Friday, August 27, 2004

Triage Officer

An internet poll on the front page of the electronic edition of today’s Philadelphia Inquirer asks the following question: “Are you still watching the Phillies on TV?”

I would have phrased the question slightly differently: “Do they still play baseball in Philadelphia?”

Following their second sweep by the Houston Astros in less than a fortnight the Phillies limped home to the less-than-friendly confines of Citizens Bank Bandbox where they begin a weekend series with the Milwaukee Brewers, the only team in the league who appears not to have heard the news that the Phillies can be taken.

Everyone else within shouting distance, including some players if public opinion is to be taken seriously, has given up the chase for this season, mathematics notwithstanding. I will do my best to take the pulse of the local citizenry this evening when I attend the game in person, my tickets having been purchased prior to the utter collapse of the Phillies. Vicente Padilla takes the mound for the Phils so we could be entertained with a no-hitter or we could be treated to a sudden and inexplicable disintegration at any moment.

With so much speculation going on about the fate of GM Ed Wade, manager Larry Bowa and his staff not to mention half of the roster I thought I would suggest another need not often mentioned in the press or blogs: speed. The Phillies don’t have it; the Florida Marlins, for example, do. [Though I don’t follow the Marlins closely enough to know with certainty, it appears their chief problem this season has been injuries to their pitchers.]

Speed at the top of the order such as the Marlins Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo possess creates instant pressure on the opposition and immediately changes the complexion of the game. When Pierre gets on base and is followed in the order by Castillo, the defense is immediately set on edge. Both players make contact, hit for average, bunt well and can run. [Pierre’s percentage of steals to caught-stealing is lousy, but the pressure he creates on base remains intense.]

The Phillies have not had a legitimate lead-off man for years and no one currently paying Philadelphia’s wage tax seems likely to assume that role. Jimmy Rollins is not your ideal lead-off man though he has cut down on his strikeouts, one of the cardinal sins for anyone batting first. With his uppercut swing Rollins also tends to put the ball in the air, another no-no for a leadoff hitter. Marlon Byrd doesn’t make the grade on many levels, not the least of which is he doesn’t hit or draw bases on balls.

The search for a new center fielder might help address the problem of speed, defense and power, but the Phillies won’t land the best one available, Carlos Beltran, who possesses all three assets; nor are they likely to land an outfielder like him unless they are willing to trade someone of value.

A wholesale housecleaning may well be on tap for the Phillies but they cannot expect to fill all of the holes in one off-season. The first order of business may be to designate a triage officer.

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