CHICAGO — At this stage it’s pretty easy being negative. Considering that the Phillies have lost six of eight games to NL Central doormats Pittsburgh and Chicago, and struggled even to score runs off the Cubs at Wrigley Field, yeah, it’s easy to be down on the Phillies.
There’s a lot to be disappointed about, too. Cliff Lee is gone, traded for prospects that may not be able to help the club for the length of the next contract the All-Star lefty signs. Plus, because general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. thought the Phils were better off without Brett Myers, a pitcher who is putting together the best year of his career with the Astros, the Phillies’ rotation is left with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and a bunch of guys.
Sometimes those guys pitch well, but most of the time they don’t.
Indeed it was a tough winter for Amaro. Juan Castro, his addition to the bench, was given his unconditional waivers last Saturday. That was because Placido Polanco, the splashy free-agent signee of the off-season, had returned from a stint on the disabled list.
Moreover, Amaro called lefty reliever Scott Eyre’s bluff… and lost. Eyre claimed he would retire rather than play for a team other than the Phillies and kept his word. Future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez was not offered a contract following a postseason in which he started 30 percent of the team’s final 10 games, including two of the World Series games at Yankee Stadium, and now also appears to be retired.
Both pitchers wanted to play for the Phillies, and certainly would have contributed to the team. But for whatever reason their help wasn’t needed. Hell, even Chan Ho Park took a smaller contract than the one offered to him by the Phillies in order to pitch for the Yankees.
Just to pile on, last-year’s free-agent signee Raul Ibanez has struggled after a winter where he had surgery for a sports hernia, and Shane Victorino seems unable to get a hit unless it’s a homer or extra-base knock. Meanwhile, free-agent to be Jayson Werth has turned surly and his attitude questioned as his batting average plummets and his strikeout totals pile up. In four games at Wrigley Field last weekend, Werth struck out nine times—the first five of those came in the first eight plate appearances where he didn’t even move the bat from his shoulder.
“Swing,” manager Charlie Manuel said exacerbatedly after a game in which the team racked up eight strikeouts looking as frozen as an angry possum cowering under the back tires of a car on a pitch-black night.
Meanwhile, Brad Lidge hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence, either. Ryan Madson’s season has been better known for his ability to kick chairs like a wacko David Akers more than setting up games. Off-season addition Jose Contreras has been inconsistent, while countryman Danys Baez has turned into another one of Amaro’s follies.
Quick, does someone know the opposite of the word, architect?
The most frustrating part of a season that has the Phillies fighting to make up 5½ games in the suddenly competitive NL East, and has driven Manuel crazier than anything has been the offense’s inability to score runs consistently. Post-game meetings with the manager are like summer reruns where the former hitting coach attempts to explain away the dearth of hitting and energy before finally giving up and falling back on his old standbys.
“You guys are stat guys… take a look. If you can't see where the problem is at,” Manuel said after Sunday night’s loss where the ace Halladay gave up six runs in six innings while a lefty named Tom Gorzelanny shut them down. “I don't have to sit here and say anything about anybody. You should be able to read the stats and read what happens and watch the game every night. I don't have to sit here and say anything negative about anybody. It speaks for itself. Nobody can take away your performance. No one can hide it, though, neither.”
The issue for Manuel is inconsistency. Lots of inconsistency.
“It’s the same thing every night,” he said.
Manuel is wrong about the inconsistency. The thing is the only way his team has been consistent this season is with its maddening and inexplicable inconsistency. For a manager who prides himself on his knowledge of hitting with intricate insight on nearly every hitter he’s ever seen, the lack of production from his hitters is especially maddening. In fact, sometimes it seems as if Manuel prefers the teams he coached in Cleveland even though they never won the World Series.
Hitting solves a lot of problems, goes Manuel’s logic. When a team hits, he says, mistakes don’t stand out and the pitching looks better if it’s not really the case.
“Everything looks good when you hit,” Manuel said.
In the interest in fairness, however, Amaro was able to made deals to get three different Cy Young Award winners on his team (even though he dumped two of them). He also put deals in place for Hamels and Howard. With Howard it appears as if the slugger will be with the Phillies for the rest of his career. Halladay likely will finish his career with the Phillies, too. Those players are a very strong cornerstone.
However, Lee is gone, presumably over money though we’ve never received a straight or satisfying answer as to why the pitcher was traded. That’s especially maddening considering Amaro threw good money at bad contracts for Baez and Castro, as well as a three-year deal for starter Joe Blanton at $8 million per season.
Moreover, the team will be saddled with $23 million owed to Lidge and Ibanez in 2011, with extensions for Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson and Hamels.
The bottom line is that the Phillies still need pitching and a bat or two in the outfield. Sure, Domonic Brown is on the way, but that still doesn’t answer the pitcher issue…
Or why two guys like Lee or Myers were allowed to walk away.