It was quite a week. Six days ago the Phillies had a 3-0 lead against Miami and were looking to go a season-high four games over .500. They blew that game and haven’t won since, squandering more leads and coming up with new and excruciating ways to lose along the way. The whole season fans have been tapping the breaks of panic, but now we’re in a full fishtail, laying rubber all over the road. The cussing dam has burst. Was it Halladay’s injury that sent them over the edge? Was it cumulative? Was the team playing over its head to get to three games over .500?
When I watch the Phillies this year, the two things that seem drastically different than they have been in the past are the pitching and defense. They definitely didn’t hit enough this past week to win a bunch of games, but the team of last year or two years ago would have managed maybe a 3-3 stretch, despite the dip in production. The Phillies pitching has become middle of the pack. Their team ERA is approaching 4.00, nearly a run off their pace from 2011 and of late it’s been even worse than that. As a team the Phillies don’t make a lot of errors, but more than that there is a noticeable lack of range–in left field and at both corner infield positions that reveals itself at inopportune times. The result of all of this is that the Phillies have lost their magic in 1-run games. They are 5-10 in such contests this year. In past years, that number would have been reversed.
Of course, you can’t ignore the injuries. The Phillies started Ty Wigginton, Juan Pierre, Mike Fontenot, Brian Schneider and John Mayberry Jr yesterday. Does that look like a lineup for a team with a 170 million dollar payroll? For some teams, those five guys would encompass a barely serviceable bench, but the Phillies have them playing a regular role. The Phillies don’t put enough talent on the field right now to be a contending team. That’s just the truth. Charlie Manuel said as much the other day. When you take that everyday lineup and combine it with Blanton getting shelled, Hamels cooling off, and Kendrick taking a regular turn the losing streak makes a lot more sense.
The first third of the season has been a test of patience, but to this point there’s been hope that things will get better. The Phillies will get healthier. This team “knows” how to win. Is that really the case, though? There aren’t many faces around that tasted the World Series victory in 2008. There are guys playing a regular role that have hardly been on a winning team in their career–let alone a true contender. If anything, signs point to this team not knowing how to win. In close situations the bullpen has failed, the key hit hasn’t come and the team continues to spin its wheels. So where does that leave us in terms of actually getting better?
Health will be the biggest factor for this team going forward. The sooner Chase Utley can get back, the better. Ryan Howard feels like a much bigger question mark at this time and counting on him is probably even more foolish than counting on Utley. But, it’s not only Utley. Roy Halladay needs to return on schedule. If that six to eight week time frame stretches much further, it’s hard to see the Phillies keeping it together. You see how Doc’s first week on the DL went. The team also needs Laynce Nix back and being nearly as productive as he was before his calf injury. Playing Mayberry and/or Wigginton against right-handed pitching is killing this lineup. Nix also has much more pop than Pierre and plays a better LF. And, this goes without saying, but the team can’t afford to lose any more starters to injury, especially now that Galvis has hit the DL.
The rest of the considerable project of salvaging this season will fall on three guys who do wear rings: Rollins, Victorino, and Blanton. Oddly enough, Rollins had one of his best weeks of the year during this skid, but he’s got to keep that momentum going. Shane Victorino is playing for a contract. It shows–in all the wrong ways. The Phillies already have the most high-strung outfielder in the game, Hunter Pence, they don’t need Victorino challenging for that crown. Shane has got to do better left-handed, he’s hitting just .228 from that side, where he gets the vast majority of his at-bats. And, Blanton doesn’t have to be great, but he must keep the Phillies in the game. He hasn’t done that in almost a month. Last year there were four aces. Now, there are three guys who make you cross your fingers. Blanton has to be better than that.
I’m not sure what to offer in terms of a prognosis. Like I said earlier, there is a talent deficiency on the field right now, so predicting a big hot streak feels foolish. They are heading out on the road (thank goodness) for a nine game trip against Baltimore, Minnesota and Toronto. You’d think they have to figure out how to win at least five of these games. The division lead, which has always been within shouting distance is getting a lot smaller on the horizon suddenly. There’s also the three other teams the Phillies need to pass. Heading into AL cities with this pitching staff going the way it is right now is dangerous business, but I’m confident the Phils will encounter at least five winnable games on this road trip. The question is, will they be able to convert them?
**UPDATE: I’ll Have Another Scratches With Tendon Injury**
Giant horse race tomorrow. I’ll Have Another is going for the Triple Crown. It hasn’t been done since Affirmed in 1978. Eleven horses have failed at the Belmont Stakes to break the long drought. There was a Triple Crown Winner in 1973, 1977 and 1978. Then Spectacular Bid looked like a sure thing in 1979 before a minor injury and poor ride cost him the Belmont. Since then–nothing. The consensus among the trainers and experts is that I’ll Have Another has as good a shot as any horse in recent memory. Enough of a shot to make him the 4:5 favorite. Keeping with my promise, I’m going to guarantee right now that I’ll Have Another will not end the Triple Crown drought.
In the past I’ve always done a Happy U.S. Open Week post and there’s a good chance that will come out sometime next week, but since I’m not exactly sure when I’ll get it posted, here are the tee times for Thursday and Friday. Of note, the USGA has paired Tiger, Phil and Bubba. I think they’ve gone a bit far with the “feature pairing” in recent years, but I guess if you can win a US Open, you can survive two days in that three-ball.