Phillies' Ibanez reacts to grounding out to end the seventh inning of their MLB baseball playoff game against the Cardinals in Philadelphia

Destiny denied: The Phillies learn that pitching isn’t enough


Someone tell me when I can breathe.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the Cardinals’ 1-0 win over the Phillies was the best pitching matchup I’ve witnessed since Morris vs. Smoltz.  Not when you figure in the stakes involved. Not when you appreciate just how brilliant Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter each were.  This, to put it bluntly, was pitching porn. It was a shame that either of these two aces had to lose. But Roy Halladay losing after such a brilliant performance reminds us that it takes a full team, not just a dream rotation, to win it all.

You’d be excused if you thought that Philly had, in fact, won it all several months ago.  The moment Cliff Lee signed last winter was treated as a coronation by some. How could a team with Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt not lead the Phillies to a world championship? Over the past five years it’s been understandable to see Phillies fans adjust from rooting for a team that loses a lot to a perennial favorite, but even the world championship in 2008 didn’t change the tone surrounding this team like putting these four aces together did. The mood changed from one of hope and confidence to one of expectation in the winter of 2010-11, and it carried on throughout the year as the Phillies built an insurmountable lead in the NL East.

But those of us who’ve been around the block in the NL East a little bit — specifically, those of us who knew and loved the Braves of the 1990s — know that the regular season is a very different beast than the playoffs.  Those fantastic rotations are great for building a lead over the course of months. They give you an advantage four out of every five nights or so between April and September and they allow you to steadily — almost boringly — put yourself ahead of the competition.  Depth and pitching rule all in the summer.

But in the postseason, with so few games in play, that advantage is greatly reduced. Even against a seemingly overmatched opponent, that advantage only persists in a couple of games. And even in those games, it takes nothing more than a hit or two — like, say, a Rafael Furcal triple and a Skip Schumaker double — to neutralize even that.  Roy Hallday pitched brilliantly after falling into that 1-0 hole. But he needed help to get out of it, and that help never came.

In June, a team’s bats can go to sleep for four or five games and no one thinks anything of it.  I bet there were a number of stretches where Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz and everyone else in that Phillies lineup slumped around the same time.  It’s survivable then.  It’s a death sentence in the postseason, and that’s what the Phillies received this past week. The game story surely breaks down Howard’s 0-for-15 to end the series and all of the other similar ugly numbers, but you don’t need to know those specifics to know that Halladay was on his own tonight.  For as valiantly as he pitched, he needed someone to come through and they didn’t.

But it’s not just a story of failure. Credit Chris Carpenter for brilliance of his own. A three-hit shutout — indeed, the first 1-0 shutout of his career — tied this one up in a bow.  He had help from some spectacular defense by Rafael Furcal too.  And of course those two hits by Furcal and Schumaker. Neither of which were part of the Cardinals’ plans for dominance of the National League last winter.  Neither of which carried the Cardinals through the regular season. They just … happened.

And the fact that they just happened should be well-remembered by fans of the next team that assembles a seemingly invincible roster.  Fans of the next version of 2011 Phillies who believe that, because of some audacious moves by the front office, the regular season is a formality and that postseason glory is theirs for the taking.

Baseball just doesn’t work like that. It takes more than just a great pitching staff.  It takes more than a great lineup. It takes more than great defense. It takes all of those things playing the ying to the other two things’ yangs for six months. And then it takes them all converging at once for a week or two in October.

Didn’t happen for the Phillies this year. And to expect with any degree of certainty that it was going to way back in the winter was folly. Let it be a lesson we all remember in the future.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.