MILWAUKEE -- The Phillies are still buried in last place in the National League East and they need a high-powered telescope to see the top of the division.
So, nobody of sane mind, or at least nobody who has seen this team play for the past year, will be fooled into thinking that a four-game sweep of the reeling Milwaukee Brewers is about to vault the Phils back into contention. Frankly, it could be a while before this team contends again.
But the road to nowhere can occasionally provide some interesting scenery, and that’s exactly what happened these four days in the land of brats, beer, Bud Selig, Harley-Davidson and Laverne and Shirley.
“Baseball is a funny game,” said Jimmy Rollins, stealing one of Charlie Manuel’s favorite lines. “You hear it a lot and it’s very cliche, but it is. It’s weird. It’s weird.”
The Phillies completed a 10-game trip with a 9-1 win over the Brewers on Thursday (see Instant Replay).
It was what led up to that final outcome that was so weird.
The Phils opened the trip with five losses in the first six games at Miami and Pittsburgh. That dropped them to a season-high 14 games under .500 heading into four games against a Milwaukee club that sported the best record in the National League.
The best against one of the worst.
So, of course, the Phillies swept the Brewers.
The fourth win was indicative of just of how funny a game baseball can be.
The Phils were no-hit for six innings by Milwaukee starter Matt Garza. The right-hander took a two-hit shutout into the eighth inning, and it looked like an almost certain loss for the Phils. That’s how strong Garza’s stranglehold was.
But Phillies starter David Buchanan pitched pretty darn well himself. He kept the game close, and in the eighth inning the Phils improbably rallied for seven runs to take the lead.
The rally was as sudden and strong as a pop-up storm -- a double by Cameron Rupp, a walk by Cesar Hernandez, a groundout. Garza exited for lefty Will Smith as the Brewers turned Rollins from the left side to the right side. Rollins singled in two runs and the Phils never looked back.
The sweep turned a terrible road trip into a .500 road trip.
Yes, the Phillies caught the Brewers at a good time. They are a dreadful 1-8 in July and about to lose their grip on first place in the NL Central.
But the Phils also did a few good things in the series.
Cole Hamels, Roberto Hernandez and Buchanan all pitched gems. The bullpen racked up 8 2/3 scoreless innings in the four games. The bats produced some timely hits as evidenced in that 11-for-29 mark with runners in scoring position during the series.
“These last four games are something we can build on,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “To see the offense come alive in a four-game series against good pitching is a step in the right direction. These guys have good starting pitching and bullpen. That's a good sign for the group.”
Buchanan allowed just one run over seven innings. Hernandez allowed one run in eight innings the night before. One of these guys is likely to be dropped from the rotation when Cliff Lee comes off the disabled list next week. Both pitchers gave team officials something to think about.
“I just try to go out there every time I can and pitch the best game I can, try to give the team a chance to win,” said Buchanan, who is 5-5 with a 4.40 ERA in 10 starts. “When Cliff comes back, whatever happens, happens. I’ve enjoyed my time here. It’s been a great experience for me. Whatever happens, happens. It’s out of my control.”
“Those are just discussions we’ll have to have,” Sandberg said of the rotation puzzle. “It was a good outing for (Buchanan). It looked like they were having a hard time catching up to him. He had a real good fastball. It was live. He had quality pitches and mixed them well. I thought he was real confident and aggressive.”
Now comes the big question for the Phillies: Can they maintain this level of quality play in their final homestand before the all-star break? The three-game series begins Friday night against Washington.
The Phils are 18-27 at home.
That’s not good.
“At all,” Rollins said.
Sandberg hopes four days of pleasant scenery in Milwaukee, even if it was on the road to nowhere, will carry over at home.
“This series should help with that, with some momentum and the guys swinging the bats,” he said. “The bullpen continues to be solid. There were good components through these four games.”
Rollins at first had no answer for why the Phillies struggle so badly at home.
Then he did.
“Baseball’s a crazy game,” he said. “You just hope it’s good-crazy and not bad-crazy. We’ve had a lot of bad-crazy.”
Thursday was good-crazy.