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Phillies Win First Game of 2011 NLDS Rematch

The Phillies went back to St. Louis for the first time since last October, when they lost the National League Division Series in five games. Joe Blanton opposed ground ball savant Jake Westbrook; however, it was anything but a pitcher’s duel, reminiscent of Game One of the NLDS. The Phillies jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead after three trips to the plate, but the Cardinals fought back and tied the game at 7-7 after five innings. Neither team’s bullpen could stop the bleeding, the Cardinals allowing three runs and the Phillies allowing two, good enough for a 10-9 victory.

It was one of those wins that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. As the score indicates, the game was sloppy all the way around. The Cardinals’ four-run fourth inning can be credited to great hitting, but also due to poor fundamentals as Ty Wigginton was late getting into position to cut the throw off from center field on Carlos Beltran‘s line drive single that drove in the second run, and Shane Victorino overthrew the cut-off on Yadier Molina‘s single to center, which brought the Cardinals to within two at 6-4. Blanton was hit hard, allowing five line drives  on 18 balls in play. He also surrendered two home runs, both in the fifth inning to Matt Holliday and Molina.

On the offensive side, the Phillies were very fortunate on batted balls in the first two innings. Shane Victorino barely beat out what could have been an inning-ending double play, allowing the first run to score. Shortly thereafter, Ty Wigginton hit a ground ball up the middle that was just out of the range of shortstop Rafael Furcal, putting the Phillies up 2-0. Freddy Galvis followed up with a single past the diving Tyler Greene at second base, scoring runs three and four in the inning. In the second inning, Jimmy Rollins led off with a weak, looping “line drive” to right field, also barely out of the reach of Greene. With two outs and Hunter Pence on first base, Carlos Ruiz singled up the middle, again outranging Furcal. The two would subsequently be knocked in on a Victorino line drive to left-center. With normal batted ball luck, the Phillies might have had one or two runs rather than six.

Despite the impact of luck, it was good to see the Phillies pound out 18 hits in the game. Placido Polanco, Ruiz, Wigginton, and Galvis each had three hits. Polanco has quietly gotten back on track. Since April 25, he is hitting .326 with a .786 OPS. Ruiz continues to hit as his OPS crossed 1.000. Wigginton had been slumping badly, as he had a .410 OPS in the month of May entering the night, but he added two singles and an eventual game-winning solo home run in the eighth inning. Galvis, the team leader in doubles, added two singles and a double. Although he has a sub-.700 OPS, he is still exceeding expectations as many did not believe he would be able to have any success against Major League pitching at this point in his career.

Ruiz, who has essentially done everything a baseball player can do this year, ran the bases quite swiftly on the two-run double by Victorino in the second inning. Starting on first base, Ruiz motored around the bases and expertly slid in at home plate. If you’re keeping score at home, Ruiz this year has handled the pitching staff, called games, blocked balls in the dirt, thrown out base-stealers, hit for average, hit for power, and even provided value on the bases.

On the flip side, the Phillies’ bullpen continued to falter. The Phillies entered the night with the second-worst bullpen ERA in the league at 4.78. Chad Qualls surrendered a solo home run to David Freese in the seventh, bringing the Cardinals back to 9-8. Lefty Antonio Bastardo allowed a run in the eighth on a lead-off double followed by a single and a sacrifice fly, putting the score at 10-9. Fortunately, Jonathan Papelbon was able to work around a one-out single in the ninth to preserve the win for the Phillies.

The ten runs marks the most the Phillies have scored in a game since losing 15-13 to the Braves on May 2. They reached double-digit runs for only the second time on the season, and they had scored a total of eight runs over their previous four games. Still, the Phillies only drew three walks, continuing an ongoing problem. They entered the night with the second-lowest walk rate in the league at 6.7%, well below the average 8.3%. The Phillies have also struck out at the lowest rate (17.1%; NL average 20.1%). With a below-average ISO (.126 to .140), they are a very contact-oriented team and thus very prone to the outcome of balls in play. Against teams with high-strikeout starting pitchers and good defenses, the Phillies will struggle. For example, the Phillies are 2-4 against the Nationals, who lead the league in both strikeout rate (23.5%) and defensive efficiency (.732) and park-adjusted defensive efficiency (3.29).