Aug 26, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee (33) delivers to the plate during the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Phils Sweep Nats, Close To Within Just 16 1/2 Games

The Phillies came into their weekend series against the first place Washington Nationals trying to make up ground in the NL East. And with a sweep of the Nats, they’ve done just that.

They now trail Washington by just 16 1/2 games, as the Phils attempt to win their sixth straight NL East crown.

Wait, why are you laughing? Oh yes, I see. 16 1/2 games. Yes, you’re right. That does seem like a lot.

Still, with their sweep of Washington, the Phillies have at least shown a pulse in the wild card race. They trail the final spot, currently held by the St. Louis Cardinals, by 9 1/2 games. At 61-67, it would still take a miracle run and an epic collapse by a host of other teams, including St. Louis, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Arizona.

OK, maybe it’s not a pulse as much as it is a murmur.

It’s not hard to imagine Arizona and Pittsburgh falling apart. But the Dodgers have suddenly become the second mega-power of the National League and St. Louis is the defending champ. Neither are likely to fall out of the race.

Still, the last four games, all wins, have been encouraging. The Phillies got decent starting pitching from Kyle Kendrick on Friday and Roy Halladay on Saturday, followed up with solid bullpen work. In fact, the work of the bullpen on Friday and Saturday is an indication of just how important a good bullpen is to winning games consistently. It’s the difference between being six games under .500 and being 10 games over.

And on Sunday, the Phils finally had a Cliff Lee start go according to formula. The lefty pitched seven innings of brilliant baseball, giving up just one earned run on seven hits, earning just his third win of the season and his first at Citizens Bank Park in almost a year. And once again, the Phils got brilliant relief work, this time by Jeremy Horst, who got the first out of the eighth, and Josh Lindblom, who pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief for his first save of the season.

Yes, you heard right. Josh Lindblom did something good.

If only the Phillies had gotten this kind of relief work all season long. We’d be talking about a much different season.

Offensively, Lee helped his own cause with an RBI double that gave the Phils a 1-0 lead. Jimmy Rollins had a two-run homer to put the Phillies up 3-0 and Laynce Nix finished up the Phils’ scoring with a solo shot of his own.

The Phillies scored four runs in each game of their weekend series against the Nats, who have something of a terrific pitching staff. It wasn’t a ton of runs, but with the outstanding pitching by the starters and stalwart work by the bullpen, it made Phils fans forget, for a weekend at least, that this is a team that can be decent if all the right pieces fall into place once in a while.

Where It All Went Right

When Cliff Lee managed to hold onto 1-0, 3-0 and 4-0 leads. Lee, with a combination of bad luck, no offensive support and poor location, has had trouble holding or maintaining leads this year. And of course there was that whole blowing a 4-0 lead in Game 2 of the NLDS last year against the Cardinals that people vaguely remember. So it was nice to see him pitch so effectively against a first place club, earning himself a much-needed win in the process.

Most Attractive Play

There were two, both embarrassing to the Nationals. Which means they were both… AWESOME. First there was Adam LaRoche’s non-home run that confused the heck out of everybody, resulting in LaRoche getting tagged out between second and third. His gaffe killed what could have been a big Nats rally.

The second was Bryce Harper falling on his rear end after being thrown out at first base. Boy, all this guy wants is attention, huh? I’ve never seen a .250 hitter generate so much interest. Hey Bryce, how about some more eye black?

Hero

Cliff Lee. What, you were expecting Michael Martinez?

Villain

Jayson Werth, because he left the Phillies a year and a half ago as a free agent to sign a $426 jillion dollar contract with the Nationals. Clearly, he hates the Phillies and every fan who ever rooted for him, so he should be booed mercilessly every time he takes the field in Philadelphia. I never liked him. Neither did you, right?

Tags: Philadelphia Phillies Posted

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