Five thoughts after last night's 2-1 loss to the Marlins. . .
1) You don't have to be a professional scout to watch Jose Fernandez and know immediately that he is one of the game's most potential-laden pitchers. Last night, he held the Phillies scoreless for six innings, allowing his only base runners back-to-back ground ball singles to Laynce Nix and Freddy Galvis in the second inning and a pair of walks to Jimmy Rollins. Through two starts, the 20-year-old Tampa product has allowed one run, five hits (one for extra bases) and three walks while striking out 13 in 11 innings. Even more impressive than his mid-90's fastball was his command of his breaking ball, which they called a slider on the broadcast but which actually looks a lot like Brad Lidge's slider. Fernandez threw 23 curveballs, 15 of which were strikes, and only two of which were put into play. Fernandez threw just 85 pitches in his six innings of work.
2) Saturday's action offered a good look at one of the challenges the Phillies will face over the next few years. In addition to Fernandez, 24-year-old right-handers Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg were on the mound for the Mets and Nationals. Combined, the trio of budding aces allowed just one earned run in 20 innings with 18 strikeouts, five walks, and nine hits. Through three starts, Harvey has allowed just 12 base runners and two earned runs while striking out 25 in 22 innings. He is 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA. Three of his 13 career starts have come against the Phillies, and they have managed to score just four runs in 20 1/3 innings against him.
3) Three innings before the Marlins finished off a 2-1 walk-off victory, the Phillies had their best chance at escaping Saturday night with a win. Instead, they again showed how susceptible they are to left-handed pitching. With two out and runners on the corners in a 1-1 game, the Marlins called on lefty set-up man Mike Dunn, who walked Ben Revere before striking out Jimmy Rollins to end the inning. Dunn then faced three straight lefties to start the eighth, getting Chase Utley to fly out, allowing a double to Ryan Howard, and getting Dominic Brown to groundout before Ryan Webb replaced him and struck out Kevin Frandsen to end the frame.
Howard's double was just the fourth hit by a Phillies lefty against a lefty pitcher this season. Howard and Chase Utley are a combined 2-for-26 with 11 strikeouts and two walks against lefties, while Revere is 0-for-8 with a strikeout and a walk. Howard and Utley have both struggled against lefties over the last couple of seasons (Howard's struggles, as you probably know, extend back further than that). So has Rollins, who as a switch-hitter in the No. 2 hole is the only semblance of balance in the top half of the lineup. When Dunn entered the game, he had the luxury of facing five straight hitters who are a combined 6-for-53 with 19 strikeouts against left-handed pitchers this season.
4) Thus far, Charlie Manuel has declined to move Utley out of the No. 3 hole in order to separate him from Howard. Manuel has occasionally used Utley in the two hole in the past, and he recently reiterated his long-standing belief that he cannot see Utley batting in the leadoff spot, so the option is to put Michael Young or Rollins at No. 3 and move Utley to No. 2. With Revere hitting just .222 with a .286 on base percentage and nine strikeouts in 45 at bats, and with Rollins playing relatively well (he's hitting .267/.327/.444 with 10 strikeouts in 45 at bats), perhaps Manuel would consider moving Rollins back to leadoff and going with an order something like this: 1. Rollins SS (SH), 2. Utley 2B (LH), 3. Young 3B (RH), 4. Howard 1B (LH), 5. Mayberry/Nix RF (RH), 6. Brown LF (LH), 7. Kratz C (RH), 8. Revere CF (LH).
5) Few teams offer a better baseline for measuring Roy Halladay's performance than the Marlins. In his first two seasons with the Phillies, he faced them nine times and held them to 15 earned runs and two home runs in 66 innings. In 2012, he faced them three times and allowed 12 earned runs and three home runs in 18 1/3 innings. Today, he faces the Marlins and right-hander Kevin Slowey, who is the epitome of a AAAA pitcher. Earlier this week, I labeled this the type of game that the Phillies must win prompting an outcry from people who believe there are no must-win games in April. Which is a silly argument, at least if you believe in logic, because a win in April counts the same as a win in September, and a loss to Kevin Slowey in April counts the same as a loss to another mediocre pitcher in September, and a win in April puts a team one game further from facing a must-win situation in September. Games like today will prove to be far more pivotal than ones like last night, when the Phillies faced a pitcher who would have shut them down in any of the past five seasons. So I'll say it again: if the Phillies end up making the playoffs, they are going to do so by winning the vast majority of match ups like the one they face today.