Sunday, February 7, 2016

Phillies showing why a five-game series is a risky endeavor

These five-game series are always risky business and by losing Game 2 to the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies have shown us exactly why.

Phillies showing why a five-game series is a risky endeavor

Ryan Howard and the Phillies have surrendered home-field advantage. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Ryan Howard and the Phillies have surrendered home-field advantage. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

These five-game series are always risky business and by losing Game 2 to the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies have shown us exactly why.

The Phillies are the better team because they have a superior starting rotation. They proved that over the course of the 162-game season. They won 102 games, the Cardinals won 90.

But the 162-game season and a five-game division series have about as much in common as liberals and conservatives.

If this were even a seven-game series, Cliff Lee would likely get a chance at redemption after giving away a 4-0 lead during the Phillies' 5-4 loss to the Cardinals. Instead, the possibility now exists that Lee will have to live with Game 2 as his final and lasting memory of the 2011 season.

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Rest assured, he did not pass on more money in New York because he thought he'd come to Philadelphia and pitch one poor postseason game that could change the course of the Phillies' entire season.

The offense, of course, is not blameless here. One hit and two baserunners in six innings against the Cardinals' bullpen is inexcusable.

"Definitely frustrating," said catcher Carlos Ruiz, who along with Placido Polanco, is hitless in eight at-bats through the first two games of the series. "We knocked out their number one pitcher in (Chris) Carpenter and then after that we can't score another run. You have to give credit to their bullpen."

What may be equally frustrating for the Phillies is that nothing Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa did in the first two games of this NLDS reeked off genius.

He went with Kyle Lohse in Game 1 and the former Phillie was knocked around for five runs and two home runs in the sixth inning of an 11-6 Phillies victory. LaRussa came back with Carpenter on three days' rest in Game 2 and his ace gave up four runs in the first two innings before leaving after three.

Nevertheless, the resilient Cardinals flew home Monday morning with the series even and now they get to pitch Jaime Garcia, the young lefty who has posted a 0.96 ERA in four starts over the last two seasons against the Phillies. Garcia allowed just one earned run in 15 innings against the Phillies this season and was 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 15 starts at Busch Stadium.

The Phillies counter with Cole Hamels, who provided them with a complete-game shutout against Cincinnati to complete a three-game sweep of the Reds in last year's division series. Hamels is coming off his worst month of the season. He went 1-2 with a 3.79 ERA in September and allowed nine home runs, one fewer than he had surrendered during the first five months of the season.

One of Hamels' September losses came to the Cardinals the night after the Phillies clinched their fifth straight division title. He allowed four runs on seven hits, including home runs to Allen Craig and Albert Pujols, the second and third batters in the St. Louis order. Hamels was 7-3 with a 2.93 ERA on the road this season, so he's not likely to be rattled by the hostile environment at Busch Stadium.

Even if the Phillies were to lose Game 3, they would still have a favorable pitching matchup in Game 4 with a resurgent Roy Oswalt likely going against Edwin Jackson.

But by losing Game 2 Sunday night, the Phillies' margin for error in this five-game series shrunk considerably. This is now a best-of-three series and the first two games are in St. Louis.



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