The plan was to wait a couple of months before writing a column about the Phillies, since that would give all of us time to see what this team is about and give us at least a clue about where it’s going.
Well, two months have flown by and we still don’t have a clue, other than the fact that it’s obvious that this team that will struggle to make it back to the playoffs, mainly because of its inconsistent play – sometimes the Phillies look pretty good and sometimes they look really bad.
It’s no secret that the heart of the Phillies franchise for the last decade has been the Big Three of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. Well, Utley is back in All-Star form and Rollins has at least halted the downward slide of his career — Rollins will never be the dynamic player he was in the Phillies’ glory days, but at least he’s an offensive threat again.
Howard, of course, is another story. He’ll still hit an occasional home run and have an occasional four-RBI game, but he’s a liability at the plate right now, especially against left-handers, and there’s a good chance Howard will sit out games when the Phils are scheduled to face a lefty. Right now, there’s a huge hole in the middle of the Phillies’ batting order and they don’t have anybody who can fill it.
But the biggest problems with the Phillies aren’t the biggest players, because a baseball team needs everybody to produce. This isn’t the NBA where the Miami Heat can simply hand the ball to LeBron James every time down the court, so no matter how well Utley is playing, there are times when other players have to produce. And, for the most part, they haven’t.
When the Phillies were dominating the National League not that long ago, a major reason for that was their satellite players like Shane Victorino (who hit .293 in 2008, the year the Phillies won the World Series), Jayson Werth (.273 with 24 home runs), Greg Dobbs (.301) and Matt Stairs (.294).
That was then and this is now, and now look at the secondary players that general manager Ruben Amaro assembled for the 2014 season. Marlon Byrd (hitting .283 going into Thursday night’s game against the Mets) was a good acquisition, but the rest of the Phillies bench has been stealing money – John Mayberry Jr. (.227), Domonic Brown (.203), Tony Gwynn Jr. (.183), Jayson Nix (.154), Hernandez (.132) and Freddie Galvis (.048).
What the Phillies do have going for them is the same thing real estate brokers talk about all the time: Location, location, location. For the Phillies, that means National League East, and even if you don’t think NL East isn’t the worst division in baseball – although it is — it’s definitely the most schizophrenic.
Look at it this way. Before Thursday’s game, the Phillies were five games under .500, but only 4 ½ games out of first place, which means they still have a chance. But if they were in NL Central they’d be 7 ½ games out of first place and if they were in NL West they’d be 13 games out of first place.
So, the Phillies could still put together a winning streak and climb back into the pennant race. As bad as it’s been, it could get a lot better – or a lot worse. And right now, we have no idea which it will be.
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.