2011 Phillies Could Be the Greatest Disappointment in Philly Sports History
Were this July, Sunday’s 9-4 win in New York would have been a ho-hum result for the Phils. Roy Halladay threw six shutout innings, and the offense sprung to life against the dog-ass Mets, who are so bad these days that it’s hard to generate a legitimate dislike for them.
But this isn’t July. Fall has arrived, and that means the real baseball is less than a week away. After losing eight straight and splitting their eight games before that, the Phillies enter the final three contests of the season leaking political capital and putting themselves in position to author one of the greatest disappointments in the history of Philadelphia sports—and that’s saying something.
Despite their protestations, the Phillies are not a dominant team right now. It doesn’t matter that Charlie Manuel trotted out some lineups that were downright larcenous to home fans during last week’s follies. The Phillies played disinterested, uninspired and occasionally stupid baseball prior to the big win in New York. With three games left, all against the floundering Braves, the Phils have a little more time to get it together, but make no mistake: this team has put itself in the difficult position of having to answer late criticisms with production during the toughest part of the baseball year.
Think back to August, when the Phillies cruised to an 18-7 record amidst the nasty elements. Talk then was of 110 wins and maybe even more. Fans were so happy that they were saying that nothing was guaranteed in the post-season and that reaching the World Series would be exciting and fulfilling. Today, few of those positive vibes can be found, and fans are starting to think reaching the Series is a longshot. Despite rebukes from players—“If we don’t panic, then nobody else should panic,” Ryan Howard said Sunday—it’s impossible not to be concerned about a team that is limping to the finish, literally and figuratively. Howard is just one of the wounded players on the field right now. Hunter Pence, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco and Jimmy Rollins have all recently battled, or are battling, injuries. Meanwhile, Antonio Bastardo’s slider is a meatball, and Michael Stutes has surrendered seven hits and three runs in his last four outings. Suddenly, the Phils’ best bullpen options beyond Ryan Madson appear to be Kyle Kendrick, Joe Blanton and Vance Worley.
Then there are the starting pitchers, who seem to be just fine. Halladay had thrown just 77 pitches through six innings Sunday, and had Charlie Manuel tried to remove him in that situation a month ago, Halladay might have dropped him. But this is post-season prep, and there is no reason to believe Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt won’t be ready to deal come Saturday. The trouble is, not even they have faith in the team’s bats, a sentiment revealed Saturday when Hamels talked about going out to throw “nine-inning shutouts” every time during the playoffs and (God willing) World Series.
The fact is, every blemish this team owns was exposed during the past week-plus. Its continued inability—and stubborn refusal—to manufacture runs was amplified when the extra-base bats went quiet. Stutes’ and Bastardo’s unreliability has made creaking Brad Lidge (one earned run in his last 12 appearances) seem like the preferred set-up man come Saturday. Chase Utley’s continued inability to drive the ball led Manuel to put him in the two spot Sunday, which could well be his home in the lineup for the rest of the road, despite the manager’s continued insistence that it would be “just a matter of time” before Utley started hitting for power again. He didn’t say whether he meant next April would be the time.
Manuel said Sunday’s win was proof the Phillies could respond to a challenge. Then again, beating the Mets isn’t exactly the baseball equivalent of taming Lindsay Lohan. The problem now is that if the Phils want to roll into the post-season on a high, they have to do it at the expense of the Braves, who are 5-10 in their last 15. If the Phillies burn Atlanta, they could end up seeing red-hot St. Louis (14-4 down the stretch) in the first round of the playoffs. Then again, Arizona (12-5) or Milwaukee (9-3 and owner of the majors’ best home record, 55-23) wouldn’t be a first-round patsy, either.
While Manuel should absolutely keep his starting pitchers on a tight pitch count, he should play the varsity position players each of the three games, the better to let them get acclimated to playing winning baseball again. The time for messing around is over. The Phillies have had their vacation, and it’s back to work. The only difference is that there is zero margin for error. If the Phils don’t win it all, fans and analysts will point to the eight-game swoon as evidence of the team’s arrogance, and a season that had the opportunity to be historic will be nothing but a colossal disappointment.
It’s time to play, fellas. The city is behind you. You will see more jerseys, jackets and hats in the next week than you have seen all season. But remember that this is Philadelphia, and we don’t like to be disappointed.
Especially when we have been promised so much.
- What can you say about a team that has decided defense doesn’t matter, commits crippling penalties and is hampered by boneheaded coaching moves practically every week? Welcome to the Eagles’ 2011 nightmare. Right now, Michael Vick’s broken right hand could be the least of the team’s problems. Two straight weeks with four TDs surrendered and some mystifying play calling have doomed the Birds so far. Now, Andy Reid is getting even testier with the media. How about some composure, folks?
- All hail Temple running back Bernard Pierce, whose five TDs against Maryland thrust him into the national spotlight. That was a great win for the Owls, but there is no time to celebrate. Formidable Toledo comes to town Saturday for a big MAC game. Oh, and here’s a little bit of advice for the Terps: When you dress like clowns, you tend to play like clowns.
- Anybody who was at the Palestra Sunday for the showdown between Team Philly and Team Melo was rewarded with some fun hoops and a great atmosphere. Alas, that’s about the closest anybody around here will get to the NBA for a long time. Unlike the NFL, the pro ballers and their fat-cat owners aren’t sharp enough to understand the fallout of missing real games. After a great 2010-11 season, the good times are fading. Thank goodness we had Sunday night.