As the Phillies try to decide if they will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, the team took a step back on the field last night, losing to the Nationals 5-1 in one of those spirit-less, lifeless games that have come to mark much of the first half of the season.
With ace Cliff Lee on the mound, the Phils were unable to reach the .500 mark last night, continuing their ongoing dance with mediocrity. And just like that, the air was sucked out of a stadium and fanbase that was as juiced as it has been at any time during their five-year playoff run.
Lee gave up four home runs, all solo shots, to Anthony Rendon, Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, in 7 innings of work. Lee’s propensity to throw strikes appeared to hurt him in this game as well.
From @ESPNStatsInfo – Cliff Lee threw 74 strikes in 86 pitches tonight (84.2 pct.) — 2nd highest pct of strikes by any starter since 2000!
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 11, 2013
And Lee, who has avoided the longball for most of this season, saw a few of those pitches over the strike zone leave the ballpark.
Cliff Lee gave up 9 HRs in first 135.2 IP this season and 4 in last 8 batters.
— Rob Maaddi (@RobMaaddi) July 11, 2013
Is it possible Lee threw too many strikes? Is it possible hitters were hacking away, knowing the ball would be in the hitter’s zone for pretty much every pitch?
“No, not really,” Lee said. “Occasionally, it can look that way. But over the course of the season, if you are throwing strikes, good things are going to happen. It is my job as a starting pitcher to throw strikes and keep the defense on their toes. That’s what I did tonight. That’s the best I’ve done in a while. They weren’t just strikes, but I thought they were quality strikes. But they got some decent swings on some decent pitches and hit them well enough to get them out of here.” – quote per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki
So yeah, shut up about all those strikes, losers!
The offense, which had been so much better the last couple of weeks (averaging 5.29 runs per game since June 24, 7th in baseball), went silent against Nats starter Gio Gonzalez, with the their lone run coming thanks to a solo homer by Darin Ruf off Gonzelz in the 7th. The Phils had a chance to at least tie the game later that inning, but Ben Revere flied out to left with runners on first and second with two out.
Thanks to an Atlanta loss on Wednesday, the Phillies remain 7 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East. And at 45-47, the Phillies are now 3-9 in games in which they could reach the .500 mark.
Mount .500 has some tricky foot-holds.
The Phillies will try to win the series against the Nationals on Thursday behind Kyle Kendrick, who has a 4.26 ERA in two starts against Washington so far this year. The Phils will face the Nats’ best pitcher, Jordan Zimmerman, who comes into the series finale with a 2.57 ERA.
Where It All Went Wrong
When Ryan Zimmerman hit his solo homer off Lee in the 6th. The Phils were down 2-0 and had gotten a few opportunities to push a run across the plate. Zimmerman’s home run, followed immediately by Werth’s dinger, put the game out of reach.
Darin Ruf, who clubbed his first home run of the season to the opposite field on a pitch on the outer-half of the plate. It was good to see the man who is replacing Ryan Howard knock one out of the park. Ruf should be a dangerous hitter against left-handed pitching moving forward.
Gio Gonzalez, who was effectively wild last night and absolutely owned Ben Revere. Twice Revere had two runners on base and two out and twice Gio got Revere out to end the threats.