Who’s to Blame for the Phillies’ Collapse?

I see plenty of suspects

On a day that I will give my television a blank stare as I see mutts like Pat Burrell and Cody Ross actually playing in the 2010 World Series, I acknowledge that it is an incurable symptom — I and many other Phillies believers are still stunned beyond belief that the Phils lost to the San Francisco Freaking Giants.

How did this happen?

How did the Phillies, who got into the Giants bullpen in the THIRD inning of an elimination game at home, manage to lose game six of the NLCS and send us reeling into the night, groping for answers and sports satisfaction that the Eagles no doubt will not be able to provide? [SIGNUP]

Jayson Werth said on Monday, two days after the Phils were eliminated by the Giants, that the players themselves were stunned in the clubhouse after the final game since such a loss was “so unexpected.” And therein lies a plausible rationale for the defeat: the Phils expected that anything they did would be good enough to win — much like what happened this season — instead of them taking victory away from the Giants.

We buried our heads in the sand after the Phils beat the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS, in denial of the team’s woeful offensive showing. They hit .212 as a team against the Reds and prevailed only because of Cincinnati’s youthful inexperience. And the offensive woes continued against the Giants, who had spunkier, if less talented players, and much better pitching than the Reds. In the NLCS, the Phils hit a paltry .216 as a team and went a whopping 8-for-45 with runners in scoring position.

That said, there are many specific reasons for the 4-2 series loss to the Giants, listed specifically as follows:

1. Roy Halladay losing game one. Say what you will about his no-hitter against the Reds, and his gutty performance to extend the series to six games, pitching on an injured groin to win game five. Halladay didn’t come through in a must-win game one at home against Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum. He gave up two home runs to Cody Ross, of all people, on pitches right in a hitting zone. And losing game one turned out to be a circumstance the Phils would never overcome.

2. The decision to pitch Joe Blanton in game four. In a must-win situation, you can’t rely on a fourth starter who hadn’t pitched in 18 days. Charlie Manuel is a terrific manager, the best the Phils have ever had, but pitching Blanton was a leap of faith beyond the norm. You had to figure that Blanton wasn’t going to last very long. As it were, he couldn’t get past the fifth inning, which means you had a bullpen you don’t really trust that much try to piecemeal together the rest of the game. Manuel had Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo up early in the game and you just knew he was afraid to use either man. He didn’t even have J.C. Romero warming up, so you know how Manuel felt about him. And that forced the Phils into desperate straights to use starter Roy Oswalt in relief. And we know how that turned out.

3. Using Oswalt in game four…just may have affected how he pitched in game six. Though he only gave up two runs and the Phils were still in the game because of that, it wasn’t the sharpest of nights for Oswalt, who couldn’t hold a 2-0 lead, and gave up nine hits. Remember, the Giants had a third run thrown out at the plate by Shane Victorino. 

To be fair to Oswalt, other Phillies had much more to do with the elimination loss. How does Jimmy Rollins not score on a double to the centerfield wall by Ryan Howard? How does Ben Francisco not get his bat on the ball after the Phils had set up the perfect opportunity to score a run with Carlos Ruiz bunting Raul Ibanez over to third base with one out in the sixth? A fly ball, a chopper, anything, gives the Phils the go-ahead run. How does Victorino not try to steal a base after he gets on in the eighth? How does Rollins not try to make something happen when he gets on first base in the ninth, the Phils down 3-2? And lastly, how does Ryan Howard strike out looking to end the game?

They are questions that will haunt all of us in the off-season as we try to figure out what is to become of this Phillies team. Do we rely on the fact that this is still a very accomplished ball club and hope that they all come back to form next season? After all, the starting pitching alone should make them National League contenders again. Or, do we examine a little closer and speculate that the team needs some fresh new blood, fresh new energy, and interjection of youth, to avoid becoming stagnant?

Within this premise lies the status of Werth. The A solution is to sign Werth for his going rate (which should be somewhere along the lines of at least five years and about $16 million per season, and if he doesn’t get that in light of what outfielders Jason Bay and Matt Holiday got last year, then his agent Scott Boras, who also represented Bay and Holiday, is guilty of malpractice). Keeping Werth would mean biting the bullet on a payroll of about $165 million, higher than the Phils have ever gone, carry Ibanez for one more year at his $11.5 million salary for next year, then move Domonic Brown into left field. But that’s probably not going to happen. Werth is as good as gone and we might have to settle for a platoon in right field with Brown and Francisco, or, gasp, Cody Ross, who will be a reasonably priced free agent.

Yep, it’s been a few days since I watched Ross and Burrell and that fat freaking home run hitter Juan Uribe, celebrate in the middle of the Citizen Bank Park field.

And I’m still stunned.

Listen to Mike Missanelli weekday afternoons on 97.5 The Fanatic.