Monday, May 07, 2007

Easing Back In

I'll dip my toe in the commentary waters but cannot pretend to be up to-date with all the Phillies' goings on. I haven't seen more than a smattering of innings via television and I suspended newspaper delivery during our move. I cannot say I've been reading the blogs faithfully either though I have checked a few posts when I wanted to learn about the previous day's outcome. I would also catch an occasional summary here and there on television whenever possible but in conclusion I can hardly say I have my finger on the pulse... if I ever did.

What strikes me as I survey the carnage of early April, the win streak during the latter part of that month, and the up-and-down start to May is that the Phillies are malfunctioning on many levels some of which were predicted by nearly everyone and a few of which are stunning surprises. I did manage to watch six innings of last night's victory over the Giants and nearly all the strengths and weaknesses of this club were on display.

First, the stunning surprises. Ryan Howard remains mired in a horrendous slump, his strikeout ratio alarming ahead of last year's prodigious rate. His woes at the plate are affecting his performance on the base paths and in the field. It would be an understatement to say his presence in the lineup is hurting the club because the damage is far greater. He was the national face of the Phillies last year as well as the team's leading rbi man and batter for average. Sitting him probably won't help. Sending him down to Ottawa as one email I received last week suggested would have disastrous consequences for his relationship with the team. He is either going to play his way out of his funk or not.

Shane Victorino's abandon on the bases and in the field are both a plus and a minus. He made a terrible base running blunder last night and somehow managed to get away with it when the umpire ruled he'd been obstructed during a run-down when he'd been picked off first. Shane got away with one on that play as he, not Omar Vizquel, was the guilty party when Victorino clearly ran out of the base path and into Vizquel. Still, he has tremendous energy and can be electric in the field. The only other player on this team with that sort of power to excite is Jimmy Rollins, who remains the leader of the Phillies in every respect.

The fourth infielder, Wes Helms, strikes me as an earnest, dedicated professional who gets the most out of his abilities, which are reasonable at the plate and very limited in the field. Apparently his biggest problem is his throwing. He gets to balls though his range is certainly modest, but once he arrives he cannot do much with them. His six errors to date translate into a long season, especially for pitchers.

April may be cruelest month for the Phillies but Pat Burrell always hates to see it close. Pat invariably gets off to a hot start when the weather is chilly and then cools down considerably as things start to warm up. Suffice it to say Pat is on track again toward another mediocre season at the plate. He has one home run to date to go with his eleven rbi's. Pat's bat still remains on his shoulder an awful lot. Someone in the local blogosphere wrote he looks like someone trying not to make an out or mistake. It's a little early to play defensively, even for Burrell.

Aaron Rowand has been more than a pleasant surprise at the plate, he has been astonishing. I labeled him a .246 hitter in an email to some of the bloggers last month and I remain convinced his average will be closer to that level than the lofty .363 levels of today. That said, there is no reason to backtrack, even temporarily, when it comes to his fielding. Rowand remains a fearless and mediocre centerfielder overall. He cannot go back on the ball, does not play the angles well, has a pop-gun of an arm and tries to compensate for most of these failings by playing too shallow. Other than that, he's great.

Tom Gordon is finally officially disabled rather than just nominally so. Brett Myers has been auditioning for the closer role and should soon receive the official title when it becomes clear Gordon cannot resume his place. Goeff Geary has been very reliable; Ryan Madson has been more or less reliable; Antonio Alfonseca is becoming less reliable; and everyone else is unpredictable.

Among the starters Jamie Moyer has been the most pleasant surprise. Once again, I predicted lesser things in his case and so far have been absolutely wrong! Cole Hamels has pitched well though he has labored some times such as last night, when he was either wild high or relying too much of the change. He seems to have all but abandoned his curve, not a good decision. Batters are sitting on his change. Worse. virtually no starter can rely on two pitches in the big leagues. Adam Eaton has turned out to be just the sort of pitcher everyone except, apparently, Pat Gillick and/or Charlie Manuel thought he would be. He starts off very poorly and generally settles down only after the entire herd is out of the gate and pasture. Maybe he should begin his pre-game warm-ups in the pen about a half an hour earlier and get those first two bad innings out of his arm before things become official.

It's hard to assess what sort of job Charlie Manuel has done without watching more games. On the other hand, nothing he did when I was watching impressed me much and I cannot imagine he got better in my absence, unless of course, it was for spite, and Charlie doesn't impress me as that sort of fellow. I remain convinced Pat Gillick doesn't particularly care what happens to this team. For all intents and purposes he is semi-retired.

A final note: Don't take this post as a sign I am back full time. I have boxes piled high as an elephant's eye in nearly every other room and only one working television and that one is sitting on the floor of a giant walk-in closet. I have yet to resume delivery of the Inquirer though we started the Times up again. (What does that say?). Still, I hope to gradually return to something approximating regular posting. After all, Jason Weitzel once said Swing was the closest thing to a morning edition in the local blogosphere and I wouldn't want to disappoint my good friend.

1 comment:

David said...

You're not missing much - not if you already caught the first-half desperation of '05 and '06. I'd almost prefer that the obligatory and illusory second-half scramble get left off the program this time around, just for the sheer, spiteful pleasure of watching heads roll. Of course, the heads that really matter will remain cemented in place. But I just don't want to bother with the pseudo-happy ending this time. This team stinks, the organization stinks, and I prefer dealing with the reality of it. I want to hear those boos cascading around a half-empty stadium all season, because that's the appropriate feedback which the dunderheads steering this ship to eternal oblivion deserve.

I can hardly bring myself to watch anymore. I enjoy watching Rollins and Utley, and from a pitching standpoint, Moyer and Hamels. Most of the rest reek of inadequacy, or furthermore point to the inadequate ability of the formerly renowned general manager to evaluate talent (tonight's starting pitcher most immediately leaps to mind).

All you need to know about this team can be told by two instances on the present road trip, both coming with two outs in the ninth inning. With stolen base threats Michael Bourn, and then Jimmy Rollins on first base, and two outs in the ninth inning with the Phillies trailing by one run, the hitter has not bothered to allow the runners to attempt stealing - swinging wildly, early in the count, and making the final outs. Not once, but twice. Do they learn? Is anything said? No. This kind of thoughtless play is tolerated, game after game, season after season. Some want to dispute that there is a culture of mediocrity branded on the Phillies. But what I can't take is the ongoing incompetence, and tolerance thereof, at all levels. It's one thing to lose, another to look just terrible doing it. It's no exaggeration to claim that the Phillies are an ongoing disgrace, and you can spread the blame around every which way at this point.

All of which will probably not exactly make you want to hurry through those boxes...!