Monday, June 23, 2008



That's the only way to put it, sports fans. Your Philadelphia Phillies have been exposed for the middle of the pack team they are. They followed half of the old formula for success by beating up on the weaklings, but they forgot the other part, about playing the stronger teams even.

They've lost four straight series, two of them to division-leading clubs and two to clubs in second place. In the process they've gotten decent pitching from most of their staff but their offense has deserted them. Frankly, the overall numbers on offense are worse than they appear, skewed by two 20-run victories during their run to mediocrity. Pitching was supposed to be the weak link for this installment of the Phillies while offense was its strength. Right now it's difficult to say either is impressive. Keep in mind the Red Sox were playing without a few of their best hitters in taking two out of three at Citizens Bank Park while the Angels were hardly considered an offensive juggernaut before they left town on their brooms.

Ryan Howard has been variously rumored to be over his funk, out of the woods, coming around or having finally turned the corner, but in truth he is still closer to the Mendoza line than not and for all of his gaudy power figures he has let the side down more often than he has come through. When he strikes out, looking or lunging, he looks awful. He still has that pained look when he fails but he doesn't seem to be glaring at the home plate umps as often, a clear signal that he knows whose fault his ineptitude really is.

Chase Utley, the team's best hitter, has precisely one in his last 27 AB's, the longest and most painful drought of his career. Watching Utley bat lately two things seem apparent: he is literally looking the ball into the catcher's mitt more than ever as if he doesn't trust himself to let a pitch go by and he is putting an awful lot of poor swings on the ball....for him. Yesterday he flied out meekly to left in a situation that called for a simple ground ball to the right side and didn't look up to follow the flight of the ball. Instead, he hung his head in a gesture that could stand for the team's collective futility of this mercifully-ended home stand.

The rest of the lineup has also been crashing back to earth, especially Pat Burrell. J-Roll has been inconsistent as has Shane Victorino. The outfield platoon in right isn't adding up to one good player. Chris Coste is getting more playing time and not making the most of it. Pedro Feliz is stuck in mediocrity. The pinch-hitters have not been coming through, especially So Taguchi, whose swing on an 0-2 pitch out of the strikezone ended yesterday's game with the tying run in scoring position and for all intents and purposes may have ended his run as a member of the team's 25-man roster. For good measure, Taguchi also muffed a play in the field over the weekend. Oh, and he was passed over as a pinch-runner yesterday in the ninth inning in favor of Eric Bruntlett, who only the day before ran the Phillies out of a rally.

Meanwhile, back at the mound, Brett Myers is leading the NL in home runs surrendered. One of the more bitter ironies of modern baseball is the so-called "quality start", which both Myers and Adam Eaton threw over the last week. Myers served up several bombs in his while Eaton gave up 12 hits in his. Spare us all from such "quality".

So the Phils are off to the West Coast to complete their interleague nightmare by playing the Oakland A's, whom they played poorly in their last adventure in California, and the Texas Rangers, who know a thing or two about hitting. They wind up their roadtrip in Atlanta, where the Braves no doubt await them with one thought on their minds: revenge for the sweep the Phils completed there before the bottom dropped out.


EastFallowfield said...

One correction: They played 2, not 3, division leaders in this stretch. St Louis is a wildcard leader (way too early to worry about that) but both they and Florida are second place teams.

Tom Goodman said...

Thanks for the correction