Series win over Rockies not enough to prove Phillies are contenders

Posted: June 23, 2012

The modicum of momentum the Phillies had built with consecutive wins over the Colorado Rockies faded away Thursday night in the exhausting heat at Citizens Bank Park.

Their two-game winning streak ended because the offense against the pitching-challenged Colorado Rockies started and ended with a leadoff home run by Jimmy Rollins in the bottom of the first inning.

By the end of the 4-1 defeat against the wretched Rockies, more sounds of growing displeasure were cascading down on Rollins and many of his teammates.

One run was not enough to support starter Vance Worley on a night when he allowed only two runs in seven innings, with both coming on one swing by Colorado second baseman Chris Nelson. And it certainly was not enough to compensate for a bullpen that has far too many hold-your-breath relievers.

One of them, rookie righthander Michael Schwimer, sealed the Phillies' fate by surrendering a two-run home run to catcher Wilin Rosario in the top of the ninth inning.

"Of course we won the series, but this game right here would have been a real good one for us to win," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "We didn't get it done, so we have to come back out tomorrow with the outlook that we're going to win that game."

Even if the Phillies had completed a three-game sweep, it would not have proven that they had started a climb back toward the top of the National League East standings. It would not have provided any kind of statement for a team whose trademark has been maddening inconsistency.

The only way to prove you are good is by beating the best teams, and the Phillies have rarely done that this season.

In fact, they will go into Friday night's game against the talented Tampa Bay Rays with an 11-26 record against teams with winning records. They are 2-10 in series against winning teams and 2-7 against American League East teams.

The Rays provide a valuable measuring stick for the Phillies for that reason and one other.

"They've got tremendous pitching," Manuel said. "People talk about their pitching quite a bit, but it still might be a little underrated."

The Rays, in fact, have the fifth-best team ERA in baseball and the second best in the American League at 3.46.

A year ago, that would not have mattered. Regardless of how good the opposing staff was in any particular series, you knew in almost every instance that it was not as good as what the Phillies would be sending to the mound.

It's a new year, and that's no longer the case.

The Rays, for example, will throw James Shields, Alex Cobb, and David Price during this weekend series. That's three pitchers with earned run averages of 3.82 or lower.

The Phillies have faced 31 pitchers this season that had a 3.82 ERA or lower before Thursday's games. Their record in those games is 10-21. They have scored three or fewer runs in 16 of those 31 games.

That's not a sin or the root of the Phillies' biggest problem. The problem is that the Phils are 1-15 when they score three or fewer runs against the guys with ERAs of 3.82 or lower.

A year ago, the Phillies scored three or fewer runs 77 times, or in nearly half their games. They won those games 30 times. When they scored more than three, they were 72-13.

That's what the best pitching staff in baseball will do for you.

For the last three days against the lowly Rockies, the Phillies had the superior pitching staff and still won only two of three. Jeff Francis, the starter who held them to one run Thursday, had allowed 12 runs and 18 hits in 82/3 innings during his first two starts.

For the final seven games of this homestand, against the Rays and Pirates, the Phillies will send the second-best pitching staff to the mound.

At least that's the case as the calendar closes in on the Fourth of July.

Winless Cliff Lee (0-3, 3.48 ERA) goes against Shields (7-4, 3.72) in Friday's series opener, struggling Kyle Kendrick (2-7, 5.29) pitches against Cobb (3-3, 3.82) Saturday, and 2012 ace Cole Hamels (10-3, 3.25) goes against Price (9-4, 3.08) in the series finale Sunday.

Even if the Phillies win the starting-pitching battles against the Rays and Pirates, they could easily lose the game in the late innings. Both opponents have strong bullpens. The Rays' bullpen ERA is 3.25. The Pirates' bullpen ERA is 2.77, second best in the National League.

The Phillies, on the other hand, have closer Jonathan Papelbon and a lot of reasons for concern.

Tampa Bay is in town, and four years ago the Phillies beat the Rays in the World Series. Now, the Phillies need to win this series just to prove they might be good again.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @brookob.

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