A certain grizzled veteran showed his age last night and his teammates continued their free fall like a heavy stone in water. There is no escaping the reality that the Phillies' demise, going on three weeks, is no longer an aberration. They fall behind early, fail to hit generally, pitch erratically and have lost their mojo entirely.
Every time we glimpse a moment of daylight, Chase Utley gets two hits in a game for example, the clouds roll in the next day and he goes hitless. The problems are hardly confined to Utley, of course. Nearly everyone except Placido Polanco has gone into a protracted funk. Charlie Manuel has tried a lot of different things none of which have taken. It would be convenient to say the absence of their true leader, Jimmy Rollins, has hurt them and to some extent this is true. We should remember, however, the Phils went on quite an early season tear without JRoll.
For every strong outing by a pitcher, these are usually followed by a succession of implosions. The relief corps isn't exempt either, especially Denys Baez who can almost be guaranteed to come on in a tight game and loosen it up.
What will shake this team up? Not much. Designating a Greg Dobbs or, perish the thought (not really) Raul Ibanez isn't going to bring back Utley's swing or Moyer's tenth life. Bringing up Dominic Brown would just be a panic move. John Mayberry looks like a possible candidate with more interleague (read: DH) games beckoning but he has amply demonstrated his limited worth. Getting Jimmy back will help but by all indications his return is not imminent.
One of the more perplexing signs of the Phils' lethargy is the almost complete absence of a running game and by the same turn their inability to stop other teams from running. Is Carlos Ruiz' shoulder bad or do the pitchers deserve the blame? Shane Victorino has never been a high percentage base stealer, relying on daring more than cunning, and Utley and Werth haven't been getting on base enough. One thing Charlie Manuel can and should do is play Ben Francisco more. In last night's game he came in only as a substitute and went 1 for 2. In his last start, two nights earlier, he went 2-4 driving in the winning run. How much more evidence do you need, Charlie, or would you rather watch Raul Ibanez pop up some more?
The Phils have now fallen into third place, the first time they've been in that position this "late" in the season in nearly three years. They've earned it.