After a 3-7 road trip against some of Major League Baseball’s worst teams, the Phils came home with the hopes of licking their wounds against divisional rivals Washington and New York.
Not-so-shockingly, they were not able to do it.
After winning the first two games against the Nationals last week, the Phillies blew a late lead in the finale and managed to take only two out of three. Then, they lost two out of three to the Mets, capped off by Sunday’s 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Matt Harvey, to finish off their homestand at 3-3.
The Phillies enter Monday four games under .500 at 36-40. They are 7 1/2 games out of first in the NL East and trail the Wild Card by 8 1/2 games. Currently, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Colorado, San Diego, and Washington all sit in front of the Phils in the Wild Card standings. And the Phils’ run differential of -58 is second-worst in the NL. Only Miami is worse.
These are the facts, and they are not in dispute.
So, it’s understandable that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel may finally be wondering if his ballclub really is any good at all. After Sunday’s pulse-less loss to New York and ahead of a 10-game west coast road trip, Manuel was asked if the team he manages was capable of a sustained winning streak that would certainly be necessary to get his club in the middle of the playoff hunt.
“I wonder if we can do that,” Manuel admitted. “Yes.” – quote per CSN Philly’s John Gonzalez
While not admitting defeat or throwing in the towel on the 2013 season, Manuel rightfully noted what is painfully obvious to anyone who watches the Phillies play for any length of time.
This team does not have very many good players. The offense is bad. The starting pitching is erratic, the bullpen is a disaster, and the defense is sporadic, at best.
I don’t know how many more times I can write this, but the Phillies are not a playoff team. Heck, they’re not even a .500 team.
Optimists point to the returns of Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz as reasons to believe a turnaround is coming. They point to Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Delmon Young‘s history of being second half players as reasons to be optimistic. They point to the fact that Cole Hamels can’t continue to be this bad and unlucky for much longer as reasons to hope.
This is false hope.
The front office continues to look at the back of their baseball cards and believe that the statistics put up by this core group during their five-year run are going to happen again. They somehow think the bullpen of 2008 is going to re-materialize. They somehow think Roy Halladay is going to come back and twirl like it’s 2011.
But at least the manager seems to see reality. If only there was something he and his two hitting coaches could do to fix it.
Manuel has been openly seething for weeks now. Earlier this week, he launched a tirade against a local reporter asking about the Phils’ continuing inability to hit. Manuel, a hitting coach at heart, is clearly as frustrated with his team’s lack of ability to score runs as everyone else is. But when you’re saddled with a group of aging veteran players whose skills have eroded, a bullpen that is a complete and total mess, and a starting rotation that has two good pitchers in it right now (Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick), it’s easy to see why there is some stress.
“We were 3-3 on the homestand,” Manuel said. “It feels to me kind of the way we play. That’s how I look at it. If you watch us play all year long, there’s an inconsistent part of it. That’s kind of how we play. Of course we need to play better baseball and get in position where we can run off a streak.”
The Phils are an average team. They are about .500. That’s what they are. The team has played 76 games this year. They were 81-81 a year ago. This is not a small sample. And the Phillies have given no one any reason to assume they are capable of playing well enough to get hot enough to make a run.
“I think things have to fall right for us,” Manuel said. “We have to play really, really tremendous baseball. That includes defense, offense and pitching. We’ve got to get enough of each.”
And it could be worse. The Phils could have been swept by New York this weekend, after the bullpen blew a 7-1 lead. They were saved by Kevin Frandsen‘s walk-off, bottom of the ninth homer.
Despite all the rosy predictions and false hope being offered by Ruben Amaro and the crew of second-half potential, at least the manager is watching the games and seeing what everyone else is seeing.
Like the rest of us, he wonders if the Phillies are capable of going on a run. And with the trade deadline getting ever closer in the rear view mirror, the time they have to go on that run shrinks every single day.