Relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon caused a stir recently when he suggested (accused?) the Phillies of lacking in the basic fundamentals of baseball. As Papelbon pointed out, baseball is an easy game if you play it correctly and not so easy when you don’t.
A lot of people didn’t like what Papelbon said, or, at the least, they say he shouldn’t have griped about his team publicly. At the same time, nobody said he was wrong. In fact, anybody who has watched the Phillies in the last couple of years knows exactly when he’s talking about, and the Phillies’ 8-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday was the perfect example of that, as well as the obvious reason the Phils have no chance to catch the Atlanta Braves for the National League East title.
The Mets were leading Sunday’s game 1-0 in the fifth inning when disaster struck the Phillies. The Mets’ Juan Lagares, a .232 hitter, lofted a routine fly ball to center fielder Ben Revere, who easily tracked the ball down. Revere nonchalantly gloved the ball for what appeared to be the first out of the inning, but then he carelessly let the ball fall to the ground when he was transferring it from his glove to his throwing hand.
The umpires ruled that he dropped the ball and the hustling Lagares made it all the way to third base, where he would score the first of the three runs the Mets would score in the inning, which proved to be more than enough to win the game. Television replays showed that Revere held the ball long enough for the out and after the game he called the umpire’s call “terrible.’’ Perhaps. But if Revere hadn’t been so careless, if he had made the simple fundamental play on a routine fly ball (remember when your coaches always told you to catch it with two hands?) then it wouldn’t have been an issue and the Phillies would have still had a chance to win the game.
Then, to make matters worse, the Phillies once again showed their lack of fundamentals and discipline the very next half-inning. They came to the plate after that Mets’ three-run spot and they needed to answer with some offense of their own. That usually means careful at-bats and working the count and doing everything you can to get on base. Well, the Phillies’ side was retired on just six pitches.
Granted, they were facing Mets ace Matt Harvey, who appears to be a lock to be the National League’s starting pitcher in the All-Star game and is the early favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award. Still, three outs on six pitches when you’re trailing 4-0? Now that’s terrible, not to mention inexcusable.
But, with this Phillies team what you see is what you get and so far we’ve gotten a mediocre team that doesn’t do the little things well. And since the Phillies don’t do the big things well anymore – hitting three-run homers and, with the exception of Cliff Lee, pitching at a high level – it’s no surprise that they were 7 ½ games out of first place in NL East going into Monday night’s game at San Diego.
Manager Charlie Manuel is partly to blame for the lack of fundamentals since he’s always turned a blind eye or made excuses for the lack of plate discipline by free-swinging players like Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard and the casual approach to defense some of his younger players take on occasion.
At the same time, Manuel has to play the hand he’s been dealt by general manager Ruben Amaro. When the Phillies were one of the best teams in baseball they were led by the superstar core of Rollins, Howard and Chase Utley, but a big part of their success was the strong, fundamental play of since-departed veterans like Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Pedro Feliz. They’ve been replaced by talented, but fundamentally lacking players like Revere and Domonic Brown, and that is why the Phillies don’t win the close, competitive games like they used to.
And, sadly, there is no quick fix to this problem. Perhaps Revere and Brown will learn how to do things the right way, but by that time the core of this team will be on another team or in retirement.
So, we’ll give the Phillies one more month to right their ship and show that they’re capable of competing for a playoff spot. And there’s a good chance that’s the same amount of time Amaro will give them before he starts to dismantle the team he built to return the Phillies to their former glory.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.