Jun 07, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Hunter Pence (3) reacts after being stranded on base during the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. The Dodgers defeated the Phillies 8-3. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Which Comes First… The Talent or the Swagger?



Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Charlie Manuel is angry.

After Thursday’s 8-3 stinkfest to the Los Angeles Dodgers, wrapping up a tidy hunk of crap dressed as a 1-6 homestand and a four-game sweep at the hands of the Matt Kemp-less Dodgers, the Phils’ skipper said a bunch of very angry, very hurtful words directed at the emotionless zombies that populate the hometown clubhouse.

Charlie Manuel does not like what he has seen of late. A six-game losing streak, horrific defense, and a poor mental approach by the a suddenly luck-less and struggling Cole Hamels, are all issues pretty hard to ignore.

What Cholly seems to realize is that being mad is really the only thing he has left in his motivational arsenal. And while the talent level of the 2012 Phillies is certainly a major, if not THE major reason why the team has been a $174 million dollar failure, Manuel also senses that something is missing, something from within. A certain je ne sais quoi.

“I thought we lost that edge quite a while ago, if you want to know the truth. We don’t scare nobody. I’ll tell you something, we used to have a swagger. We used to be kind of cocky in a real good way. And teams used to definitely fear us. I definitely don’t see that fear no more. I don’t see that. I’m sorry. No, I don’t see where we scare anybody. Nobody backs down from us. Matter of fact, they come right at us. They take it right to us.”

Ah yes, the mysterious edge. The swagger. The fear.

These are what baseball people call the “intangibles.” And hey, I’m not ignorant to the fact that attitude does play some role in performance when it comes to professional sports. But swagger and attitude and striking fear into people is a chicken and the egg-type-deal.

When you have a starting infield of Mayberry, Fontenot, Rollins and Wigginton, and a starting outfield of Pierre, Victorino and Pence, is anyone really expecting the Dodgers to quiver into a shivering pile of goo?

What is Charlie Manuel to do? The Phillies are simply outgunned right now. And perhaps most disturbing is that they all seem to know it. That’s why there’s no swagger, no edge. Without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, there are no superstars on offense that can provide that emotional spark that Manuel says has been lacking for “some time.”

You wonder just when it was Manuel feels the Phils lost that mental edge. When did the Phillies stop instilling fear into their opponents? Was it when Aaron Roward, Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth left? Was it after Binoculargate? As David Knobler of CBS Sports noted, Jimmy Rollins (the 33-year-old former MVP who just signed a 3-year $33 million contract currently hitting .246 with 14 extra-base hits in 246 plate appearances) was the guy who used to be the emotional heartbeat of this team. But that’s not the case anymore, as Manuel noted earlier this year, saying that perhaps Rollins was “too busy counting his money” to be as mentally engaged as he used to be.

And what happened to Shane Victorino? Have appearances on Hawaii 5-0 and the notoriety that comes with being an All-Star player stripped him of his edge as well? Where is the guy that refused to bring any clothes or luggage to the ballpark before Game 5 of the 2008 World Series because he was so sure his team was going to win it all that he knew he wouldn’t need to hop a flight to Tampa for Game 6.

Were Burrell, Werth and Roward really that important?

Of course, the main problem with the Phillies is that there are simply no players to fear at the moment. The most dangerous hitter on the team is Carlos Ruiz.

Read that sentence again. Allow it to sink in.

Carlos Ruiz is the best player on the Phillies. That’s no knock on Chooch, by the way. He’s played like a true MVP candidate this year.

But when Ty Wigginton is regularly batting cleanup, when Juan Pierre has the highest batting average on the team, and when Chad Qualls is the only right-handed bullpen option late in games, what do teams have to fear?

(Of course, if Manuel would actually use his $50 million closer for a few four and five-out saves every now and then as well as in other non-save situations, a lot of the Qualls implosions could have been avoided.)

Opposing ballclubs don’t fear other clubs without much talent. They don’t fear aging veteran teams with subs and fill-ins littering the starting lineup, players without much speed and no real history of big league success.

Certainly guys like John Mayberry, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino have underperformed. Gone are the long ball hitters. The Phillies need to get base hits with runners in scoring position, or they’re simply not going to win.

Right now, there’s not a lot the Phils can do, other than hope that guys like Rollins, Victorino, Polanco and Pence start to produce more than they are, that Ruiz continues to do what he’s been doing, that Kendrick manages not to vomit all over himself while taking the place of Roy Halladay in the rotation, and that Hamels can keep his stuff together as the Keystone Cops around him treat the ball like it has cancer on it.

On Friday, the Phils head to Baltimore for the start of interleague play. Which, of course, is terrific news considering how awesome the Phillies have historically been during interleague play (115-135, .460 winning percentage). And in even better news, the Phils turn to their stopper, Joe Blanton, on Friday to stop the bleeding.

On the positive side, even with all their faults, the Phillies are just 4 1/2 games out of the NL Wild Card, and it’s only June 7.

In order for the Phils to stay in the hunt, they’re going to have to either acquire more talent, get the talent they have to play better, or find some way to get back that “edge,” that “swagger,” and make opposing teams “fear” them once again.

Or, perhaps they can just figure out a way to start sealing opponent’s signs again. That seemed to work pretty well before.

I kid, because I care.

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