The Baltimore Orioles, formerly the team of my affections (RSB suggested I reconsider the "formerly" label), opened the 1988 baseball season with a major league record twenty-one losses in a row.
The current team of my affections, the Phillies, cannot match that mark because they have stumbled and bumbled their way to an occasional win in the first three weeks of the 2007 season. As of this morning, however, they do own the worst record in baseball, 3 - 10, 36 percentage points behind the Kansas City Royals. In the course of their futility the Phillies have yet to win two games in a row.
Now they have embarked on a major shuffling of their pitching staff, dropping opening day starter and Putative Ace Brett Myers from the starting rotation and inserting erstwhile starter, trade bait and reluctant reliever Jon Lieber in Myers slot. There is no question the much-maligned bullpen needs help, but this move smacks more of desperation than grand design. Still, if the Phillies' batters would even occasionally deliver with men in scoring position -- they lead the majors in futility in that department -- things might look better.
There is more than enough blame to spread around. The nucleus of the team - Chase Utley and Ryan Howard - continue to struggle. Howard, in particular, looks lost at the plate. Nearly every AB now ends with a pained expression of futility, confusion, despair and frustration. Last year's NL MVP might find some solace in looking at runner-up Albert Pujols, the best hitter in all of baseball, who is also having a miserable Spring, but not much. Howard is whiffing one out of every three at-bats and, worse, failing to go the other way when he does connect. Last year, more than half of his homers were to center or left field.
Other than last night's 0-6 collar, shortstop Jimmy Rollins has been the lone bright spot on the entire roster. Now best known for having labeled the Phils the team to beat in the pre-season, Rollins, too, cannot really catch a break. In an article on ESPN's web site, Jimmy was referred to as "the outspoken Phillies shortstop". Rollins is many things, but outspoken is hardly one of them. He uttered one sentence expressing confidence in his teammates and suddenly he is "outspoken".
The turmoil isn't confined to the playing field as the dust-up between manager Charlie Manuel and so-called journalist Howard Eskin attests. Nearly the entire fan-base from Vietnam (commenter extraordinaire Far Eastern Division George S.) to Valley Green is calling for Charlie's head, but GM Pat Gillick has stated "we're behind [him]". Frankly, it's hard to imagine how removing the manager will set this team on the right path. Unless management caves in to the pressure and decides they have to "do something", the Phillies will have to play the hand they've been dealt. A mere month ago that hand was considered sufficient to go all in; now, they've been done in by a nearly total collapse.