If you really want to know what the Phillies season has become, just look at their lineup for one of last week’s games against the Boston Red Sox. And remember those names.
There was no Chase Utley, no Ryan Howard, no Carlos Ruiz, no Michael Young. Instead, the lineup was dotted with names like Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen and Erik Kratz. In fact, the only player on the field on Thursday night with any connection at all to the Phillies’ recent glory days was shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The rest of the lineup looked like a pretty good Triple-A team, but not a group that can contend for the National League East title or even a .500 season.
And we’re going to be seeing a lot of those guys in the coming weeks. Welcome to the Phillies’ future and, unfortunately, some of their present.
It’s become woefully obvious that the Phils are a middlin’ team that won’t make the playoffs. Manager Charlie Manuel keeps saying that it’s a long season and his players will get healthy and hot at some point and the Phillies will climb back into the race, but that’s just not going to happen. They’ll win some games and look great doing it, especially when Cliff Lee pitches, but the Phillies seem incapable of showing any consistency, whether it be pitching, fielding or defending. And baseball is all about consistency, about going out there night after night and competing and producing.
One reason it’s almost impossible to see the Phillies becoming relevant this season is that their key veterans keep getting hurt. Utley is out for an unspecified time with an oblique strain, Howard has been missing games because of sore knees (and an inability to hit left-handers), Ruiz is still sidelined with a hamstring injury and, of course, pitcher Roy Halladay is out indefinitely – maybe all season, maybe forever – with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
One thing all those players share, besides being injured, is age. Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick both discovered that the older you get, the greater the chance you’re going to break down somehow. And, as McNabb and Vick also discovered – just as Utley and Howard have more recently found out – when those injuries start happening to the lower part of your body, it’s just a matter of time before you’re no longer an elite player. You can play through a sore shoulder or a jammed finger or a broken nose, but it’s pretty much over when the wheels start to go.
Both Utley and Howard have knee issues and those things don’t get better with time, at least not when you’re in your 30s like they are. We’ve used this famous Indiana Jones line before: “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.’’ Well, Utley and Howard have racked up a lot of miles on their Phillies odometers and you can’t turn them back.
But they’ll be back in the lineup as soon as they heal from their latest problems, because that’s the way Manuel operates. He said as much recently when asked if Galvis, the promising infielder who seems destined to replace Rollins someday, had earned more playing time. Charlie said he’d get him as much PT as he could, but that he was committed – because of his loyalty and their paychecks — to playing his veterans, especially the ones who helped carry the team to their World Series championship in 2008.
That, by the way, was five years ago and the Phillies have been in a steady slide since then, each year doing a little worse than the year before. That jumped up and bit them last year when they finished .500 and missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. And now they’re struggling once again just to break even and their best players – or at least the ones who are supposed to be their best – can’t even take the field.
And the Phillies don’t just lose – they lose in incredibly frustrating ways, either by coughing up leads in the seventh and eighth innings or failing to hit with men in scoring position, especially when there’s a runner on third and less than two outs. And let’s not forget the shaky defense that helped them lose a few games they could have won.
So, we all know how this is going to end, at least record-wise. And now it appears that the only thing to hold our interest will be the progress of young players like Galvis and Hernandez and especially Domonic Brown, as well as pitchers Tyler Cloyd and Jonathan Pettitbone. Someday they’ll be playing every day and – ready or not — that day is coming soon.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org