All is right in Phillies’ land once again.
The boys from the City of Brotherly Love just wrapped up a three-game sweep over the Cubs at Wrigley to move five games up in the National League East over Atlanta and Florida (with the Marlins still left to play today). The surge comes after the Phils were swept by Florida to reduce their cushion in the East to three and a half games.
With that kind of cushion, there is one question that begs to be asked: why, with a five-run lead in today’s game, was Cliff Lee on the mound for to throw 122 pitches?
Anyone who’s been paying attention to the NL East the last two years knows that the race is never over until it’s over (look away now, Mets’ fans). And the Phillies do have a tough weekend series coming up with a trip to the suddenly hot Braves, winners of five straight.
And sure, Lee is known for working deep into games. In his 24 starts this year, he has topped the 100-pitch mark 20 times and is averaging 111 pitches every time he toes the rubber. Despite his durability, today’s pitch count is tied for his highest this season (he duplicated the feat on two other occasions).
The other perplexing factor was that the Phils’ bullpen was fairly well-rested heading into today. Only Chan-Ho Park and Chad Durbin were likely unavailable after having worked each of the last two nights. Park pitched three innings in last night’s game, thereby keeping the rest of the bullpen fresh.
After throwing 112 pitches through the first seven innings, already over his season average, Lee was trotted out for the eighth in lieu of several relief choices. Ryan Madson eventually worked the ninth, but there were other options. Even if we assume Park, Durbin, and newly-demoted Jamie Moyer were unavailable, and Charlie Manuel would have preferred not to use Brad Lidge after his blown save on Tuesday, that still leaves lefty Scott Eyre and righty Tyler Walker.
At some point, you have to think this team will have to start looking toward the playoffs. Granted there is a month and a half left in the season, and a five-game cushion isn’t unassailable by any means. But in this instance—a five-run lead, a demoralized Cubs’ team, bullpen options—maybe it called for a little thinking ahead.
-The sweep at Wrigley is the first for the Phils since they broke out the brooms over four games in July, 1984.
-Ryan Howard’s three-run homer in the fourth inning snapped a homerless drought of 57 at bats, tied for the longest in his career.
-Shane Victorino received a personal apology from Cubs chairman Crane Kenney for a last night’s beer-dumping incident. Security in the bleachers was beefed up for today’s series finale, and the incident is being investigated as a “simple battery” by local police.
-Matthew De George ’10