This time last week, I wrote a column saying it was too early to write off the Phillies for this season, mainly because the rest of National League East was limping along almost as badly as they were.
One week and a bunch of losses later, I’ve changed my mind.
That’s because this Phillies team is not only bad, it’s also stupid, and that’s much, much worse. Not all of them, of course — players like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz have high baseball IQs. And that’s an irony to the Phillies’ sad-sack season so far — the Big Three of Utley, Rollins and Ryan Howard has been playing pretty well or, in the case of Utley, very well. It’s the supporting cast that has let them down and not just in statistical things like hits and RBIs.
The Phillies make so many mental mistakes you’d think you were watching a T-ball game where the outfielders are watching butterflies flit by instead of fly balls headed their way. You can tolerate bad baseball to an extent, but dumb baseball is something a true fan just can’t stand.
This past week, some commentators on a local sports radio network were criticizing Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg for the bone-headed play of his younger players, under the theory that Sandberg was supposed to be more disciplined than his predecessor, Charley Manuel, who pretty much let the patients run the asylum.
But this is a problem with much deeper roots, which means it will be much more difficult to fix. You can’t expect Sandberg to come in, snap his fingers and make the Phillies smarter. The fundamentals that this Phillies team is so bad at – base running, hitting the cutoff man, advancing runners, etc. – are things that players should learn in the minor leagues. That’s what the farm system is for. The Dodgers were famous for decades for doing things “the Dodger way,’’ which meant a strong emphasis on the basics of the game at the minor-league level, the little things that mean so much at the major-league level.
Well, it’s pretty obvious the Phillies have done a terrible job at that. Their young players don’t seem to have a clue when it comes to the fundaments that decide so many games, the fundamentals that a good team executes on a regular basis. Something must be done at the minor-league level so players are ready for the big time when they finally reach the majors.
But it goes even deeper than that. When the Phillies scout and then draft players, they need to put an emphasis on players who already know how to play the game the right way – Chase Utley was a smart baseball player long before he signed with the Phillies. Instead, the Phils have gambled on players like Domonic Brown, who has all the physical tools, but appears clueless when it comes to the basics. Brown might be a whiz at crossword puzzles or computer programming or something like that, but he’s not a smart baseball player. That’s why he hasn’t adjusted to the adjustments that enemy pitchers have made since his All-Star season last year. He’s also weak defensively and on the base paths, which makes him a triple non-threat.
What makes that even worse is the fact that Brown is the only player to emerge from the Phillies farm system in the last decade who at least had the potential to be a star. It’s hard to believe now, but just a couple of years ago Brown was considered untouchable when it came to trade talks. It’s hard to believe now, but Brown was supposed to be the cornerstone of this team as Utley, Rollins and Howard aged and slowly faded away.
Now, Brown is the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the Phillies and will continue to be wrong with them for the foreseeable future.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.