The Phillies have spent so much time in the basement this year, they should consider turning it into a rec room, with some nice paneling and maybe a pool table and a dart board and a couple of big-screen TVs. Hey, they could even put a wet bar in the corner…
The Phils just finished the first half of the 2012 season with 50 losses and sole possession of last place in NL East, after ending the first half of the 2011 season with 57 victories and sole possession of first place. That’s an incredible turnaround, but you already know what’s happened in the recent past, so let’s look ahead.
And there is hope for the second half of the season, although not much. The Phillies will be better after the All-Star break, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be good, or at least good enough to make it back into the playoffs. Speaking of which — if the playoffs started today, the Phillies, Cardinals and Giants wouldn’t be in them, but the Nationals, Pirates and Orioles would be. And who would have predicted that back in April?
Anyhow, the main reason the Phillies will be better is because they’ll finally have Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay back in the lineup, three All-Stars who are also leaders of this team.
The main reason they still won’t be good is the players around them, players like Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco. Those former All-Stars are just ordinary players now and quite often they’re not even ordinary.
Certainly nobody expected the Phils to fall off a cliff like they’ve done this season. Nobody would have been surprised if they struggled some without Howard and Utley and nobody would have been surprised if they struggled a little more after Halladay went on the disabled list with a back-shoulder strain.
But it shouldn’t have been a surprise that this team would take a step backward, because they’ve been doing that ever since they won the World Series in 2008. Sure, they set a club record for victories last year, but that was in the regular season. The Phils lost in the first round of the playoffs after losing in the NL Championship Series the year before that and in the World Series the year before that.
And that’s because almost all of the Phillies players have taken individual steps backward since that championship season. In fact, the only one who’s playing as well or better since that season is catcher Carlos Ruiz, who has become one of the top catchers in the game. But the other players, including the Big Three of Utley, Howard and Rollins, aren’t nearly as productive as they were back then.
And even though the Phillies still have one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball — or at least they will when Halladay returns — their aces have been trumped too many times this season, especially Cliff Lee, who didn’t win his first game of the season until last week.
Plus the bullpen has been a disaster, mainly because the Phillies’ brain trust was fooled by past performances, especially when it comes to the reliever who was supposed to be their No.1 setup guy, Antonio Bastardo. He had a terrific season two years ago, but he wasn’t very good last year and he’s been awful this season. The bullpen in general has been very, very bad and that’s the main reason the Phillies have lost so many games in the late innings and that’s the main reason they’re in last place.
That’s why it’s laughable to hear media and fans say that the Phillies should trade Cole Hamels for some younger players. Hamels has been the Phils’ best pitcher this season and if they’re going to contend in the second half of the season — as unlikely as that may seem — or even next season, they’re going to do it because of their starting pitching.
It’s obvious that the Phillies’ offense is never going to return to its former glory, at least not with the players on the current roster. This is not just a simple matter of waiting for injured players to heal or slumping players to turn it around. This is reality and it’s not going to change.
Still, this team has too much potential talent and past success to just blow it up and start over. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. needs to tweak his roster, but not destroy it. He definitely needs to get help for his beleaguered bullpen and it wouldn’t break my heart to see him trade somebody like Victorino or Polanco or even Rollins. But, for the most part, what you see now is what you’re going to get the rest of the season. The Phillies have no choice – they must play the hand they’ve been dealt. They can only hope their starting pitching is once again magical and their key position players play better than they have, even though it’s too much to expect them to play like they did three years ago.
Phillies fan just hope they don’t play like they have for the last three months or their team won’t just be playing in the basement, they’ll be buried there.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.