Stumbling to the Finish - NBC 10 Philadelphia
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Philadelphia Phillies

Stumbling to the Finish

Phillies unable to close out NL East

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    Stumbling to the Finish
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    Chase Utley has gone cold in September batting only .218 with two homers and eight RBI.

    The Phillies don’t seem comfortable being the team to beat as they struggle to hit or pitch their way to a division crown.

    Two weeks ago the Phils swept the lowly Nationals to complete a 6-1 home stand and put the National League East crown in reach as they were up 7.5 games on Atlanta with just 17 games left.

    The Phils then headed out on a ten-game road trip through Atlanta, Florida and Milwaukee. They took two out of three from the Braves to make things almost certain.

    But suddenly, the team that looked like it would steamroll its way to a third-straight division crown stumbled.

    The Phils arrived in Florida for three games and handedly won the first half of a doubleheader 9-4. But then it all fell apart -- they were shutout in the nightcap and suddenly the team that looked invincible showed some weakness.

    The Phillies pitching staff fell on hard times allowing 31 runs in just five games. The worst performance of course was Brad Lidge’s 11th blown save that gave the rubber game of the Florida series to the Marlins.

    But Lidge wasn’t alone in stinking it up on the mound. Cliff Lee was shelled and Tyler walker allowed a walk-off homer against the Brewers.

    The Phillies second biggest problem behind shaky pitching was a lack of clutch hitting late in games. During their last seven games the Phils have only scored just five runs from the seventh inning on.

    Scoring runs late in games make things easier on the bullpen. And with part of the Phillies pen on the mend (Chan Ho Park, recently-reactivated J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre) and many others allowing hits left and right (Lidge, Walker and Ryan Madson) the Phils need all the late run support they can get.

    The magic number for the Phillies was three with six left entering Tuesday. That means they can play .500 ball (three for six) and still win the NL East.

    They could also get help anytime the Braves lose. The problem is that Atlanta is hotter than Hansel right now -- winning 16 of 19 games.

    But the Phillies shouldn’t worry about what the Braves do and instead take care of their own business especially since the Fightins close with a three-game set against the formidable Fish the Braves get the pathetic Nats for four games.

    Let’s hope the Phillies find a way to close the door because they don't won't to suffer a monumental collapse. In 2007 they came back from seven down against the Mets with 17 to go. If they blow this season they would have given up a 7.5 game lead with 17 left and they would then be the choke artists.