COMMENTARY | The Philadelphia Phillies had just climbed into second place in the National League East on June 7. They were coming off their fifth straight win and facing the pitching-deprived Milwaukee Brewers, who they took down in the first game of the four-game series the previous evening. With Cliff Lee heading to the hill to face little known and unproven Alfredo Figaro, the Phillies were primed to go two games over the .500 mark and continue to gain ground on the Atlanta Braves, who were being taught a weekend lesson by the upstart Los Angeles Dodgers.
But then the Phillies gave Lee a 4-0 lead and it's been all downhill since. This isn't the first time Lee has been handed a 4-0 lead with disastrous results.
On October 2, 2011, the Phillies faced the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. They had a 1-0 series lead and had jumped on Cardinals' starter Chris Carpenter in the first inning for three runs and added another in the second.
Lee cruised through the first three frames before coming apart at the seams in the fourth. Hits by Ryan Theriot, Jon Jay and Rafael Furcal (not exactly a murderers row) brought St. Louis within one, and Jay tied it in the sixth before Albert Pujols knocked in the game-winner in the seventh.
In a series that could have been all but wrapped up after a 102-win season, the Phils were left in a battle that ended when Carpenter out-dueled Roy Halladay, 1-0, in Game 5.
Now an early June game against the Brew Crew obviously holds little weight when compared to a playoff game, but it leads me to wonder if Lee has a mechanism that makes him take his foot off the gas when he feels like he has the game under control.
Lee has been saddled over his career with shoddy run support. His 6-9 record in 2012 while having a solid 3.16 ERA and All-Star caliber numbers across the board is evidence of that. It makes one wonder if Lee's concentration level needs to be kept so sharp to stay in close games that he lets his guard down when given a substantial lead.
The bottom line is that if this team has any shot of staying in contention, that simply can not happen. Without Lee, the Phillies might already be buried and shopping Lee to contenders, as well as some of the Phillies' other veterans. Lee is 7-2 with a 2.55 ERA. He's been the Phillies' ace no matter the order the rotation goes to the mound.
While ten-game road trips are never easy, a trip to Milwaukee, Minnesota and Colorado is an opportunity if you're trying to crawl into a race in early June and keep the nucleus of your team intact. The Brewers and Twins are bottom feeders, and while Colorado has dangerous bats and has over-achieved, they're starting to fall back to Earth and are ripe for a team whose bats have suddenly come to life.
In recent years, the club has endured what some have called the June Swoon. In can't happen this season because they don't have the fire power to sustain a run if they have to come from way back in the standings. They have to be consistent. They have to win every winnable series, and that includes road tilts in Milwaukee.
They had a four-run lead on their way to six straight. They had their ace on the mound. Confidence was high. Now they've dropped three straight to a last place team, and for as good as he's been, your ace has to be better than that.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has covered the Phillies for three-plus seasons and followed the team since the glory days of the late 70s. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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- Philadelphia Phillies
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