My most rock solid pick of spring training was wrong. I said that the Philadelphia Phillies would be the best team in baseball in 2012 and win the World Series. I don’t know if management has done so, but on July 4 I am waving the white flag with the club at 36-46.
The Phillies have been on a half-decade-long run of excellence, winning a World Series, reaching another and dominating the National League East. Although the unfortunate, last-play-of-2011 injury to Ryan Howard‘s Achilles tendon should have been a warning, I thought the aggressiveness of the front office would make up for it until Howard got back into top form.
Didn’t turn out that way. Although the signing of Jonathan Papelbon as the closer has paid big dividends for the Phils, nothing else has really worked out. Howard, the big first baseman and the cornerstone slugger of the lineup, hasn’t played a minute in the majors yet this season.
On the surface, the off-season signing of Jim Thome looked wise, but then the Phils didn’t know what to do with him. Thome is used to being a designated hitter these days, but the NL has no DH. A bad back caused Thome to miss a chunk of games an prevented him from playing the field. He was a worthy pinch-hitter, but that did not maximize the skills he retains at age 41 going on 42 in August. So he was shipped to the Orioles a few days ago.
The rest of the team has just not been hitting with the verve it showed in recent years. Howard’s absence has been huge, but so was Chase Utley‘s. Also injured, he just began his 2012 season a few days ago. Shane Victorino is hitting .251. Jimmy Rollins is hitting .256. Ty Wigginton, filling in for Howard at first, is hitting .246. John Mayberry Jr. is hitting .226.
You know who has been great? Juan Pierre, a non-roster invitee to spring training, who is batting .318. Hunter Pence has been fine, batting .286 with 16 homers and 48 RBIs. The other star of the moment is catcher Carlos Ruiz, batting .354 with a .418 on-base percentage, 12 homers and 44 RBIs.
The pop hasn’t been there, but neither has the starting pitching. It was barely a year-and-a-half ago that media outlets were suggesting that the Phillies rotation might be the best of all-time. That seemed a tad enthusiastic then and seems almost laughable now. Roy Oswalt is gone, departed in free agency. Cliff Lee is 0-5 with a 4.13 earned run average? 0-5? Whew.
Worse, Roy Halladay, one of the best pitchers of the decade, is sitting on a 4-5 record with a 3.98 ERA, but is on the disabled list. However, word is that Halladay could return to the rotation soon after the All-Star break. And Howard is rehabbing in AAA, so he will be back at last.
Cole Hamels, at 10-4 and 3.08, is still Cole Hamels, but comes off as the last man standing. Vince Worley and Joe Blanton, counted on to fill out the rest of the rotation, have done so, but in so-so fashion. After Tuesday night’s 11-1 beating from the Mets, Worley is 4-5 and Blanton is 7-7.
Too many injuries to the wrong guys meant the Phillies had to rely much more heavily on secondary starters to carry them and those guys couldn’t do it. I didn’t see it coming and I’m sure the Phils front office didn’t either.
It will take almost super-human performances from Utley, Howard and Halladay down the stretch to lift the Phillies into a playoff spot, but it just seems too much to ask and too late to make the move.
Topics: Baltimore Orioles, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Hunter Pence, Jim Thome, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Blanton, John Mayberry Jr., Jonathan Papelbon, Juan Pierre, National League East, Philadelphia Phillies, Roy Oswalt, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Ty Wigginton, Vince Worley, World Series