If there is a team that the Phillies can use as a marker for where they stand in the NL during this early season, it certainly seems to be the St. Louis Cardinals. Forget the fact that the Phils struggled during their recent road trip (Atlanta, Arizona, and San Francisco), as they were beginning to lose steam due to several early injuries. This is the four-game series that the team and the fans should pay attention to to see where they need to improve in order to remain the favorite to represent the NL in the World Series for the 3rd straight year. So far, it looks as though the Cards are poised to take that title away from our Fightins.
St. Louis used a quality effort from their starter Jamie (Hi-ME) Garcia, a solid back-end of their bullpen, and timely hitting to to frustrate the Phillies all night. The Cardinals used some small ball to score their first run in the top of the second inning, with Colby Rasmus hitting a sacrifice fly to score Holliday. Then after Joe Blanton, coming back from a month long stint on the DL, strung together several solid innings, the Cardinal hitters tagged Big Joe for 3 runs in the top of the 7th. The first was a solo homerun off the bat of PH Nick Stavinoha. After allowing single to Schumaker and Pujols, Blanton’s night was done. Nelson Figueroa came in to relieve Blanton, and promptly walked Holliday and gave up a bases clearing double to David Freese. The Cardinals scored 5 runs total in the inning.
After two games vs. the Mets in which it looked as if the Phillies offense was back, they fell right back into the funk they experienced during the previous two series against Arizona and San Francisco. The Phillies were able to threat in the bottom of the 5th, after Werth led off with a double, and Ibanez followed with a single, moving Werth to third. After Juan Castro knocked Werth home with a sacrifice fly, the craziest play of night occurred, in which Blanton was called for interference after a sacrifice bunt, resulting in a double play. Whether or not you agree with the call, the Phillies couldn’t put a string of hits together after that inning. Werth and Utley had solo homeruns in the later innings, but solo homers don’t win games.
The good news is that Big Joe Blanton looked very solid in his first outing of the season. As mentioned before, from the 2nd through the middle of the 7th inning before he began to lose it, Blanton was in control and keeping the St. Louis batters off balance. If his first start is any indication of his health and ability to pitch late into ball games, this could prove to be a huge jumping off point for the pitching staff. Brad Lidge provided another bright spot of the night, pitching a scoreless top of the 9th while striking out two.
One game does not make a series, but the first game can set a tone, especially with Cardinals’ staff ace Adam Wainwright and a rejuvenated Brad Penny pitching the next two games. Bottom line: the Phillies hitters need to show up in this series or there’s a good chance they’ll lose at least three games in this four game set.
Baseball doesn’t have to be a complicated game. For example:
Strong starting pitching + Solid bullpen + Timely hitting = Easiest road to World Series
Right now, the Cardinals possess all three qualities of the above equation, while, unfortunately, one could argue the Phillies haven’t been consistent in any of them.