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Monday, May 30, 2011

Game 54: Halladay battles through victory (34-20)

Roy Halladay pitched 7 innings today, allowing 3 home runs but only 4 runs overall. The Phils offense once again covered for a mediocre start from one of its aces by coming back from 2-0 and 4-3 deficits. The two runs scored by the Phillies in the top of the seventh were enough for the victory thanks to scoreless innings by Halladay (7th), Antonio Bastardo (8th), and Ryan Madson (9th).

Manuel had a fine game, except for his lineup of 3 consecutive lefties in the middle of the order. Placido Polanco, who has batted third even after Utley's return, was somehow back in the 2nd slot today with Utely-Howard-Ibanez all in row. Since Utley is better than Polanco, the 2-hole is a more important position than the 3, and Polanco is a righty while Utley is a lefty, there is really no excuse to stack 3 straight lefties like this while Polanco bats second.

The strategy nearly backfired in the top of the 7th inning. The Nationals' situation lefty, Sean Burnett, came into the game to face the Phils' trio with one man on and one out. Utley worked a walk before Ryan Howard bounced a slow grounder to the right side. It looked like an inning-ending double play ball, but it somehow found its way through the hole to tie the game. Ibanez then knocked a sac fly to give the Phils the lead for good.

It didn't backfire this time, but stacking these 3 lefties in a row is not a good long-term strategy. In fact, the Phils could easily avoid stacking two lefties in a row if they wanted. Rollins-Utley-Polanco-Howard-Ruiz-Ibanez-Mayberry-Brown is probably the Phils optimal lineup right now. For those people who say Ruiz can't bat 5th: you're the same people who said he can only bat 8th. Why can't he bat 5th? Protecting Howard is not an answer: The Book by Tom Tango has already disproved the myth of lineup protection. Ruiz is batting 6th just fine, and if batting 5th will prevent dominant lefty relievers from solving this lineup (see 2010 NLCS Game 6 for exhibit A), then it must be done.

The Phils now have a 2.5 game lead on Florida, and, more importantly, a 4.5 game lead on Atlanta. Cliff Lee goes for the series win against RHP Jason Marquis tomorrow night at 7:05 pm.

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