HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 16: Justin Maxwell #44 of the Houston Astros scores in the seventh inning on a double by J.D. Martinez #14 of the Houston Astros before catcher Carlos Ruiz #51 the Philadelphia Phillies can apply the tag at Minute Maid Park on September 16, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Following their seventh straight win and second consecutive series sweep last Wednesday, the Phillies found themselves three games out of the second Wild Card spot, and with over 20 games remaining, very much alive in the hunt for playoff baseball in 2012. And if things couldn't get any better, they had a four game series against the Houston Astros – the worst team in the game – to help continue their winning ways.
And as I wrote last week – this series terrified me. It terrified me because the Astros have a knack for mucking things up when it pertains to the Phillies and the playoffs, and it doesn't even matter that they are undoubtedly the worst team in baseball, because that's just what the Astros do: They crush the dreams of the city of Philadelphia.
I can't explain it, but this team cannot beat Houston when it needs to, even though they won seven in a row and were firing on all cylinders when they took the field on Thursday night.
Game one started off well enough, with the Phillies jumping out to a four-run lead in support of Tyler Cloyd, but a late-game bullpen gaffe caused the victory to escape their hands. With a one run lead in the eighth, Charlie Manuel brought on Phillippe Aumont to get three outs before handing the ball off to Jonathan Papelbon. Ordinarily, that's a very good play considering that Aumont has been lights out as of late. But Aumont, who pitched in the four previous games, was noticeably gassed, and was unable to get the third out. With the bases empty and two away, he walked and hit a batter, before turning it over to Jake Diekman, who promptly gave up a go-ahead double to Jed Lowrie. The Astros tacked on another run, and the Phillies failed to rally in the ninth, and lost 6-4.
Game two turned out better for the Phillies, thanks to the offense backing up a good start by Cole Hamels, as they routed the 'Stros, 12-6.
They should have saved some of those runs for game three, where they were shut out by rookie Dallas Keuchel, who had an ERA above 5.00 entering the game. The Phillies did manage five hits and four walks in his 5.1 innings of work, but they were unable to cash in on any of the opportunities that they had, and were shutout in the third game of the series, by a score of 5-0.
If they had any shot of redeeming themselves, it was during the series finale on Sunday afternoon. With Roy Halladay on the hill, the offense got out to an early lead, but found themselves trailing in the third. The offense was able to get off the mat and re-take the lead, but the Astros once again rallied against the Phillies' bullpen in the seventh inning, where they scored four runs to take the lead en route to the series win.
It was an embarrassing performance of epic proportions. After back-to-back sweeps to get themselves right back in the race, they failed to do anything more than look inept against the worst team in the Majors. They could have made things really easy on themselves by taking at least three of four (and truly, they should have), but a poor showing by the bullpen in key spots, plus an offense that was unable to push across more runs when needed, might just prove to be the ultimate undoing for the 2012 Phillies.