The Phillies have two games left on what has become a long and fortitude testing road trip. They need to win both of those games to finish the journey at 5-5. That record would be far from disastrous, but the verdict is already in for this team in the court of public opinion. The overwhelming negativity that surrounds the Phillies right now has taken a painful start and pushed it over the edge. Every out the Phillies make is a new embarrassing stat, every inning without a run breeds a rueful exhale, every game story written is laced with sarcasm and fatalistic doom. Even for a team with these expectations, we shouldn’t feel this bad.
The Phillies are hardly alone in their struggles, but for the fans they feel like the only team in the league. I’m not sure what could happen to alter the state of mind of the fan base. Wins haven’t really helped, any offensive production is dismissed as a fluke, short of a 15-game winning streak where the Phillies score 90 runs, I’m not sure what we can do here. But something will be done. Eventually. Here are some possibilities, presented in increasing order of lunacy and desperation…
1. Wait. Not even this lineup can perform this poorly for 162 games. Last night, Hunter Pence was the latest injury victim so you had a lineup out there that looked like it belonged in AAA, or an independent league. The Phillies can wait for some guys to start hitting a little better, can wait for Howard and Utley, but with each passing game–patience becomes nonexistent.
2. Switch the Lineup Again. I’ve been in favor of this since the beginning of the season. Rollins isn’t comfortable hitting 3rd. Pence isn’t comfortable hitting 4th. Polanco is killing them at #2, and they could use Ruiz back in the 8-hole, but that’s just not feasible with this crew. Plug Wigginton or Nix into the cleanup spot and let ’em swing at every pitch. That’s what Pence is doing now anyway. Rollins/Pierre/Pence/Wigginton/Victorino/Ruiz/Galvis/Polanco. What could it hurt?
3. Give up on Some Guys/Roster Shuffle. I don’t say this as lightly as some might think, but Jim Thome should think about hanging it up. His first six innings on Sunday I imagine had to approach being embarrassing for him. He deserves better. If you have to, let him go to an AL team. He’s got no business being on this team. He can’t pinch-hit, he can’t play enough in the field to get at-bats, and he’s a butcher at 1st base. He’s a waste of a roster spot. I’d give John Mayberry maybe a dozen more starts. It’s also time to give up on Placido Polanco “professional hitter.” These guys are sucking life out of a team that doesn’t have much spark. If it’s Dom Brown, or Podsednik, or someone else, the team needs a makeup adjustment. There’s a grand total of 6 (healthy) guys on this team that had roles in 2008. There are not as many “winners” around as you think.
4. Managerial/Coaching change. I don’t know how you blame the coaches when you start 3 or 4 guys a game that wouldn’t crack the lineup of any other NL team (save maybe Pittsburgh and San Diego). Throw in the pitcher’s spot, the absolute lack of power and you’ve got tied hands. I don’t think anyone is preaching “swing at the breaking ball in the dirt when you’re ahead in the count.” Much of this falls on the players. The Phillies have people out of their comfort zone and they’re not responding. Is it on Charlie to get this team to come together better? Has his message worn out? Are too many of his old favorites gone? Some people believe that firing a manager or coach can wake up a team. If the Phils are floundering on the periphery of the 2nd wild-card in another month or six weeks, I wouldn’t rule this out.
5. Massive Trade. One of the only true options if you want to make a change to this team would be to ship off one of the aces. You could also trade Victorino, or maybe Hunter Pence closer to the deadline, but that would defeat the purpose of improving the offense, wouldn’t it? Hamels and Lee would be the candidates. The obstacles: Lee’s huge contract would limit his suitors to about 2 or 3 teams. Hamels is a FA, so if the new team couldn’t sign him, it’d decrease your return. Would you rather have Kyle Kendrick in the rotation and a middle of the order type bat, or would you rather keep the aces to together and stick it out. We don’t know if the Phillies can re-sign Cole Hamels, if it’s not in the plans, it’d be hard not to move him at the deadline unless the team has turned itself around and has a firm grip on a playoff spot.
6. Tell Ruben, “Thanks for the Memories.” Ruben is just starting to get some heat for what the fans are seeing on the field. He’s the architect. He’s behind Nix/Thome/Wigginton. He allowed himself to be too optimistic about Utley, or allowed Utley to lie to him about his condition. He handed out extra years to Blanton and Polanco. The nice thing about being GM is you usually get a few chances. A coach gets maybe one chance. A manager might get two. A GM can usually stretch his tenure by firing other people. I’m not going to rehash the Amaro mistakes, but what has Amaro really done here aside from spend money? Couldn’t most any GM build a contender on 175 million? The hard part is maintaining that level of success, something Amaro has not been able to do, and it’s not even really his success he is trying to maintain. I think his performance to this point has been vastly overrated.
So, there are the options. They could play out in order. The Phillies will be waiting for a while. After that, they might try Dom Brown. After that it could be a coaching change. Then if all fails, they have to start thinking about blowing it up.
In the meantime, if the Phillies have you down, I suggest taking a break. Give it a couple of weeks. And if you’re one of these people who isn’t going to enjoy the season unless the Phillies win the World Series, I suggest turning in your “Ill” shirt, start using your Pence Sunday alternate jersey to mow the grass and go back to doing whatever it was you did with your summers before 2007. If you think this is bad for the Phillies, then you’re clueless. Calling this team miserable and unwatchable is an insult to the true Phillies’ disasters that have come before them. Show some respect.