Jimmy Rollins provided an immediate spark when he made his return on Friday, but they struggled in the next two games, losing to the San Francisco Giants 8-2 on Saturday and 4-3 on Sunday.
Saturday's game got out of hand in a hurry, primarily because of Jamie Moyer, who had his worst outing of the season. He gave up six runs and nine hits in only four innings. Meanwhile, the Phillies' bats never got going due to a dominant start from Tim Lincecum. Lincecum went eight innings and allowed only two runs, and with the win improved his record to 5-1.
The Phillies were able to defeat Lincecum when he faced them in Philadelphia on May 4th, when he surrendered four runs, but none of them were earned. His ERA against the Phillies is 1.29 in two starts; phenomenal considering he is a right-handed pitcher and the Phillies are loaded with left-handed bats.
The one encouraging sign for the Phillies was the performance of Ryan Howard. He went 1 for 4 with a solo home run. On its own that sounds unremarkable, but two factors make it a promising day. First, he did not strike out once on a day when Lincecum struck out eight. Second, and more important, his home run went over the left field wall. That's right, Howard displayed his vaunted opposite field power for the first time this year. As Jason Grey of ESPN.com wrote, Howard's pull tendencies were a major problem for him in the minor leagues and it was not until he taught himself to hit to the opposite field more frequently that he became a dominant major league hitter. However, other than Howard's home run, there wasn't much to be happy about for Phillies fans on Saturday.
Sunday was a little better, but not the end result. Adam Eaton had a solid outing, by his standards anyway, allowing only two runs in five innings. He struggled in the sixth and left the game with runners on second and third and no outs. Chad Durbin entered and, amazingly, got out of the inning unscathed. Durbin, after hitting John Bowker with a pitch, got Jose Castillo to line out into a double play to first base. Durbin then intentionally walked Omar Vizquel and struck out pinch hitter Ray Durham to retire the side.
With the game in the hands of the Phillies bullpen, the win seemed fairly secure (which, at the start of the season, I never thought I would be able to say). However, the usually-reliable J.C. Romero gave up Steve Holm's first career home run -- a two run shot -- to put the Giants on top 5-4. The Phillies were unable to recover and would lose the game by the same score, as Jimmy Rollins ended the game by grounding into a double play.
Losing a series to the sub-.500 Giants is somewhat alarming, even on the road, and especially with Rollins back. The Phillies are now three games out of first place and tied with the Mets for second. The Braves are only one game back of Philadelphia and they'll have a chance to pull ahead, with a three-game set starting on Tuesday in Philadelphia. The Phillies will have a challenge, facing three left-handed starters, but with Brett Myers and Cole Hamels pitching the final two games of the series, the Phillies should be able to bounce back and take the series from Atlanta. The Phillies certainly won't be taking the Braves lightly, which will be good to see after they dropped two of three to an inferior team.