.10 runs a game, which ranks ninth among the 16 National League teams.
Last season, they averaged 4.77 runs a game, and in 2009, when they won the pennant, the offense averaged 5.06 runs a game.
Most teams are struggling to score runs this season. Pitching has dominated even more than it did last season, which is a key to why the Phillies are struggling and will continue to struggle.
When Cliff Lee joined a starting rotation that included Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, comparisons were made with the greatest rotations of all time. The Phillies were the overwhelming pick to not only win the Eastern Division, but to win the pennant.
The problem is that the Phillies' perceived pitching advantage has not been as great as expected. Because of a league-wide lack of offense, the Phillies' pitching is brought back to the pack.
National League teams have averaged 4.17 runs a game in 2011, with a 3.79 ERA.
In 2010, teams averaged 4.35 runs a game with a 4.02 ERA.
In 2009, teams averaged 4.43 runs a game with a 4.19 ERA.
The number that stands out is that since 2009, the league earned run average has increased by 0.40 runs.
The last time the National League had an ERA below four was 1992.
This season, only five teams have an ERA above four.
It's not that the Big Four are pitching poorly, but that other teams are pitching nearly as well, and the Philly offense is not good enough to establish separation.
When Jason Werth went to Washington, the Phillies had a huge hole to fill in the outfield. Dominic Brown has been hurt, and the combination of Ben Francisco and John Mayberry is not the answer.
The loss of Chase Utley has hurt more than expected because nobody has picked up the slack.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz, who had a career year in 2010, has been hurt and is batting .208 with two home runs. Ryan Howard is batting a .252 with nine home runs, and is on his usual pace to strike out 200 times.
Thirty-nine year old Raul Ibanez has three home runs to go along with a .223 average. Ben Francisco is down to .218.
The Phillies have lost four consecutive games, but the old baseball adage that "you're never as good as you look when you win and you're never as bad as you look when you lose," holds up.
Last night, Roy Oswalt pitched five solid innings. The bullpen was good, but all the Phillies could manage was one unearned run in a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The night before, an erratic Cliff Lee allowed three runs in six and one third innings, but the bullpen shut down the Cardinals the rest of the way. Usually, that should be enough to win, but the Phillies managed to score only one run in a 3-1 loss.
A team that doesn't score many runs puts tremendous pressure on its pitchers, who realize that one or two mistakes could cost them the game. They must bear down constantly and not allow even the so-called easier outs in the opposition's batting order to hurt them.
The Philly Four are experienced veterans who have been through it all. Each of them should win 15 or more games. They rise to the occasion, but it is too much to ask them to rise to the occasion every start.
Almost every team in the league has one, two or three pitchers who can often stay with the Phillies Big Four. The Phillies' problem is that most of the teams score more runs than they do.
The Phillies should win the division, but it will be a struggle to the end.