Win Some, Lose Some, Expect the Same
And therein lies the problem. While Monday's 9-6 win over the Braves produced the template for how the Phils will win games for the remainder of the '06 season, Tuesday night's 3-1 klunker shows exactly how they will lose them. On both nights, the starting pitching was good enough to win. Unfortunately, the better of the two performances, by rookie and ace-in-waiting Cole Hamels, did not gain a win, or even a no decision for that matter. Able to squeeze out a run
on a sacrifice bunt byu the pitcher, the Braves did what the Phils could not -- get on the board in teh fist 7 innings for its starter. And so the game the team seemed most likely to win, they drop quietly, setting up a must-win start for Randy Wolf's Rehab in Progess Tour.
Look, there is no reason to think the wild card spot is unattainable. With their recent above average play, the team's standing hovers around 3 games back, certainly striking distance in the soup that is the NL wildcard. But ther are reason this team hasn't been able to take hold of the race thusfar, and recent roster dumpings nonwithstanding, too many of those same problems still fester:
-RiSP: The team still does not hit with runners in scoring position. Utley and Howard are gamers through and through, while Dellucci and Cinderella-story Coste have provided some stropng support. But after that, the dropoff is monsterous. Rowand, Nunez, the pitcher's spot, Rollins and Pat Burrell, when in the lineup, constitute more than a black hole. They've become a veritable Dead Zone. Rowand can't pull balls anymore it seems, and is hitting .223 (51-for-223) since returning from injury on May 27 and less than .200 so far in August. Reports have been that he's battling a host of minor injuries. A good game from Nunez means he still went hitless, but didn't cost the team anything in the field. Tonight's 1-4 performance raised his average.
-Top of the order: Is there a less patient one-two combination that Manuel's recent concoction of Rollins and Victorino. Both are talented, tough-minded players. Neither seem to be able to shake off the need to hack. Both have OBPs around the .330 mark, which is lackluster. While neither strikeout excessively -- 600 ABs would find both somewhere in the 70s, neither walk enough. Which brings us to our next point.
-Patience: In the dog days of August, and with Pat Burrell out of the lineup, the team sees too few pitches on average. As an excellent post over at PhilliesNation details, the team simply doesn't walk enough to expect to win as much as it needs to. Just to show we're not trying to twist the numbers, an encouraging flip-side to this is that this mark is improving relative to the rest of the league: Coming into tonight, the team with 4th in batting average in the NL the past 30 days and ties with the Nationals for most walks in that timeframe with 105. They are also tied with the Nats for the best team OBP at .371. However, their ERA in that timeframe is 4.74, good for the top of the bottom third of the NL. The reds are the only team in front of them in the wildcard who is worse in the department, which segues to our next point...
-Numbers game: Sooner or later, the numbers will catch up with this team. Their starting pitching for the season is among the worst in the league by ERA, although that's skewed somewhat by banished rotation members Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson. While its been betetr lately, its still below average in the league itself, and it remains to be seen what can realistically be expected of Scott Mathieson and Randy Wolf. Likewise, Dellucci and Coste are both hitting around the .340 mark. There is no way in Hell that is going to continue. That means some of these 6 runs bursts are going to be more like 2 and 3 run bursts very soon. Coste is already showing a few chinks in the armor, with a propensity to chase the slider. Its more liekly that both will end up hitting in the .280 or .290 neighborhood by year's end. That means each of their averages will dip 50 point in 50 games.
-Us. vs. them: We're no scientist or even sabrematrician, but much like last year's national's team, the runs for vs. runs against line is not promising. The team currently has a run differential of -4. Theya re 4 games under .500. That's about right, give or take. While it's not a fool-proof predicter of win-loss, some of the other records aren't too good either: 11-17 in one run games comes to mind.
All of this points, in our mids, to another near miss, barring lightening being caught in a bottle the final few weeks of the season. The schedule the remainder of the season contains 10 games collectively against the Mets and faltering Reds and no other games against teams with winnings records. Lots of Marlins, Nats, Cubs and Astros games. So, it's certainly possible. Not probable, however.
Of course, we'd like to be wrong.