Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Florida Marlins marked the seventh time in 114 games that the 2008 Phillies had been kept off the scoreboard, one more than in the previous two seasons combined. Perhaps an even more damning indicator of the team's offensive futility was that the game marked the tenth time in 24 starts by ace Cole Hamels that the Phils scored two runs or fewer. Consider it another data point supporting the argument that even if the team hangs on to win the supremely mediocre NL East--not an unlikely prospect, given the weaknesses of the Marlins and New York Mets--they're likely to make another quick October exit when the opposition sends top-quality pitchers to the mound not one or two days out of five, but every day.
Earlier this week, I took a look at how the Phillies have fared against some of the National League's best starters this season. I say "some," because I limited the analysis to top-20 ERA qualifiers at the time (Tuesday night) that I was taking the look. So just-arrived young guns like Chris Volstad, who blanked them yesterday, aren't included, nor are pitchers who might have top quality stuff but lack the ERA to qualify--thus, no Oliver Perez, even though he's throttled the Phillies like no one else in 2008. I also didn't include the AL aces they faced during that horrific experience known as interleague play, mostly because I didn't want to think about it ever again.
Overall, the news isn't good. In 18 starts against top-20 ERA qualifiers, the team won 8 and lost 10. Opponents threw 12 quality starts (at least 6 innings pitched, no more than 3 earned runs) against the Phils, and as it happened, none of them were the bare-minimum quality start; the worst performance of the dozen was a seven-inning, three-run outing by Johan Santana in April. Of the six non-quality starts, two were games in which the starter was effective but lifted before finishing six (the last time the Phils faced Kyle Lohse was one), one was a seven-inning, four-run performance (Jair Jurrjens); one was against John Lannan, probably the least accomplished pitcher on the list; one was against Ubaldo Jimenez early in the season, before the young Rockie hurler had found his game, and one was valid: a five-run showing in six innings against Carlos Zambrano, way back in April.
Six more top-20 qualifiers haven't yet faced the Phillies in 2008: Jake Peavy, Dan Haren, Ryan Dempster, Chad Billingsley, Ben Sheets, and Aaron Cook. The Phils won't see Haren or Cook, but are likely to face the rest before the season ends in September. If you're betting those games, take the under. Bolded dates indicate a quality start, the score is the Phils' runs first, all runs allowed are earned unless otherwise noted, and the rest should be self-explanatory.
|Tim Lincecum||May 4, 6-5: ND, 6 IP, 6 hits, 4 R/0ER, 2 BB, 5 K|
|May 10, 2-8: W, 8 IP, 4 hits, 2 R, BB, 8 K, 2 HR|
|Carlos Zambrano||April 11, 5-3: L, 6 IP, 9 hits, 5 R, BB, 6 K, HR|
|Johan Santana||April 18, 4-6: W, 7 IP, 4 hits, 3 R, 0 BB, 10 K, HR|
|July 4, 3-2: ND, 8 IP, 6 hits, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K|
|July 22, 8-6: ND, 8 IP, 8 hits, 2 R, 0 BB, 4 K, HR|
|Brandon Webb||May 8, 3-8: W, 9 IP, 6 hits, 3 R/2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K,|
|July 13, 6-3: ND, 7 IP, 7 hits, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K,|
|Edison Volquez||April 6, 2-8: W, 5.1 IP, 5 hits, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 K|
|June 4, 0-2: W, 7 IP, 2 hits, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K|
|Jair Jurrjens||July 3, 4-1: L, 7 IP, 8 hits, 4 R, BB, 6 K, 3 HR|
|July 25, 2-8: W, 8 IP, 3 hits, 0 R, BB, 6 K|
|Tim Hudson||June 6, 4-3: ND, 7.2 IP, 5 hits, R, 4 BB, 3 K|
|John Lannan||July 31, 8-4: L, 5.2 IP, 9 hits, 8 R/6 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 2 HR|
|Matt Cain||May 3, 2-3: ND, 7 IP, 3 hits, 2 R, BB, 8 K, 2 HR|
|Ubaldo Jimenez||May 27, 7-4: L, 4 IP, 10 hits, 7 R, 2 BB, 4 K|
|Kyle Lohse||June 14, 2-3: W, 8 IP, 4 hits, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 K, HR|
|Aug. 1, 3-6: W, 5.1 IP, 5 hits, 3 R, 3 BB, 6 K, HR|
In these 18 games, opposing starters pitched 124 innings and surrendered 44 earned runs, for a collective ERA of 3.19. That's enough of an indictment of the Phils' offensive futility against the league's best--but if you take out the starts by Lannan and Jimenez, neither of whom they're going to see this October, that ERA falls to 2.44.
Perhaps even more disturbing is that the supposedly patient Phillies hitters have drawn just 25 walks in these eighteen games--and none in the five times they faced Santana and Webb. When a team sees a great starter, they often will try to work deep counts in hopes of getting the pitcher out of the game sooner and rallying against the bullpen. Indeed, the Phillies did this twice against Santana in July, accounting for two of the seven leads the Mets ace has seen his bullpen blow for him. But he pitched eight both times, suggesting that the outcome was more luck and the ineptitude of the relievers who followed him than good work on the part of the Phils' lineup.
It gets harder from here. They'll likely see Santana for a fourth time toward the end of August, both Zambrano and Rich Harden (one of those AL pitchers who throttled them earlier this season, now with the Cubs) in Chicago immediately thereafter, and at least one and probably both of Sheets and CC Sabathia when facing Milwaukee in September. If the Phillies don't figure out some way to put up runs against the NL's best pitchers between now and the end of the season, they might not have to worry about the same question come October.