It’s come to this

Roy Halladay gets the start tonight as the Phillies begin a crucial three-game series against the division leading Braves.

Ah, April. The beginning of spring and baseball season. It held so much promise for our Fightin’ Phils. The fans invaded Nats Park to see the team’s newly acquired ace, Roy Halladay, open the season by stymieing the Nationals in an 11-1 rout. The newly-patient offense could put up crooked numbers seemingly at will. If one of the starters had a bad outing, then the lineup could easily bail them out with the bat. Opposing pitchers were routinely being chased prior to the fourth inning. The Phillies seemed destined to run away with the division back then, and all was right with the world. Sigh. It seems so long ago…

Now the team, beseiged by injuries and suffering from mediocre play and a dramatic drop-off in run production, are five games out of first place. The Phils can’t just can’t catch a break.  The Pirates series is a perfect microcosm for the team’s current struggles: when pitching is solid, the offense is cold; when the Phillies can hit, pitching collapses.  And while we all shake our fists and curse out Ruben Amaro, Jr for trading away Cliff Lee, I have to wonder how many of his brilliant complete game starts the team would have squandered anyway.

To me, it seems like the fate of the Phillies’ season comes down to this three-game series against the Braves. Win the series, and they keep pace with the division leaders: two games behind at best, four games at worst. Lose the series, and the best case scenario is that they’re six games out of first, while a sweep would put them eight games behind in the standings. That would be a difficult hole for the Phillies to climb out of in the much-improved NL East. (I’m too lazy to calculate the different scenarios of the wild card race.)

It’s not impossible for the Phillies to win this series. They’re putting their best three starters in Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Jamie Moyer up against the very formidable trio of Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, and Kris Medlen, but they’ll also miss Jason Heyward, Tim Hudson, and Tommy Hanson. Tougher opponents seem to bring out the best in the Phils too, as we saw a few weeks ago against the Yankees. (Of course, that was back when the lineup was healthier.)

Anyhow, a series win and some solid acquisitions before the trade deadline will restore my faith in the Phillies’ chances this season. A series sweep by the Braves, however, will force me to write their obituary, start dreaming of next year, and hope that they somehow prove me wrong.


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