By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
The Phillies are hoping this current run of wins will be the start of more consistent winning streak that will get them on track for contending for another National League East crown.
But even though they’ve won four out of their last five games against a couple of bad teams, the Philies still have issues they need to fix if they’re going to keep this run of wins going.
Though the Phillies ended this last home stand with a walk-off homerun by Hunter Pence to beat the Houston Astros 4-3 in 10 innings, it probably shouldn’t have come to that point. Instead of bringing in Jonathan Papelbon to close out the game, Chad Qualls came into the game and gave up two runs to tie it at 3-3, ruining starting pitcher Cliff Lee’s best effort of the season.
The reason you didn’t see Papelbon in the game to close it was that he was in the game night before in a 5-1 win over the Astros. That led folks to asking why w ould use your best reliever in a game four-run game.
Manuel’s initial explanation was that Papelbon already warm and Antonio Bastardo had pitched in three straight games. Qualls, oddly enough, was pitching in his fourth game out of the last five games. Bastardo was unavailable for Tuesday’s game.
It might have been better to pitch Qualls in Monday’s game where you had a four-run lead. But of course, if Qualls blows the lead in that game, then folks would have been saying Manuel should have brought in Papelbon.
But later in the postgame press conference when Manuel was asked a question about Citizen’s Bank Park being such an easy place to hit homeruns, he modified his answer on Papelbon being in the game with a four-run lead by talking about how it easy it is to hit homeruns in places like the Phillies homefield.
“A four-run lead is not what you call a big, safe lead,” Manuel said. “If he’s rested and he can throw sometimes, it might be best to use him. If you play in Colorado and I used to managed in Colorado Springs, I used to look at a five-run lead like it was two or three. That’s exactly how I looked at it and believe me you better be prepared for some of that.”
The bottom line to all of this is that the Phillies bullpen is woefully inconsistent no matter how you, I or anyone else would have called it.. Still, I probably would have pitched Qualls in the four-run win over the Astros that Monday night. Papelbon had pitched in four straight games and I’m sure Manuel didn’t trust Jose Contreras, who has been struggling in his first games back from an injury.
I would have erred on resting Papelbon when I had a four-run lead and then bringing him back the next day if I needed him. But again, if Qualls blows a four-run lead, the manager would have also received a heavy dose of second-guessing and criticism.
Luckily, for the Phillies, rookie Jake Diekman saved the day for the Phillies by getting the last out in the ninth and retiring the Astros in order in the 10th . They should probably use that guy more often or at least until the rest of the league figures him out
On the flip side of the coin, the Phillies struggling offense, sans Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, have done a poor job of putting teams away when they’ve had opportunities. Tuesday’s win over the Astros was a good case in point. If they could have scored more runs, we are not having this discussion about the bullpen.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies had two men on first and third with no outs. Pence, who was on third was thrown out at the plate after John Mayberry Jr. hit a grounder to the third baseman. Why Pence tried to score in that situation is beyond me. The inning ended with Freddy Galvis flying out and Brian Schneider grounding out to the first baseman with the pitcher covering first.
“We need to pick up those hits with two outs and add on, not just be complacent with three or four runs,” Schneider said. “We have to get those hits and make it a four or five-run lead. We have to do that to be successful.”