Phils Still Hard to Figure by Jeff Lyons
I still can't get a handle on the Phillies, even 144 games into the season. They're 1.5 games behind the Mets for the National League East lead and 3 games behind the Brewers for the wild card. And I have no freaking clue what's going to happen.
The Phils had a chance to pull even with the Mets on Sunday night, but Cole Hamels was very un-Hamels like and got smacked around a little bit. Never has taking two out of three from the Mets felt so empty. Instead of being tied for the division lead, they left New York in second place.
The offense has been maddeningly inconsistent since June 13, the night the Phillies obliterated the Cardinals, 20-2. Jimmy Rollins is finally playing like last year's MVP after scuffling for most of the season. Chase Utley has warmed up again after six weeks of mediocrity. Pat Burrell, who carried the team in the first half of the season, has been benched because of a prolonged slump. And even though Ryan Howard leads the National League in home runs and RBIs, he's hitting just .239 and he's struck out 186 times. The Phillies Forrest Gump "box of chocolates" offense is too unpredictable to count on. But starting pitchers Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers and Hamels have kept the team in the race to this point. Moyer, 45, has been remarkable, dazzling and confounding hitters with "fastballs" clocked in the low 80-mph range as well as change-ups and breaking pitches. Myers is a different pitcher since his return from baseball's Elba. He's won each of his last four starts, including 8 brilliant shutout innings against the Mets on Friday. In those starts, he's allowed just two runs and struck out 35 in 31 innings. The bullpen has shown cracks lately, but closer Brad Lidge has yet to blow a save this season. And the Phillies have not lost a game this year that they have led after 8 innings.
So what's going to happen? Your guess is as good as mine. They have two more games with the Marlins this week and then host the Brewers for four over the weekend. Then they hit the road for series against the Braves and Marlins before closing out the season at home against the Braves and Nationals. Realistically, the Phillies should be able to win at least 12 of these games. They've handled the Braves all season and the Nationals are just terrible. Meanwhile, the Mets have six games left with the Nationals, six with Atlanta, four with the National League leading Cubs and three with the Marlins. My prediction? The Phils and Mets finish the season tied with 91 wins and slug it out in a one-game playoff for the division crown. After that, my crystal ball gets fuzzy.
Jeff Lyons, senior managing editor of the Philadelphia Bar Reporter and Bar Reporter Online, is a fanatical Philadelphia sports fan. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.