Thursday, August 28, 2014

Go Figure

Given up for dead, and rightfully so, in this space and elsewhere, the Phillies have mildly surprised the faithful by winning three straight series from teams likely to make the post-season.

Don't get your hopes up, faithful.

This modest streak comes on the heels of the following developments:

1.  Their number two pitcher is lost for the remainder of the season by July.
2.  Their number one slugger is flirting with the Mendoza line.
3.  Their manager has angered rookies and veterans alike by his quick hook or lack of playing time.
4.  Their GM only recently allowed for the possibility that his team, on a pace to lose 90 games, would not make the post-season.

Make no mistake about it, this modest streak will be halted shortly (perhaps as early as tonight) when the Phils start losing to teams with losing records.

More than a few pundits who get paid to write about the Phillies have raised alarm bells about the discontent simmering in the clubhouse.  When rookies and under-performers complained about the manager, some of this pundits advised the youngsters to shut up and put up, not necessarily in that order.  When veteran star Cole Hamels stormed off the mound, however, these same pundits began wondering whether or not the problem rested in the manager's office.

It's difficult to really measure Ryne Sandberg's performance given the crappy team his was furnished, but one conclusion is emerging:  a player who gave his all and made the Hall of Fame as a result is not likely to be impressed by or care much for anything but what happens between the lines.  Show him the performance, and then and only then can we assign some blame.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Breaking It Gently

Spoiler alert!!!

I want to break this to you loyal readers (all three of you) as gently as possible.  Ruben Amaro has announced he thinks it unlikely the Phillies will make the playoffs this year.

There.  I've said and I hope I didn't upset you.

I know.  I know.  It's a bitter pill to swallow.  Heck, all they have to do is jump four teams ahead of them in the their own division.  We won't even speculate about the Wild Card. Who knows, they could run off a winning streak of, say, twenty-six straight games beginning tonight on the West Coast in San Francisco, where they are always at the top of their game.  Piece of cake.

But, no, Rube dashed our hopes.  He looked at our aging veterans, most of whom are hitting twenty to forty points below their career averages, and just couldn't figure out how these guys could make the post-season. He signed a starting pitcher last week who'd already been let go by two other lousy teams this season.  He had Roy Halladay throw out the first pitch of a game last week.  I think it was a strike, but I wasn't there. He inducted Charlie Manual into the Wall of Fame after canning the winningest manager in Phillies history late in last season, which was probably going to be his last anyway.

He actually began the season convinced this team would contend even though the trend, sabremetrically and old-school-wise, continued its steady decline.

Rube's gotta' believe.

Frankly, Rube's gotta' go and if this announcement doesn't convince the alleged brain trust of the Phillies, nothing will.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

On And Off The Field

Last night at Citizens Bank Park nearly everything wrong with the Phillies was prominently displayed.

On the field, the bats were silent again wasting another fine outing by Cole Hamels, the only reliable starter on the staff.  For the second time in a week Hamels' mates were AWOL as he stifled the opposition.  Hamels has two no-decisions to show for his outstanding efforts.

Also on the field, the Phillies celebrated the induction of former manager Charlie Manual into the teams Wall of Fame.  It was all folksy and joyful as befitted the inductee.

Off the field, we can look at the events cited above and find nothing to celebrate with the Phillies' alleged brain trust.  Indeed, Hamels' plight can be laid directly at the feet of GM Ruben Amaro and whichever of the myriad owners actually has a say in the day-to-day operations.  Amaro took over a squad that was at its peak and tried to squeeze a few more titles out of it while emptying his farm system.  Injuries and age undermined his goal, but not nearly as much as his ruinous trades, reckless contracts, and general inability to judge talent did.  Until as recently as two months ago Amaro insisted the Phillies could be competitive.  Right now they long as the Houston Astros provide the opposition.

