Saturday, October 8, 2011

Good Grief

I suppose there's two positive things to take out of last night's Phillies/ Cardinals game:

1. Ryan Howard didn't become the second player in history to end two straight postseasons for his team with a strikeout (Alex Rodriguez became the first Thursday night).

2. This Phillies grounded out to short with such clockwork precision, inning after inning, that the game moved along at a rapid pace, meaning we all got our misery out of the way at a relatively decent hour.

And that's about it, as the Phillies, the best team in baseball all summer, laid down and died as meekly as a mouse.  If you only watched the first two batters of the game, you literally saw all you needed to see, as the the game's only run was scored in the first five minutes.  Roy Halliday settled into the game rather nicely after that, getting out of a jam to hold the Cardinals to only that one run, and really only allowing one other scoring threat, in the top of the eighth, when the Cardinals loaded the bases with one out.  But Chris Carpenter totally mastered the Phillies' "hitters", with shocking ease.  The Phillies managed one threat all night, when they put men on first and third with two outs.  Raul Ibanez, hopefully playing his last game as a Phillie, seemingly changed the narrative with a deep drive to right field, but it died on the warning track.  Chase Utley would duplicate Ibanez' near-heroics with a deep drive off the first pitch in the ninth, and Carpenter cruised to a humiliating shutout.

I think we all know by now that the only reason the Cardinals are even in the playoffs is because the Phillies swept the collapsing Atlanta Braves to end the season.  So, in a way, the Phillies scripted their own doom by opening a door for a much more powerful team.  But that shouldn't have mattered, as this Phillies team- built around postseason baseball's most precious commodity, starting pitching- was supposed to roll over anyone in their way.  But this series exposed fully the Phillies' aging lineup, and so-so starts by Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt were too much to overcome.

What to make of Ryan Howard?  In the first two games of the series, when he collected his only two hits, he looked locked in, ready to carry the team on his back.  And then... I don't even know.  Just an utter, baffling collapse.  Howard's playoff struggles have always come about because of his vulnerability to lefthanded pitching, but in these last three games the Cardinals didn't even need to bother forcing lefty/lefty matchups.  I've long thought Howard was underappreciated, with his great crime being essentially not being Albert Pujols, but what is there to say after this?

Going into the season, I had a bad feeling about this Phillies team, overreliant as it was on an aging core.  But the Phillies cruised to 100 wins, and the World Series was theirs to loose.  Well, it's lost.  It should be noted that, in the last four seasons, the Phillies have gone from winning the World Series to loosing in their return, to loosing in the NLCS, to losing now in the Division Round.  If this pattern of attrition continues, well, we won't be seeing them in the playoffs at all next year. 

Okay, Andy Reid, Michael Vick: the ball's in your court.  We need a pick-me-up.  Man, we're really screwed, aren't we?

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