Coming into this weekend's series with the Boston Red Sox, the Philadelphia Phillies were winners of six straight, seven of their last eight, and, for the first time since Opening Day, above the .500 mark.
And after a win on Friday night, thanks to Cole Hamels and the offense's ability to jump on Boston starter Daniel Bard early, it looked like their good fortune would continue. But two games later, they are the owner of a two-game losing streak, and are back on even ground with a 21-21 record.
Ultimately, those two losses come down to the poor pitching performance by the Phillies' starters, Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee. On Saturday, Blanton had his first clunker of the season, where he allowed seven runs – six of them earned – on nine hits in four and a third innings. He was followed by Cliff Lee on Sunday, who similarly struggled by allowing five runs in seven innings of work.
Both pitchers put the Phillies in an early hole – thanks to leadoff homers in both games from Boston shortstop Mike Aviles – while failing to prevent any further damage. When you get down to it, the losses come down to Joe and Cliff.
However, in both games, the Phillies had ample opportunity to avoid another L in the books. On Saturday, the Phillies left 11 men on base in total. And from the fifth inning through the eighth, they had at least two baserunners to work with. But a pair of double play balls, plus a tremendous diving catch from Boston centerfielder Ryan Sweeney ended the seventh.
It was in the eighth inning that the Phillies squandered their biggest scoring opportunity. With one run home and two away, John Mayberry worked a four-pitch walk to set the stage for Shane Victorino, who had two hits on the night. With the tying run on second base and a pitcher with shaky control on the hill, Shane swung at the first pitch he saw and harmlessly flied out to left.
Flash forward to Sunday, and it was more of the same. They didn't leave as many men on base (they left seven), but they did have enough opportunities to make things interesting, including another bases loaded opportunity in the eighth inning that once again came up empty handed.
While the pitching proved to be the biggest goat of this series, the offense – which has been productive as of late – didn't do itself any favors with some late-inning ineptitude.