Roy Oswalt Guarantees Nothing

Sorry to rain on plans for your parade down Broad Street, Phillies fans, but this team still has too many flaws to win it all

When I co-hosted the 10 a.m.-noon show last Friday on 97.5 The Fanatic, I was described as a “village idiot” and told to keep “my mouth shut” by callers who couldn’t believe I had the audacity to drop a little temperance into the delirious discussion of the Phillies’ acquisition of Roy Oswalt. It didn’t help that the man sitting in the chair to my left, Vai “Sunshine” Sikahema, was behaving as if Oswalt had promised to give $1 million to every Phillies fan and that the most difficult part of his life in the coming months would be clearing necessary time to attend the home team’s championship parade. [SIGNUP]

Caller after caller derided my plea for restraint in the wake of Oswalt’s arrival. They all but wondered whether my frontal lobe had been removed the previous evening when I mentioned the Phils’ unstable bullpen, proclivity for hitting like featherweights on the road and bargain basement bench. Vai wondered aloud if my intelligence had been compromised somehow. To top it all off, after the show, Big Boss Man said he had “turned me off” when I didn’t show sufficient enthusiasm for the Oswalt deal and the Phillies suddenly-revived prospects. “People are happy today,” Big Boss Man said. “They don’t want to hear someone bring them down.”

Year after year, coaches and athletes in this town talk about how knowledgeable Philadelphia fans are. They look past the crushing myopia that afflicts the town and insist that the locals are Phi Beta Kappas when it comes to sports. If that’s so, and we’ll have to set aside some time down the road for that discussion, why are they disregarding every bit of evidence that disproves the wild theory that adding Oswalt and his cortisone-filled back guarantees a World Series win? It’s as if the soft, feel-good atmosphere of St. Louis, where game-ending doubleplays are cheered as if they were walk-off grand slams, has replaced Philly’s hard-boiled approach. Maybe the 2008 title has mellowed us. After waiting 25 years for a crown, the city lost its edge in the wake of the Phils’ success. (Don’t tell Donovan McNabb that.)

It’s great to root for a team that has an aggressive approach to its business and seems genuinely interested in winning. That’s one of the reasons the Phillies have been so popular these past several seasons. If you’re going to add talent when necessary and try to build a team that has a shot, it’s natural for the fans to respond positively. And when those moves actually work, then it’s time to back the truck up and shovel in the money that comes from packed stadiums and mindless consumption of concession items.

Look at the Sixers. They spend a ridiculous amount of money on Elton Brand, generating excitement, but then fall flat when Brand doesn’t deliver, engendering apathy. That hasn’t happened to the Phils. They’re fighting for a fourth straight division title and deserve the fans’ support.

That doesn’t mean the city’s natural tendency to analyze and criticize should be muted. This team has some serious problems, and adding Oswalt does not solve them. Yes, the Phils are now stronger in their starting rotation, assuming Oswalt’s shaky debut in D.C. Friday night is not an indication of his future performance and the comments from some NL scouts and execs in Jayson Stark’s Friday”>article on aren’t 100 percent accurate. But unless Oswalt, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels plan to throw nine innings every single time from here through October, the Phillies have a big bullpen problem. Even though Brad Lidge shut down the Nationals Sunday in three-up-three-down fashion, he has been as reliable as Lindsay Lohan’s behavior this season. In fact, since his perfect 2008 campaign, he has blown 15 saves and has an ERA of 6.69. (Thank you, Paul Hagan.) The velocity on both his fastball and slider has dropped, making him quite vulnerable. And though manager Charlie Manuel steadfastly maintains Lidge is “his closer,” he contradicted that stance Thursday night by refusing to use Lidge in the ninth inning against Arizona with the Phils leading, 2-1, citing “matchups” for his using Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero.

The “matchups” must have been better in the 10th, when Lidge came in to face the Diamondbacks, after Madson (who should never be allowed to pitch in a closing situation) and Romero (ditto) combined to give up the tying run. Simply put, Lidge is no longer a championship closer, and unless GM Ruben Amaro can pull off a magical waiver deal that brings in a reliable closer, the Phils’ championship chances are much shakier than what the locals seem to believe they are in the wake of the Oswalt deal.

The bench situation, featuring banjo-hitting Greg Dobbs and a cast of .250 performers, is slightly better, because players like Wilson Valdez and Ross Gload have made some significant contributions while the regulars have convalesced, but it’s not exactly World Series-caliber, either. Do you really think sending Ben Francisco up to pinch-hit in a tight situation give the Phils an advantage? Me neither.

Some will continue to criticize me for providing a dose of reality during this happy time, but that’s too bad. The Phils are better with Oswalt, but they’re still fatally flawed at the back end of games, both at the bat and in the ‘pen. Until those situations improve, it would be wise for fans to exercise a little restraint, lest they have their hearts broken in the post-season.

Should the Phillies get that far.

* Welcome to training camp, folks. The Eagles’ injuries are part of the game’s nature. Let’s hope they continue to be of the nagging variety and not season-ending. This team isn’t good enough to withstand those.

* While everyone said Roy Oswalt was “nervous” or “rushed” in his first start with the Phillies after the trade, J.A. Happ threw six four-hit shutout innings the same night. He didn’t seem to be bothered.

* Congratulations to Sixers forward Andre Iguodala for making the U.S. squad that will play in the World Championships. Let’s hope it’s a springboard for big things come November. He could use it. So could the Sixers.