But the night really revolved around Manual.  After leading the Phillies out of the wasteland and to consecutive World Series appearances and one win, Manual was saddled with these aging, injured and overpriced players and could no longer work miracles.  Was Manual a genius?  Hardly.  He had his issues with in-game strategies and was less than impressive as a judge of pitchers.  But Manuel was a players' manager and was successful in getting the most out of those players while he could.  So, what was his ultimate reward (Walls of Fame notwithstanding)?  He was fired late in the season with a little over a month or two to go.  Instead of telling Charlie they were going to let him go at the end of the season, they fired him with time remaining.  It was a decision not only lacking in class, it sent a message that this alleged brain trust had little regard for its valuable employees.

We should not forget Dallas Green here.  Green was no genius.  On top of that, he was a loud-mouthed jerk.  But he won a World Series after an even longer period of wandering the wilderness and was rewarded with a lifetime job, even after he left briefly to head the Chicago Cubs and succeeded in fleecing his former employers by wrangling Ryne Sandberg from them.  What goes around.....   Sandberg had a Hall of Fame career in Chicago and then returned to the Phillies organization only to become the manager who succeeded, you guessed it, Charlie Manual.  Meanwhile, Green has some senior advisory role with the Phillies, possible Loud Mouth For Life.

I'm not quite finished.

In addition to firing Manual instead of seeing him gracefully retire, the Phillies also fired long-time television and radio commentator Chris Wheeler.  In Wheeler's case the Phillies allowed him to finish the season, but after signing a huge new deal with Comcast, the alleged brain trust decided to unceremoniously cut Wheeler loose.  Wheeler had his detractors.  He made the phrases "middle in" and "no doubles defense" raise more than a few hackles among listeners; but, he was informed and passionate and devoted.  For this he was dumped very unceremoniously and replaced by two media neophytes, Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs, who are charitably the worst commentators in the booth this viewer has ever endured.  I haven't tried this duo as the cure for my chronic insomnia but I might force myself to tune in late one night for a trial dose.

So, there you have it.  The Phillies' alleged brain trust has screwed up the product on and off the field, and they have done it without apology.  They aren't good at their jobs and they have no class in the process.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Suicide Watch

The July trade deadline passed quietly in Philadelphia.  Very quietly.  The only momentous event of the day came later that evening when a few unnamed clubs who'd possibly been considering acquiring Cliff Lee breathed huge sighs of relief when the veteran left-hander left the game in the third inning with a recurrence of the elbow strain that had already sidelined him for two months of the season.  Lee is done for the year if not career and his trade value is nil.

Indeed, nil was the watchword in Philadelphia.  The Phils had nothing especially valuable to trade and potential partners had even less they were willing to offer.  The Phillies' alleged brain trust has finally come to the conclusion reached unanimously elsewhere that the rebuilding must begin.  The trouble is a team cannot rebuild overnight, especially not these days when free agency isn't what it once was with most teams locking up potential free agents with lucrative long-term deals.  The Phils are going to have to rebuild slowly the old-fashioned way, by developing players.  They did it within recent memory, developing Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz, but they didn't do it after that bumper crop and now the farm system is bare.

The danger that looms, and thus the watch noted above, is the Phillies will make an especially desperate move and trade Cole Hamels for prospects.  To be sure, these prospects will be highly touted, but prospects are prospects, for all that, as Robert Burns never said.  Without Hamels, the Phils will not have one certified front line pitcher.

The counter argument is that Hamels will be the lone member of a pitiful staff come next year and will find even less run support from the cast of has-beens and never-weres surrounding him than he has the past two seasons.  Hamels soldiers on, but he has allowed in public he isn't thrilled with the Phillies' offense.  It won't get better in the foreseeable future.  How much losing can Hamels endure?  For his sake, I hope he is traded to a winning team.  For our sakes I hope he remains; as Matt Gelb pointed out the other day, at least every fifth day should provide some hope with Hamels on the team.

Ruben Amaro has shown a strong willingness to overspend for and misjudge talent, so one can hardly be sanguine about the prospects he would acquire by trading Hamels or any other commodity of value on the current roster.  Some in town are giving him credit for not panicking last week and making some bad deals.  If these people want to keep score, Amaro's sudden caution hardly evened his ledger.