Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"You Don't Know What You Got 'til It's Gone"

Anyone who was deceived into thinking the Phillies sweep in Milwaukee over the weekend moved the team back on track has by now fully returned to his senses following last night’s 8-4 debacle in Houston. Staked to a 2-0 first inning lead over Roger Clemens, Cory Lidle surrendered four runs in the bottom of the frame and before you were half way through your popcorn the game was over. Nothing deflates a team faster than to see its starter blow a lead against a tough pitcher. If not for a 2-run homer by Jim Thome in the eighth inning, the score would have been worse.

When the litany of missteps and blunders are read aloud following the anticipated departure of GM Ed Wade some time in the near future, the Lidle trade should vie for a spot in the top five. Wade gave up three prospects for this career .500 pitcher who hasn’t had a winning season since 2001. Suffice it to say with a current record of 7-12 the 2004 season won’t be any different.

So bad is the Phillies pitching – starters and relievers – a story has surfaced that the team is mulling over whether or not to put struggling starter Brett Myers in the bullpen. There was a time when moving starters to the bullpen was considered a demotion, but those were in the days before the Rolaids Relief awards and saves. Despite the elevation in status of relievers it is particularly difficult to imagine what the Phillies would be thinking in Myers case since his tendency is to suddenly implode in any given inning. When constructing the ideal reliever, an inclination to rattle and get visably pissed off are not on the parts list.

On the offensive side of the game, the ground swell for immediately handing the starting second baseman’s job to Chase Utley has reached a crescendo. No one has been more enthusiastic about Utley’s future than this observer but I find the rise of Utley’s stock at the expense of that of Placido Polanco a little unseemly and uninformed. Utley has clearly driven in more runs in far fewer at-bats than Polanco while fielding his position impressively. He also brings an intensity to the game sorely lacking in most of the Phillies starters. There is no doubt about it: the Phillies are a better team when Chase Ultey is in their lineup. But Polanco is a terrific player, too. He is a superb fielder who can play his natural position or move to third seamlessly as he has been called on to do numerous times over the last two seasons when David Bell has been injured. A lifetime .291 batter, Polanco is also a relative rarity among modern players, a contact hitter who knows how to move runners along, hit behind runners and give himself up.

Polanco will be a free agent at the end of the season and is likely to move on, Chase Utley’s rise notwithstanding. What we have here is a classic case in the making of not realizing what you have until it is gone. The Phillies won’t see the likes of Polanco any time soon.

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