Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Summing Up

81 up.  81 down.  Right where they started.  Mediocre through and through.  Losers of two of their last three to, appropriately, the new kings of the divisional hill, the Washington Nationals.

What happened?   Injuries.  Bullpen woes.  Lack of run support and clutch hitting.  Shoddy defense.  Too many AAA guys auditioning on the job.  If the Phils were going to snap their divisional winning streak, this was the way to do it, under-perform at nearly all levels.  It was a team effort with a few notable exceptions (see post below).

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley had forgettable seasons to varying degrees.  That Utley came back at all, which many including this observer doubted, was testament to his determination.  His defense was always above average at best, but it has declined.   Unfortunately, he is not the same hitter he once was either.  Often, his stroke looks too self-conscious and mannered.  He would settle into a rhythm once in a while only to lapse back into self-consciousness.  He still takes more first pitches than any player I've ever watched.  You would think he'd swing at one every now and then just to throw the pitcher off, but he gives away that first pitch 99.9% of the time.  (Fact-checkers can correct me at will on that percentage!)  Utley's career has entered a new phase in which he is constantly making adjustments for physical and psychological shortcomings.  I am not throwing out some cheap psychology here, but when a player is faced with his professional mortality, and he is, the effects are enormous.

As for Howard, he was expected to recover from his crippling, season-ending injury from 2011, but no one was sure how much he could recover in 2012.  The answers were mixed.  He played, he struggled to run and move, he struck out a ton (nothing new here), drove in runs at more or less his normal rate, fielded with the same mediocre skills he has always possessed, threw even more poorly and largely had a poor half season with his lowest batting average as a starter.  Of course his manager over-used him and Howard seemed willing to be over-used.  Despite the Phils' futilties, they actually seemed to have a remote chance late in the season to overcome their failings and make the expanded post-season.  However, a collapse in Houston ended the matter once and for all.  At that point, Howard should have taken a seat, but Charlie kept running him out there and one day he dropped a batting circle weight on his foot and broke a toe.  Then, and only then, did Charlie shut him down. 

Roy Halladay also faced his own professional mortality this season, pitching poorly over the second two thirds and going on the DL for a period of time.  The insult added to injury was the ridiculous start in Miami last weekend during which he was rocked.  Nearly everyone in the media expressed the tired cliche that Halladay had "earned" the opportunity for one last start because he was the consummate professional, "a warrior" and had showed in a bullpen session he was up to the task physically.  Horse feathers!  He was batted around like a September call-up.  It had been noted by more than a few scouts as early as last Spring that Halladay appeared to have lost a noticeable amount of velocityl.  He bristled at the suggestion.  Those nameless scouts were right, of course.  Now, the Phillies hope a soon-to-be 36 year old pitcher with tens of thousands of pitches in his right shoulder can still cut the mustard.  It's a doubt the Phils never saw coming...even with a year's warning.

John Mayberry is one unpopular dude in most of the blogosphere, but he isn't unpopular here.  My reading, and it's as speculative as one can be, is that he is the kind of player who needs his confidence boosted all the time.  If Charlie were to tell him he's the starting ___ fielder next Spring and that he shouldn't worry about his job, just go out there and play, he'd been a classic late bloomer.  Now, is this wishful thinking on my part?  Absolutely!  Would Mayberry be better if he could lay of breaking stuff away?  No doubt about it!  But I am sticking with my hunch for another season, at the end of which I am willing to stand corrected...if necessary.

Cliff Lee was living proof the numbers don't always tell the whole story...let alone the truth.  He suffered an astonishing lack of run support including yesterday's loss.  He also gave up his share of gopher balls throughout the season in occasionally otherwise tight games.  Still, his ERA was 3.20 and his won-loss record was 6-9.  He fanned more than 200 batters but still couldn't win consistently.  Lee's demeanor throughout the season often was one of pained frustration which even boiled over once in the dugout.  It was a very disappointing season for the left-hander who only a year before was so delighted to be in Philadelphia.