I’m going to write about the Phillies, even though you probably don’t want to read about the Phillies, or talk about them or listen to somebody else talk about them or even think about them.
It’s starting to register to most fans that the Phillies aren’t in a slump – they’re simply not very good right now and nothing is going to change that. Not this year; maybe not ever. And that’s an incredible low when compared to the incredible high this team and its fans have been on for the last half-decade or so.
The Phillies are in last place in NL East and they’ve been there for most of this season. But now, headed into Tuesday night’s game at Minnesota, they were eight games back and even though it’s early, that’s a lot of ground to make up and a lot of teams to pass – teams that, right now, are better than the Phils.
Here’s an interesting statistic, courtesy of stat-master Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com: The last time the Phillies were eight games out of first place was on June 4, 2007, when they had a record of 28-29. They went on to finish 61-44 the rest of the way, a winning percentage of .581, and the Phils would win the first in their string of five straight NL East titles, edging the Mets by one game.
But that was a young emerging team with up-and-coming stars like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, who was the NL MVP that season. They were good and they were ascending and they were remarkably like the Washington Nationals are right now – young and dynamic.
This Phillies team is neither young nor dynamic and does anybody think this current group of Phillies can win 58 percent of the rest of their games? With a lineup that includes Ty Wigginton and Michael Martinez and John Mayberry? With a pitching staff that includes Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick?
It doesn’t help that the guy who should be their best player might be their worst – Jimmy Rollins is hitting just .240, has popped up in the infield more than any player in the league so far, has struck out 39 times and walked just 18 and continues, inexplicably, to bat lead-off instead of Juan Pierre, who is hitting 82 points higher than Rollins (.322) and does what a lead-off hitter is supposed to do, which is be patient, make contact and get on base.
And why does Rollins hit first and Pierre second? According to manager Charlie Manuel, it’s because he likes the way Pierre handles the bat and can bunt and move runners over and all the things a No. 2 hitter is supposed to do. What Manuel seems to forget is that you can’t move a runner if he isn’t on base because he popped out on the first pitch again as Rollins does so often, and it seems like every time Pierre comes to the plate in the first inning it’s with one out.
That, by the way, is another interesting fact about the Phillies’ struggles — the manager who, for the first time, actually has to manage.
Now, this is not another cheap shot at Manuel, although we’re certainly capable of doing that. We realize that Manuel has forgotten more baseball than 99 percent of us will ever know, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good manager.
Manuel lovers – and there are a lot of him because Charlie is a loveable guy – point out what his team has accomplished over the last five years, which, of course, includes the second World Series championship in franchise history as well as that impressive string of division titles.
But to have won just one World Series with this team isn’t something to brag about. Since he’s been manager, Manuel has had an All-Star player at every position except catcher, and that should change this year if Carlos Ruiz continues to play as well as he has so far. And not just All-Stars – Manuel has managed three players who are the best at their positions in Phillies history in Rollins, Utley and Howard.
And the last couple of years he’s had the best starting pitching staff in team history, maybe even league history, a staff that includes two Cy Young Award winners and a World Series MVP. And the one time he won it all, Manuel had a closer, Brad Lidge, who had one of the best seasons for a reliever in baseball history when he went 41-for-41 in save attempts in the regular season and 7-for-7 in the playoffs, including the final game of the World Series.
So, with all of that all-time, All-Star talent, Charlie Manuel won just one World Series? And not only that, his team has gotten worse and worse every year since that championship – sure, they won a team record 102 games last season, but how did those playoffs turn out?
People have noticed, of course, and not only have the Phillies players lost their swagger, so have their fans. This team just isn’t fun to watch anymore and it’s evident every time you turn on the television to watch one of their games, assuming you still tune in. Even though they keep grandly announcing sellout after sellout at Citizens Bank Park, you can see plenty of empty seats at home games, seats that were filled at this time last year.
Maybe the Phillies will make another late-season charge and get back to the postseason and win a series or two. But it’s more likely they’ll struggle the rest of the season and miss the playoffs and then general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will be faced with the most difficult offseason of his tenure. Moves will have to be made and the face of this team will have to change.
At least that will make the Phillies worth talking about again.
Contact Kevin Noonan at [email protected].