The Phillies have done a remarkable job making up ground in the National League wild card race over the last week. Their seven-game winning streak, combined with losing streaks by St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, have allowed the once-dead Phils to suddenly start believing again.
Well, that was nice while it lasted.
Thursday night’s 6-4 loss to the pathetically awful Astros in Houston proves just how difficult the task before the Phillies really is. There is almost no room for error. And last night, the Phils wasted one of the few bullets they have left.
This four game series against the 46-98 Astros is an opportunity to bank some victories against a putrid opponent. A sweep would not have been an unreasonable expectation, not against a team just two games away from 100 losses.
But things did not get off to a good start on Thursday.
Both the offense and the much-improved bullpen deserves blame for this one. The Phillies jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead against Houston starter Lucas Harrell, giving Tyler Cloyd a nice cushion in the third. And a four run lead against an offense as brutal as the Astros’ should have been more than enough.
Apparently, the Phils’ offense felt the same way. They left 11 men on base while going just 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
Even against a team that stinks as bad as the Astros, it’s important to continue to add on runs and step on their necks.
Unfortunately, rookie hurler Tyler Cloyd didn’t know what to do with such good fortune and allowed the Astros to wiggle out of their predicament. He gave three of those runs right back in the fourth, failing to record even a single out in that frame. That forced Charlie Manuel to turn the game over to the ‘pen which, a month ago, would have been a death sentence against any team, including Houston.
But for four innings, the bullpen did their job, holding the Astros scoreless thanks to two innings from B.J. Rosenberg, an inning from Josh Lindblom and another encouraging outing from Antonio Bastardo.
However, as it has all season, the eighth inning was their undoing.
Phillippe Aumont, who had been so brilliant since his call-up two weeks ago, simply ran out of gas. The young right-hander gave up two walks and hit a batter, leaving with two outs and the bases loaded. That brought on Jake Diekman to face left-hander Jed Lowrie, who laced a two-run double to center that put the Astros in front to stay.
However, it would be wrong to get too mad at Aumont and the bullpen. It was the third straight day for the frenchman on the mound, and even though the kid has been terrific, he’s still a rookie who has less than a dozen Major League games under his belt.
“He looked out of gas,” Manuel said. “He’s the guy we wanted, but the more he stayed out there you could see he didn’t have the stuff he had [Wednesday].”
For his part, Aumont faced the media like a man.
“I had to step up. I felt a little more tired than other days, but I have to be prepared for that. This is something I have to learn from.”
Learning. That’s what this month was supposed to be about. But circumstances have changed all that.
Unfortunately, this is what happens when you enter the playoff picture at the 11th hour. There is simply no room for error. And a loss against a gimme team full of ham-and-eggers like the Houston Astros is especially crushing, because they’re essentially a AAA team wearing Major League uniforms.
With the loss, the Phillies are now four games back of St. Louis, who beat the Dodgers Thursday night 2-1. The Dodgers are now two games back, with Pittsburgh three back and the Brewers now ahead of the Phils in the standings, 3 1/2 behind the Cardinals.
There are now just 18 games left.
And if the Phils do end up missing out on the playoffs by one game, they’ll probably look back at this loss to the Astros as the one that got away.
Where It All Went Wrong
When Jake Diekman gave up the game-changing two-run double to Jed Lowrie, Houston’s most “experienced” player. He’s 28 and is in his fifth Major League season. That tells you all you need to know about the peach fuzz-sporting cast of characters currently making up this Houston roster. Most of them just learned to drive.
Most Attractive Play
Jimmy Rollins stealing the 400th base of his career. It was a great hustle play, completely catching the Astros napping, displaying awareness and, dare I say it, hustle. It’s also a nice, round number, and we all know how much Hall of Fame voters like nice, round numbers!
Rosenberg, Lindblom and Bastardo, who pitched four innings of scoreless baseball, preserving the Phils’ one-run lead… at least until…
…Aumont and Diekman entered, blowing another eighth inning lead. But like I said before, cut these guys some slack. This was never supposed to be a post-season run. This was supposed to be a 2013 audition, and young pitchers are going to have their growing pains. On the whole, these two guys have a ton of promise and will have more good nights than bad before all is said and done.