Friday, April 11, 2008

Myers Keeps Cubs Under Control for Phillies Win

Last year's closer pitched eight innings tonight, as the Phillies defeated Chicago 5-3 at Citizen's Bank. It means he's pitching more like a starter, showing endurance and stability over the course of the game. It means he pitched well enough for even Charlie Manuel to leave him in the game that long. Most importantly, though, however counterintuitively, it means he is pitching more like a closer. Myers admitted that he knew the approach he had taken in his previous two starts this season had, rather worryingly, been ineffective. Whatever he did to adjust his attitude seems to have worked. He pitched aggressively and with less finesse, but aggressive pitching is his strong point. Trying to pitch more strategically to last the long haul only got him into more trouble.

Invariably an aggressive style will lead to some mistakes. Opposing batters won't be able to take advantage of all of them. Some they will -- notably the three solo home runs that accounted for all of the Cubs' scoring tonight. The mere fact that Myers didn't let the back-to-back homers that came in the first inning divert him from the task at hand augers well for his management of his much discussed temper.

Jimmy Rollins was once again missing from the lineup due to his sprained ankle, replaced at short by versatile defender and offensive nonentity Eric Bruntlett. It's not a situation that bodes especially well for the Phillies' theoretically-powerful offense when most of the people that make it up are slumping to some degree or other. It was (and I had come to think I would never write these words) the hottest player on the team, Pat Burrell, who picked them up this evening. His well-timed home run (an achievement he rarely seemed to produce in years past) and RBI double were the difference in tonight's game. Greg Dobbs showed signs of offensive life with an RBI double of his own.

There were big questions marks at the start of the season over the performances that we could expect from Brett Myers and Pat Burrell. After two frustrating losses to New York, their play helped the Phillies to a much-needed win and boosted confidence in what they can do this year. However, Myers won't be pitching every day, and he still needs to demonstrate consistency. Burrell and Chase Utley (who hit again today and picked up his first stolen base) can't carry the entire offense on their own. Tonight's 5-3 victory was satisfying, but it did little to calm worries about problems that could develop into troublesome holes in Philadelphia's game.

1 comment:

Brian Raab said...

This was one of the best starts of Myers' career as far as I'm concerned, both in spite and because of his first inning struggles. After the home runs, I expected Myers to implode (again), but he kept his composure and went 8 strong. Also, he didn't walk a single batter. That kind of control is pretty rare for Myers and it is an excellent sign.

Also notable was Brad Lidge recording his first save as a Phillie in front of the home crowd. He looked good doing it, too. Yes, he gave up a "hit" (which probably should have been caught by So Taguchi) but he recovered nicely, shaking off the double, and struck out Geovany Soto to end the game.

Finally, just one managerial complaint. I nearly turned the game off at the end of the first inning because I was so frustrated. The Phillies had runners on first and third with no outs and Chase Utley at the plate. With a full count, they sent the first base runner, Greg Dobbs, and Utley struck out swinging, setting up a double play as Dobbs was caught stealing. With no outs and Dobbs running, why call the hit-and-run? Utley is such a good hitter that it was surprising he didn't at least make contact, but still, why send the runner here? Yes, you'd like to avoid a double play, but Utley is very difficult to double up anyway. It's a calculated risk, as Utley would have put Dobbs in scoring position with a single and probably scores him with a double, but I don't like the odds. It likely kept the Phillies off the board in the first inning and, had Pat Burrell not come to the rescue, it could have cost them the game.