The Phillies continued to stumble around in one of the valleys of their 2009 season, losing their fourth straight game, 7-2 to Baltimore, on Friday night. In their 8-6 loss to Toronto on Thursday, the Phils' offense could not counter the destruction caused by their pitching counterparts (Joe Blanton, et al.), combined with some mental midgetry afield (ex. Marco Scutaro stealing second base on a walk, as the oblivious Phillies' defenders pondered the plight of Jon and Kate.) On Friday, their offense was non-existent, while their pitching and defense both displayed destructive tendencies. It was still a winnable game for the Phils, heading into the ninth, when a familiar, command-deficient reliever put one in the win column for the Fightin O's.
Phillies' rookie starter Antonio Bastardo deserved a better fate. Bastardo consumed seven innings, leaving only two to the embattled Phils' relief corps. The southpaw permitted four runs in those seven innings, but his performance was far better than the eventual results. Bastardo had five separate innings, in which he retired the side in order. He surrendered only five hits, striking out five, and walking none. Seventy-three of his one-hundred eight pitches were strikes. If it wasn't for defensive miscues by Chase Utley, John Mayberry, and Ryan Howard, none of whom was penalized with an error for his trangression, Bastardo's ERA would have been significantly less scarred. Rightfielder Jayson Werth's two-run, two-out, first inning double might have been enough to earn Bastardo his third win. The rookie was a hard luck loser, but he has certainly earned another turn in the rotation. (Unless the Phils acquire Doug Davis, or Clay Buchholz, before that turn comes up.)
Manager Charlie Manuel, at the suggestion of coach Davey Lopes, started Jayson Werth in his familiar right field, moving John Mayberry to left field. Mayberry is more comfortable in right, and his stronger throwing arm makes him more suited to right than Jayson Werth. Mayberry made a crucial misplay, but it is hard to fault Manuel here. Werth has been one of the few players contributing offensively as of late, and Manuel is trying to make him comfortable defensively, so that he can perform optimally on offense. In the seventh inning, with the Phillies trailing only 4-2, the Phillies' manager brought Eric Bruntlett out to pinch-"hit", leaving Chris Coste on the bench. But it is hard to fault Manuel for this move, as the Orioles have a left-handed closer (George Sherrill), and Manuel was saving Coste's right-handed bat for later in the game. Coste's pinch-hitting appearance against Sherrill in the ninth inning would have been significant, if it wasn't for questionable bullpen deployment by Manuel.
In the eighth inning, with the Phillies only trailing by two, Manuel brought reliever Jack Taschner into the game. Given the exhausted status of his bullpenners, using the typically-ineffective Taschner may have been necessary. Taschner shocked the world, working around a hit and a walk, and keeping the O's off the scoreboard. Unfortunately, Manuel tempted the Baseball Fates, and kept Taschner in for a second inning. Taschner permitted four hits and three runs in the ninth, reducing the Phils' Win Expectancy from 7.8% to 0.8%. Taschner pitching multiple innings in an un-winnable game is an event that we should see more of, but multiple Taschner innings in a winnable game shouldn't happen.
The Phillies will try to snap their losing streak Saturday, with J.A. Happ on the mound. Ace Cole Hamels gets the ball on Sunday. Against the cellar-dwelling Orioles, these are home games that the Phillies need to win.