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Friday, August 18, 2006

Mets - Phillies Series Recap 

Back on August 3 I said that this week’s Mets – Phillies series would either make or break the Phillies season. Well, it certainly didn’t break it. Thanks to some inspired pitching the Phillies improved their standings with the series (for the most part) and made real improvement towards making the playoffs.

Here is a quick recap of the series…

Monday Night. Phillies 13, Mets 0.

No Bobby Abreu, No Pat Burrell, No problem. Perhaps the most impressive Phillies victory I have seen this season and perhaps last season as well. The Phillies score six runs in the first inning and drive Pedro Martinez from the mound in the second-shortest start of his career (Pedro did two-thirds of an inning back in ’95). Aside from Cole Hamels, every Phillie in the starting lineup scores a run. Even the weak-hitting Abraham Nunez, David Bell’s successor at third base, goes 2-for-4, with a run scored and three RBIs. Jimmy Rollins has the most impressive night at the plate, going 3-for-3 with two walks, three runs scored and three RBIs.

But the star of the evening was Cole Hamels. Up against the best offense in the National League, pitted against the Cy Young Award winning Martinez, Cole Hamels hurled a masterful game, scattering four hits over eight innings, striking out nine batters and not allowing a walk. Earlier in the week I compared Hamels performance to Roger Clemens or Curt Schilling. Let’s compare it to Steve Carlton. That was a dynamic performance. The Mets Big Three of Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and David Wright go 1-for-8, No Walks, No RBIs, and Delgado and Beltran are lifted from the game when it became a lost-cause.

So at the end of the evening the Phillies had improved their position:

NL East: W-L (Games Behind)
1. Mets: 71-46
2. Phillies: 57-60 (14)
3. Braves: 55-62 (16)
4. Marlins: 55-63 (16.5)
5. Nats: 51-67 (20.5)

But more importantly, they stayed in the wildcard mix:

NL Wildcard
1. Reds: 61-57
2. Padres: 60-58 (1)
3. D-Backs: 59-59 (2)
4. Rockies: 58-60 (3)
5. Phillies: 57-60 (3.5)

Tuesday Night. Phillies 11, Mets 4.

The Phillies jump out to an impressive 11-2 lead by the end of the fourth inning on the strength of home runs by Shane Victorino and David Dellucci. It was an impressive night for the Phillies offense, which got thirteen hits and drew six walks. Aside from Aaron Rowand, who went 0-for-4 with a sacrifice fly, all of the Phillies starters managed to get a hit. Even Randy Wolf went 2-for-2 with a double and two RBIs.

Aside from Jose Reyes hitting three home runs and driving in four runs, the Mets were once again throttled by the Phillies supposedly inferior pitching. The Big Three of Beltran, Delgado and Wright went 0-for-9 with two walks, no RBIs and no runs scored. In the two games the Big Three were 1-for-17 with no runs or RBIs.

Randy Wolf pitched a sterling game, allowing just two home runs to Jose Reyes, while scattering a total of four hits over seven innings of work. It was Wolf’s first decision of the year and just the fourth time he pitched in 2006. The Phillies played terrific defense as well, turning three double plays and converting 22 of the 26 balls put into play into outs.

The end of the day found that the Phillies had cut the Mets advantage to thirteen games:

NL East: W-L (Games Behind)
1. Mets: 71-47
2. Phillies: 58-60 (13)
3. Braves: 55-63 (16)
4. Marlins: 55-64 (16.5)
5. Nats: 52-67 (19.5)

But more importantly, the Phillies made up some ground in the wildcard race:

NL Wildcard
1. Reds: 61-58
2. Padres: 60-59 (1)
3. D-Backs: 60-59 (1)
4. Phillies: 58-60 (2.5)
5. Rockies: 58-61 (3)

Wednesday Night. Phillies 3, Mets 0.

Another spectacular performance from the Phillies much maligned pitching staff. Jon Lieber was the star of the evening, hurling a complete-game shutout, scattering just five singles in nine innings. Impressively Lieber struck out four Mets and didn’t walk a single batter. Lieber managed to retire the Mets with just 91 pitches, 65 of which were strikes (in contrast the Mets Tom Glavine threw 114 pitches in seven innings and just 69 were strikes). The performance was the type that I personally expected Lieber to make when he signed with the Phillies prior to last season: he controlled his pitches well, kept “cheap” base-runners (i.e., bases on balls) off the base-paths and threw ground balls. Of the nineteen balls put into play by the Mets, eleven were grounders. That reliance on the fielders and that pin-point control of the strike zone were the reasons why the Phillies signed Lieber and took a chance on him. It was a spectacular performance.

The Phillies mustered just three runs, but they were enough. The star of the night, after Lieber, was the 33-year old rookie Coste, who went 3-for-3 with 2 RBI and a run scored.

The loss continued to shrink the Phillies deficit in the NL East race. Prior to Monday’s game it was fifteen games. Now it was down to twelve.

NL East: W-L (Games Behind)
1. Mets: 71-48
2. Phillies: 59-60 (12)
3. Marlins: 56-64 (15.5)
4. Braves: 55-64 (16)
5. Nats: 53-67 (18.5)

The wildcard race unfortunately didn’t get tighter because the Reds defeated the slumping St. Louis Cardinals 7-2. So the Phillies stay in fourth, two and a half games back:

NL Wildcard
1. Reds: 62-58
2. D-Backs: 61-59 (1)
3. Padres: 60-60 (2)
4. Phillies: 59-60 (2.5)
5. Rockies: 58-62 (4)

Thursday Afternoon. Mets 7, Phillies 2.

After performing so well in the first three games of the series, the Phillies starting pitching finally broke down. Scott Mathieson was shelled for six runs in just four innings of work. It was a depressing end to what had been a terrific run by the Phillies pitching staff, which had surrendered just two runs in the previous twenty-seven innings (0.67 ERA). In contrast the Mets, John Maine held the Phillies in check, surrendering just two runs.

The Mets were able to rebound and win the game because their Big Three of Delgado, Beltran and Wright finally hit, going 7-for-13 with five RBIs. Delgado hit two home runs and a triple, while Beltran added a home run and a double. Here is how the Big Three did in the series:

Games 1-3: 3-for-28 (.107 BA), 2 walks, no runs, no RBIs, no extra-base hits
Game 4: 7-for-13 (.538), four runs, five RBIs, five extra-base hits

Despite hitting six home runs in the series the Mets managed to score just eleven runs.

The upshot of the final game moved the Phillies back a little:

NL East: W-L (Games Behind)
1. Mets: 72-48
2. Phillies: 59-61 (13)
3. Marlins: 56-64 (16)
4. Braves: 56-64 (16)
5. Nats: 53-68 (19.5)

They also squandered a chance to make up ground on the Reds, who lost to the Cardinals 2-1 yesterday:

NL Wildcard
1. Reds: 62-59
2. D-Backs: 61-60 (1)
3. Padres: 60-61 (2)
4. Phillies: 59-61 (2.5)
5. Rockies: 59-62 (3)

In the final analysis, it must be said that the series was a major victory for the Phils. They moved closer to the Mets and made up a little ground in the wildcard race, but more importantly they showed that they can beat the Mets, and that their starting pitching can be pretty good. Let’s see if they can carry this success into this weekend’s series with the Nats. See everyone Monday.

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