The Philadelphia Phillies entered the final week of the season with their thoughts on gaining home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.
They may still have a fight to simply survive their own division.
The Phillies’ NL East lead is dwindling by the day, but they can reduce their magic number to two with a win Tuesday night against the visiting Houston Astros, who look for their sixth straight win against the World Series champions.
Philadelphia (90-66) took advantage of its own strong play down the stretch and collapses by the New York Mets to win the past two NL East titles. The Atlanta Braves are lurking behind the Phillies in second place this season, however, and with a seven-game winning streak they’ve cut an eight-game deficit in half since Sept. 21.
As the Braves were putting the finishing touches on their latest victory Tuesday, Philadelphia couldn’t get past a team that had lost 11 of 13. Cole Hamels(notes) suffered through a rare rough outing and the Phillies’ offense couldn’t string together hits in an 8-2 loss to Houston (73-83), which has outscored Philadelphia 28-12 in going 5-0 in the season series.
The Phillies are tied with St. Louis for the NL’s second-best record, 2 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for home field until the World Series.
“We’ve got to win games to make the playoffs,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “We’re not playing good baseball and it’s time to start.”
Happ missed two starts earlier this month with a strained oblique, but he’ll look to win for a second straight time Tuesday. The left-hander gave up two runs and six hits over 5 2-3 innings Thursday at Milwaukee, striking out seven in a 9-4 win.
Given the presence of Hamels, Cliff Lee(notes) and Pedro Martinez(notes), combined with the Phillies’ bullpen struggles - Brad Lidge(notes) was removed as the full-time closer last week - it’s possible Happ could be in a different role should the Phillies make the playoffs.
“There’s a chance he could wind up in the back end of the bullpen if we don’t get something straightened out,” Manuel said of Happ, who’s never faced the Astros. “I’m not saying we’re going to do that, but we’re going to talk about it, if we don’t have no lefty.”
Manuel’s bullpen dilemma may have become a bit clearer Monday, as left-handed reliever J.C. Romero(notes) returned from a strained left forearm for the first time since July 19. Romero pitched a scoreless inning of relief Monday against the Astros, whose .276 average against left-handers is second in the NL behind the Dodgers.
The Astros last won six straight against the Phillies during a 12-game streak from Aug. 17, 2004-Sept. 7, 2005.
Astros rookie Wilton Lopez(notes) (0-0, 8.44) will make his first career start after allowing opponents to hit .400 in his first 10 2-3 innings. Lopez, who hasn’t faced the Phillies, has allowed nine runs and 12 hits - three homers - in 5 2-3 innings on the road.