This Sounds All Too Familiar

Remember last season when the Phillies were right there in the battle for the Wild Card with Florida and they went on the road for a ten-game road trip? Sure you remember, that's when "the beginning of the end" officially hit Philadelphia as the Phils limped home after a 1-9 trip. Well, it's a little more than nine months later; The Phillies are battling for the division lead with Florida and they're headed out on a ten-game road trip. Uh-Oh.

This can't be "deja vu all over again." Keep Yogi Berra out of Philadelphia. And don't let him go to Atlanta, Chicago or Minnesota either.

Welcome to the second longest road trip of the season. Actually, it ties another ten-game trip that the Phillies have in September when they go to Atlanta, New York and Cincinnati - that could be fun. The longest trip of the year hits in late July and carries over into August. Thirteen games against four teams - the Marlins, Cubs, Padres and Dodgers. Yup, that one could be fun, too.

For now though, it's the current trip that we need to worry about.

The bullpen is pretty well beat up. They came into the series with the Mets having the best bullpen ERA in the league and saw the relievers give up runs to the tune of an ERA over eight-point-oh-no against the New Yorkers. Roberto Hernandez is shot (if he wasn't already shot when the Phillies signed him). Tim Worrell is shot, although he's done a decent job in his second season revival of a closer. Rheal Cormier is hit-and-miss and has been all season. Geoff Geary has pitched well, but Larry Bowa won't only use him if the Phillies have a nice, big lead and the other team is sending up little leaguers to hit. Even Ryan Madson gave up a run! Yikes!

This trip won't necessarily determine the Phillies season. Still, this is a huge trip for the Phillies. With their recent offensive and bullpen meltdown, their recent streak of thirteen out of fifteen games at home finished with only seven home wins and a two-game split in New York. The Phillies had really hoped to take advantage of the long home stretch and it appeared that they would after an impressive start against Los Angeles and San Diego. The Braves and Mets changed that though, especially the Mets.

Four games in Atlanta. That's always huge. The Phillies and Braves split their four-game set in Philadelphia. The Phillies start the series with Josh Hancock, who will be officially recalled from Scranton Wilkes-Barre to pitch in Vicente Padilla's place. Hancock is pretty solid and did a nice job filling in for Randy Wolf a couple turns ago. After that, it's Eric Milton to be followed by Brett Myers. Milton has been getting better and better. His knee injury of last season is well behind him, he's adjusting to the National League and has been showing what he can do when healthy. It also doesn't hurt that he's in the final year of his contract and looking for big money to follow. Myers has the trappings of a young pitcher. He's inconsistent and you can't be completely sure what you're going to get from him. At one point this season, he was a bad start away from a trip to Scranton and now, he's back to being the kind of pitcher the Phillies had hoped for.

The final game of the series will feature Kevin Millwood. Maybe, the Phillies should consider another plan. The Braves obviously do something to their pitchers - brainwashing or something - that makes them completely ineffective against Atlanta should they ever leave. Ask Millwood. Don't believe him, ask Tom Glavine, who has yet to beat his old mates, either. I'm sure Greg Maddux isn't looking forward to facing the Braves anytime soon, since he missed them on the Cubs trip to at the start of the season.

The two big issues on the trip will be the bullpen and the offense. The Phillies have an off day on Monday to rest their arms, but there are four games in Atlanta between now and then. Larry Bowa is going to have to get Geary into the mix if he is going to save his relievers. The Phillies are going with a six man bullpen and Bowa doesn't have the luxury of leaning on just five of those guys.

The offense? Well, that's been an on-going problem. The Phillies simply can't get clutch hits. Now, even Jim Thome is slumping. Looking for a sign of the apocalypse? Pat Burrell is just 1-17 (.059) against the Mets this season. The good news is that he's being very Burrell-like against the rest of the National League, so all is okay.

The Phillies have also been facing some of the better pitching in the league of late. Actually, a few days ago, the top five pitching staffs in the NL were all the teams from the NL East. The Braves and Mets obviously among them. In nine games against the Braves and Mets, the Phillies have scored just 25 runs.

After their four games in Atlanta, the Phillies embark on Inter-League play. The White Sox and Twins are one and two in the American League Central. They feature a combined record of 57-46 (.553) so far this season.

While the road trip won't be easy, there are tougher ones to follow. If for no other reason, that makes this trip important. If the Phillies falter on their visits to Atlanta, Chicago and Minnesota, the hole that they dig for themselves could be a little too steep to pull themselves out of. The Phillies should consider themselves lucky that while the Mets were sweeping the Phils in Philadelphia, Cincinnati did the same thing to the Marlins in Florida. The Phillies can't count on the same amount of cooperation on their upcoming trip.

Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories