Nobody was surprised when the Phillies were losing games early in the year. If you can’t score you can’t win and the Phillies were 27th in the MLB in scoring. But things have changed, and the Phillies picked up their play, averaging over five runs in their first seven games of May. Now, the Phillies are just 18th in the MLB in runs scored for the entire year. Yet, in their first seven games of May, the Phillies went just three and four. The problem? Two losses in extra innings and a game in which the Mets broke a tie game in the ninth inning with three runs. The problem is no longer offense, the problem is closing out games. Tonight was no exception.
Before I continue writing, I just want to say that this in no way means to pin the blame of anything on Papelbon and even the game that he received the loss for was not truly his fault. The (condensed, for time’s sake) reason Papelbon gets a pardon is that the Phillies misuse him so badly, that it’s unrealistic to expect anything more from him. The Phillies are so afraid to let Papelbon throw that they basically made him a victim of not enough activity and as a result he was incredibly rusty and lost the game.
One game it was Roy Halladay blowing a six run lead in one of the few worst performance in his career as a Phillie. Fine, everybody has bad days and of all people, we should be most forgiving of Roy Halladay, right? Of course. But the Phillies bullpen blowing another six run lead after the Phillies earned it back? That’s just unacceptable, especially when the culprits–Jose Contreras and Michael Schwimer– have contributed close to nothing this year.
Schwimer and Chad Qualls, were to blame just two nights later, giving up three runs in two and two thirds innings and losing the game for the Phillies.
Finally, tonight Joe Blanton gave up four runs in the seventh inning after a seemingly good outing to let the Mets tie the Phillies. Chad Qualls would allow the Mets to take the lead on an unearned run and from then on, things would just get worse. The Mets would turn a one-run game into a three-run game with two runs off of Michael Schwimer in the top of the ninth inning, all but eliminating the Phillies hopes of a comeback.
This pattern of losing late is possibly the worst thing that could happen to the Phillies. Everyone expected their offense to be pedestrian and everybody knew that their pitching would have to carry them when they were able to score runs. But when late losses like this one hold the Phillies’ offense back, there is very little that can be done to win. These games are not just missed opportunities for wins, they are missed opportunities to start a win streak, or to raise the team’s confidence. Instead, the Phillies relievers– and occasionally their starters– have just crushed any possible momentum the the Phillies’ hitters have taken so long to build.
If the Phillies are swept by the Mets at home, there will be a serious problem. But if the Phillies get swept by the Mets at home because of bad relieving in three straight games, well then it may just be impossible to win any momentum back.