There's a rather important game at Citizens Bank Park tonight.
All that hinges on Game 5 of the NLDS is the next step in a World Series-or-bust season and, well, a bust season.
The expectations from the time the Phillies arrived to spring training with a star-studded starting pitching staff up until they won a franchise record 102 games last week are that Charlie Manuel and Co. should be in the World Series. But, in the next 12 hours, that magical season could abruptly end in the first round, the earliest exit for a Phillies team since '07.
So how can the Phillies prevent that from happening? What's worth keeping a close eye on tonight as you bite your fingers, sit on the edge of your recliner and curse at the TV?
Here are five things I jotted down as I thought about Game 5:1. "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." Ryan Howard
is and will always be the most criticized person in the Phillies organization. Why? Oh, well, there are only 125 million reasons.
The man with the biggest paycheck will always be the one who has to produce more than anyone else, and, if he doesn't he will hear about it more than anyone else. Heck, last year Howard hit a team-high .303 with a team-best four extra-base hits... but he still received the most criticism because of the way the season ended, with him staring down strike three in the NLCS.
Howard isn't having that kind of success this postseason. While we shouldn't ignore the fact that he almost single-handedly won a game this series - his three-run home run in Game 1 was just as vital to the Phillis still being alive as Ben Francisco's pinch hit bomb three nights ago - Howard has done almost nothing since.
After the home run, Howard has gone 1-for-12 (.083) with three RBIs (a sac fly and a two-run single) and six strikeouts.
Howard will have to get out of his funk early on Friday. Tony LaRussa is the king of playing lefty-righty matchups late and Howard has been helpless vs. lefties in the series: 0-for-6, 4 strikeouts.2. What's up, Doc (in the first inning)? Roy Halladay
is probably the last person you should concern yourself with entering tonight. When it comes to talent and preparation, he's unmatched by anyone in baseball.
But Halladay is human. Like superheroes, he's not without at least one flaw. The three-run home run he gave up to Lance Berkman in the aforementioned Game 1 win revealed that flaw to the masses.
Of the 11 home runs Halladay has given up in 2011, five have come in the first inning. If the Cardinals have a chance to get to Halladay, it will most likely have to come early.
In the regular season, Halladay had a 3.66 ERA in the first inning. In innings two-through-nine, he had a 2.14 ERA.
There are similar results if you break down Doc's pitch count.
In the first 25 pitches he's thrown in games in the regular season, Halladay has surrendered 15 extra-base hits (including 5 of the 10 home runs), and opponents have hit .277 against him. In pitches 51 through 75, opponents have hit .204 with 7 extra-base hits.
In pitches 76-100, opponents are hitting just .188 off Halladay.3. The New Guy. Hunter Pence
was supposed to be the savior of the Phillies offense when he arrived in July, the missing piece to replace the right-handed hitting power vacated by departed free agent Jayson Werth.
And there's no doubt Pence was just that in the first two months he suited up in a Phillies uniform. His 113 total bases in August and September led all Phillies players.
But Pence's power has been missing in action in October. All four of his hits have been singles.
In fact, Pence is the only No.3 hole hitter in the postseason (including teams that have already been eliminated) without an extra-base hit.
Albert Pujols has three (all doubles), Ryan Braun has four (three doubles, a home run), Delmon Young has three (three home runs), Justin Upton has one (a home run), Robinson Cano had four (two doubles, two home runs) and Evan Longoria had one (a home run). Pence enters tonight with zero.... so it's safe to say he's due.4. Bottoms Up.
While much of the attention -- see two of the first three items on this list -- has been dedicated to examining the bigger names in the middle of the respective lineups, you could argue that the reason the Phils and Cards are knotted at 2-2 in the series is a direct result of the production, and lack thereof, from the bottom of the respective lineups.
Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday have been out-hit by the less-heralded players in the bottom of the Cardinals batting order while Carlos Ruiz
and Placido Polanco
have been less effective than anyone else in the Phillies order.
Here's how the number shake out:
-Polanco and Ruiz, the two players who have hit seventh and eighth in the first four games, are a combined 3-for-30 (.100) with six strikeouts and one walk in the first four games. The three hits have been singles.
-Jon Jay, Ryan Theriot, David Freese
and Skip Schumaker
are hitting .462 (12-for-26) with a home run, three doubles, four strikeouts, three walks and seven RBIs when they've started in the seventh or eighth spot in LaRussa's mix-and-match lineup.5. The Other Cy Young Winner: Chris Carpenter
had more earned runs (four) than innings pitched (three) in his pitching line after Game 2. But we'll give him a pass since it was the first time in his 14-year career that he's pitched on short rest.
Roy Halladay, Carpenter's close friend and former teammate, deserves all of the hype he gets. He's one of two pitchers in the history of the sport to throw a postseason no-hitter, after all.
But Carpenter deserves similar respect. The 2005 Cy Young Award winner, who has finished in the top three of the voting two other times, is more than capable of throwing his own postseason gem. In 2006, when the Cardinals won the World Series Carpenter went 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA in five starts; the Cardinals won four of the five games he pitched that fall.
The Phillies career regular season numbers off Carpenter aren't great: the regular, every-day eight is hitting a combined .242 with 17 strikeouts and eight extra-base hits in their respective regular season careers off the Cards ace. (Howard is 3-for-11 with a home run and three strikeouts, Pence is 5-for-23 with a triple, a home run and five strikeouts).
Perhaps it will be the only player with moderate success off Carpenter that leads the Phils tonight. Chase Utley is 7-for-15 with a double, two walks and one strikeout vs. Carpenter.