There is no question Raul Ibanez is in the throes of a devastating slump. Out on the golf course on Saturday, I threw out a location specific analogy. He looks like he has a two-way miss going. You want to see worry in the eyes of a golfer? Find one that doesn’t have any idea where the ball is going. Ibanez looks like a guy who has exhausted all his options, he’s desperate to figure it out, desperate for one gork, but each out magnifies what has become a very trying situation. Ibanez has the added misfortune of being the face of the Phillies struggles on offense as a whole. To be clear, things could be a lot worse, but this town still hasn’t adjusted to losing games like the one they lost Sunday night. The new era of Phillies success was ushered in by offense, and the fans still identify with a team that clubs you to death.
And that’s why this team hasn’t been able to shake the, “but why aren’t we hitting better vibe?” First place, an April record for wins, not so much a 3-game losing streak, but every hint of offensive struggle is immediately highlighted and then dissected to the point of exhaustion. I started by saying that Ibanez is certainly in a deep slump, but the discussion of his struggles started long before he was really scuffling. Because of the attention on the team, or maybe the concern about the offense that has been pounded home since last fall, any 0 for 7, 0 for 9 is cause for immediate concern. Here’s Ibanez, hitless in his last 8 at-bats. I guarantee something like that was said right at the beginning of this thing, and it kicked off this whole Ibanez is ice-cold, he’s done, he’s a crippling anchor campaign. He went a couple of games without a knock. Two games–and the panic set in. That kind of “slump,” happens all the time. This time it has snowballed out of control, but I can’t help but think part of that is because Raul has been pressing long before he should have been.
I feel for Ibanez, because the entire city has been waiting for him to fail. They want to pounce on the guy. They want to criticize his salary, they want him out of the line up. Before Ibanez had an at-bat this year it was all talk of how old he is, how bad he was at the beginning of last year, expectations were lowered but the criticism has come just as fierce as ever. It has to be an incredibly difficult position to be in, thinking you are responsible for letting down your entire team, but also maybe wondering if you need to start coming to terms with the end of your career. I know Ibanez isn’t going to pull a Mike Schmidt and hang it up mid-season, but he must be thinking that if he doesn’t turn it all around quickly that this could very well be his last go-around. There’s nothing more difficult for a player than facing the mortality of their own career.
I’m not going to say the Phillies offense hasn’t frustrated me this year. It has, on many occasions, and I certainly expected better from Raul, but I have trouble killing the guy. I know he’s doing everything in his power to break out of this, and he probably doesn’t deserve all the focus. On this team and around the league guys get off to terrible starts. David Ortiz has a habit of doing it. The people in Boston right now could be wondering if they are going to have 7 years of Carl Crawford slugging .238 and hitting eighth. Mark Teixeria went a couple straight Aprils with barely a hit, Jayson Werth has hardly been worth the money in Washington…
The situation will eventually resolve itself. Ibanez will either start hitting or they won’t be able to keep putting him in the line up. Loyalty only goes so far. I imagine Raul still has a good 10 days to 2 weeks of getting plenty of chances to break out of it. His o-fer is approaching historic standards, but it’s not entirely foreign. Pat Burrell had years here where it looked like he’d never get another hit. Charlie, for the most part, stuck with him. And, he’ll try to stick by Raul, probably gradually mixing in more and more days off if he continues to struggle.
I guess there just was a time when an off game or two would have lead to discussion like, “Chris Young has the Phillies’ number.” Or, something other than, “Oh my God, here we go again, we’re not going to score for another two weeks!” And, part of that is the team’s fault, because they already went on one stretch of limited production, but we’ve also been conditioned to be overly sensitive to each out. Before the season there was a lot of concern about the offense, watch the offense, because that is the only thing that could hold this team back. Well, we’re all watching the offense, perhaps to the point of insanity, and missing the boat on a team that is still winning two out of every three.