By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA–With the Phillies still occupying the National League East cellar at 16-19, you have to figure that it’s a matter of time(remember it’s only May) for the team to put together a streak of games to put themselves back in the pennant race.
You know they have the starting pitching, but it’s going to be consistent hitting and their bullpen that’s going to move them up the standings.
After a horrendous sweep by the New York Mets earlier this week, the Phillies bounced back to win the series against a hapless San Diego Padres squad that they should have swept. Sunday’s 3-2 win was a grinder of a victory where the Phillies took advantage of enough scoring opportunities to put them over the top.
“Everytime you win a series, you’re doing your job,” said Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who led off the game with his 38th career lead-off home run. “Definitely, you like to bring some sweeps in, get on a roll where you win about five or six games in a row before you lose a game, but we haven’t done that yet.
“Win two out of three or three out of four in a four-game series is what’s going to be important is to keep moving up the win column one game at a time. In the second half of the season, you’ll find yourself in it.”
What’s hurt this team so far is not taking advantage of opportunities to get runs when they have runners in scoring position. In Saturday’s 2-1 loss, the Phillies were 1-for-12 with runners on second or third base. In the win on Sunday, the Phillies weren’t much better, they were 2-for-11 with runners in position to score.
“It’s definitely been that way so far, but we can always s change that with one swing of the bat,” Rollins said. “Not getting hits with runners in scoring position, not driving the guy with the runner on third with less than two outs. All those are showing up that in the past that we’ve been able to get away with, but don’t worry about we’ll get it next time.
“But we haven’t been getting that next time. I said at the beginning of the season, if we execute we’ll win. We haven’t been executing.”
Meanwhile, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is not only concerned about his hitters not taking advantage of opportunities to score, but he also wants bullpen, especially his middle relievers and set-up men to hang onto leads in the late innings, something they did a poor job of doing in the series against the Mets in the first three games of this homestand.
The goal for the Phillies bullpen is to get to closer Jonathan Papelbon on the mound to seal the victory. So far, this season, the former Boston Red Sox closer is 10-for-10 in save opportunities for the Phils.
“Somehow, some way when we’ve got the lead, we have to get to Papelbon,” Manuel said. “I think everybody in baseball knows that. We’ve got to improve in our bullpen. We have to do better.”
If the Phillies offense can give their starting rotation the kind of run support that they’ve given Cole Hamels (5-1), that would certainly help them get back on track. In his first start since his suspension, Hamels allowed just one earned run with five strikeouts in seven innings.
“It’s nice to get some runs and obviously when you get runs, you can win,” Hamels said. “If I go out there and battle, I can pitch deep into the game, we can win games. It’s helpful to go out there and know that you’re team is going to come through.”
While the Phillies obviously want to jump start the season and start winning games, there are still players on this team with enough experience to recognize that now it’s not the time to panic.Juan Pierre, who played for the then Florida Marlins team that won a World Series in 2003, said it’s something that he has been through before with other teams.
“If you stay around .500 in August, you’ll have a chance to win,” said Pierre, who RBI double driving home catcher Brian Schneider turned out to be the game-winning run. “I’ve been on teams like that and we’ve ended up winning the World Series. I know a 102-win season is good and dandy, but this is real life baseball, that don’t come around too often. You usually gotta battle and bust your butt. That’s the teams that I’ve been on.”