An Open Apology To The Starting Pitchers

Admit it, we were skeptical at best about the starting rotation and we all wanted an upgrade as the trading deadline approached. Sure, Jon Lieber was a nice pick up during the off-season and Robinson Tejeda has done a nice job, but we wanted more. The truth is that overall, the starters have done a nice job of keeping the Phillies in the pennant race.

Seriously, the Phillies' starting rotation deserves an apology from all of us who thought it was the team's Achilles' heel as the trade deadline arrived. Since the All-Star break, you can pin almost every loss suffered by the Phillies on an offense that goes through famine as regularly as it feasts.

The Phillies' schizophrenic bats went from bold to cold and inbetween Saturday and Sunday. Despite a solid performance by a revived Vicente Padilla, the Phils had no answer Sunday for the Brewers Tomo Ohka, who worked eight shutout innings in Milwaukee's 2-0 win.

"You can't afford to get shut out," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's one thing if it's 10-0. That's a different story. But when you're losing (low-scoring games) like this, it's tough."

It was the type of loss that has become familiar in recent weeks. Since dropping a wild, 9-7 decision to the Marlins in the second game following the All-Star break, all of the Phillies' losses have come in games where they displayed a serious deficiency at the plate.

The Phillies haven't scored more than two runs in any of their last nine losses, and it isn't as if opponents have been piling up the runs. In those nine losses, the opposition has scored 39 runs, or slightly more than four runs per game. Included in those games are losing scores of 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 (twice), 3-1 and 3-2.

That's six losses where the Phillies' starting pitching has done its part, only to be let down by the bats.

"There's no way we're going to go anywhere unless we win games like that," Manuel said. "I hate to say that we wasted an opportunity because I think it was a plus that Padilla pitched like that. But when you lose a game like this, there's nothing good about it."

Padilla has been extremely impressive in his last six starts, and he continued the streak by allowing two runs over seven innings to the Brewers. While Padilla has a 3.54 ERA in his last three starts, the Phils have scored just three runs in those games, saddling him with three losses.

Brett Myers has been an absolute phenomenon this season. He maintained that he had a good season last year, but this is what fans were looking for from the young right-hander. Fans, coaches, scouts, broadcasters, they all knew that Myers was better than what he had shown at any time in the past.

Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle have hit a few rough spots, but in general, they have both been productive. Lieber won his tenth game Saturday, giving him six wins of ten or more wins in his career. Lidle hit a rough patch, but appears to have righted the ship.

With Randy Wolf out and Gavin Floyd scuffling in the minors, Robinson Tejeda has been simply awesome. He wan't much of a blip on the Phillies radar and was simply there as some insurance and figured to possibly have a career as a reliever with the Phillies. Since being inserted into the starting rotation, he has sizzled. No, nobody has forgotten about Floyd or oft-injured Cole Hamels, but if Tejeda is this good and those two are supposed to be better, than the future looks good for the starting rotation.

The truth is that Tejeda may be at least as good as any of the pitchers that the Phillies may have had a shot at acquiring at the deadline. Rest assured that Tejeda's performance probably kept the Phillies out of the trade market, since they felt they had something just as good on their own roster.

Tejeda allowed one run, four hits and no walks over six innings against the Cubs in the Phils' 4-3 win last Wednesday. Although Tejeda has given up fewer hits and put up all goose eggs in four of his eight starts prior to this game, it probably was his most impressive performance to date. He threw 79 pitches, an amazing 62 of them for strikes. And his best inning might have been in the fifth, when the Cubs got their only run.

The Cubs loaded the bases with no outs on three singles. The first single was a bouncer up the middle by Aramis Ramirez that Chase Utley gloved, but couldn't get to first base. The second was a brutal jam job off the bat of Todd Walker that traveled no more than 120 feet before falling weakly into shallow left field. And the third hit was another weak bouncer up the middle by Neifi Perez that Jimmy Rollins fielded, but had no play.

"They didn't even get good contact," Tejeda said. "Three base hits with eyes. There was nothing I could do."

What Tejeda did was gather himself and keep the damage to a minimum by striking out Michael Barrett, allowing a sacrifice fly to Jose Macias and getting Matt Lawton to crack his bat on a pop out to shortstop.

"He amazes me," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of Tejeda (2-2, 2.86). "Give him credit, he hung in there."

Of course, Manuel decided to pinch-hit for Tejeda in the bottom of the sixth with a 3-1 lead, and two unearned runs for the Cubs in the seventh left the rookie with another tough no-decision.

Comparison of Tejeda and pitchers the Phillies tried to trade for.

Robinson Tejeda 2 2 2.86 20 10 0 66.0 47 23 21 43 56 2
Kip Wells 6 12 4.86 23 23 1 133.1 133 82 72 67 100 18
Mark Redman 5 12 4.61 23 23 2 143.2 145 76 73 44 75 12
Jason Schmidt 8 6 4.28 21 21 0 128.1 122 67 61 61 123 12
Jamie Moyer 9 4 4.29 22 22 1 134.1 150 68 64 44 74 12
Barry Zito 11 8 3.65 24 24 0 158.0 126 69 64 59 112 18

Even with their success, there are some questions. Will the Phillies decide that Padilla has finally arrived and either shell out big bucks in arbitration or bite the bullet and issue another big money, long-term deal? It's possible that he could exit. With talk of Ryan Madson going into the starting rotation, they could conceivably fill Padilla's spot from within. Add to that a potentially rejuvenated Gavin Floyd and the rotation could be overstocked for next season without making any key additions from outside the organization.

Now the Phillies head to the West Coast for three games against the Dodgers in their cavernous stadium. The Phils will face the same three starting pitchers - Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Odalis Perez - who held them to seven runs in three games in Philly last month as L.A. took two of the games.

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