Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Doc's Red Fever

Anyone doubting Roy Halladay's allegiance to his team needn't worry on Monday night. Doc wore the bright, Philly red all over his face.

It doesn't matter how much baseball you watch, you always see something new, and I can't recall a time that a pitcher had to leave the game due to heat exhaustion. Major League Baseball players are used to the elements of every blazing hot summer, but for whatever the reason, Halladay's body bowed down to the boiling, mid-July atmosphere at Wrigley Field. It showed in his delivery, his performance and the fiery complexion which awkwardly contorted with every wince of strain on Halladay's face.

After a successful showing in the All-Star Game, this was not how the second half was supposed to begin. A 6-1 loss to the aimless Chicago Cubs with the best pitcher in baseball on the mound?

It occurs to me that Halladay's struggles pointed to a troubling reality. Perhaps he simply felt the heat of the quickly-advancing Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta has been the hottest team in the NL over the past month, and Philadelphia's comfortable cushion in the East has shrunk to just 2.5 games. Right now, there's just that sense (call it that same old Phillies fan pessimism if you wish) that the Braves are going to be in first place sometime in the near future.

I'm not saying the Phillies won't wrap up yet another division title, but given the way both teams are presently playing, I don't see them maintaining their lead. Consider that last year, Atlanta was in first place for more than half the season, and it has an even stronger team this year.

Both squads have similar make-ups, with strong pitching and sketchy hitting, but the Braves have a better bullpen and they aren't as likely to endure long stretches when their offense is literally incapable of scoring runs.

The Phillies knew this wasn't going to be a walk in the park, and their biggest test may come sooner than they thought. The rest of the team needs to heed Halladay's warning and put that fire out as soon as possible.

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