The 2014 Philadelphia Phillies: A 1980’s perspective


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Remember the 80’s? (Based on the age of the average internet user, I’ll guess that many of you do not.)

For all you youngsters out there, let me tell you, it was a wonderful decade. Reagan was in the White House, ALF was on television, shoulder pads were plentiful, and the Philadelphia Phillies even managed to win their first World Series.

We looked at baseball a little bit differently back then. In those days, Al Gore was still working out the kinks with his internet invention, and Bill James was struggling to have his ideas taken seriously. So we didn’t have much of that fancy sabermetric analysis and we didn’t get instant breakdowns of every play on Twitter.

With that in mind, I began to wonder how a 1980’s writer would view this year’s edition of the Philadelphia Phillies. Obviously, they would still be disappointed by the last place status, but they might have a much different impression on what was causing the problem.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter the dog days of August, it has become clear that the Phillies don’t have a run in them. Sure, it’s possible that they might escape last place, but any dreams of making it to the postseason faded away weeks ago.

Now that all hope is lost, I thought it would be worth taking a closer look to determine where the Phillies went wrong.

I’ll start by looking at the offense. Yes, they could stand to score more runs, but overall, I’d say the lineup isn’t in horrible shape. It’s generally accepted that the two keys spots in the lineup are leadoff and cleanup, and the Phillies seem to be set there.

At leadoff, Ben Revere has established himself as a star. Yes, he doesn’t hit many (any?) home runs, but home runs from a leadoff hitter shouldn’t be expected. What should be expected are a high average and stolen bases, and Revere has certainly delivered in those two categories.

At cleanup, Ryan Howard is finally healthy and producing again. We’d all like his average to be a bit higher, and he’s not hitting as many home runs as he used to, but he has maintained a strong showing in the most important category: RBIs.

August 22, 2012; Philadelphia, PA USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman

Ryan Howard

(6) reacts after striking out in the seventh inning during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park. The Reds defeated the Phillies, 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Even with his reduced homer totals, Howard has still done what he’s supposed to do: Drive in runs. His 73 RBIs rank third in the National League, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he ended up leading the league in that category once again.

After them, it gets a bit murkier. Chase Utley isn’t quite the player he used to be, but his .288 average and 11 home runs are certainly acceptable from a second baseman. And while I’d prefer that Jimmy Rollins boost his average, shortstop isn’t a position where you worry too much about offense as long as he can field the ball well.

Teams don’t expect much offense up the middle, but it is important to get power from the corner spots. Marlon Byrd is pulling his weight with 22 home runs, but left field and third base have been problem areas. Cody Asche and Dom Brown have combined for 14 home runs, and that simply isn’t enough.

Basically, the offense hasn’t exactly carried the team, but it hasn’t been a huge liability either. I wish I could say the same about the pitching staff.

The bullpen has been a mixed bag, but it’s hard to blame the closer for that. With 27 saves, Jonathan Papelbon has been well worth his contract this season.

The picture gets much uglier when you look at the starting pitching. Not one member of the rotation has lived up to expectations. We didn’t have high hopes for Kyle Kendrick, and his 5-11 record shows us that we were right.

We DID have hopes for A.J. Burnett since he had won double digit games in ten straight seasons. Maybe the Phillies should have been wary of his 11 losses last season, because at 6-12, he has pretty much been a bust. It’s clear that they pursued the wrong elderly free agent pitcher. Bartolo Colon may be ancient, but his 11 wins demonstrates that he still knows how to win ballgames.

The biggest disappointment of all has been the supposed ace. Cole Hamels was given an expensive contract two years ago, and it looks like they made a huge mistake.

Since signing his extension, Hamels has a 20-21 record. That’s a lot of losses for a guy making over $22 million a year. Yes, his ERA has been good this season, but the Phillies aren’t paying him to have a low ERA; they’re paying him to win games, and he simply hasn’t done that.

It’s not a good sign that Kendrick has as many wins as Hamels. While the difference in talent level is obvious to anyone who has watched them pitch, you have to wonder why the results aren’t showing up on the field.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Kendrick uses that when trying to negotiate a new contract this offseason. His agent might point out that Kendrick only has one fewer win than the “staff ace,” and should be in line for a similar pay day.

The good news is, the Phillies should have no problem attracting free agent pitchers this winter. Now that the team has a reputation for paying big money to losing pitchers, I’m sure there will be a ton of mediocre to bad pitchers lining up for a pay day of their own.

I wonder if this is causing any tension in the Phillies’ clubhouse. While hitters like Howard and Revere are doing their jobs, are they growing frustrated at Hamels and the rest of the pitching staff?

It’s a situation that bears watching in the weeks ahead as this disappointing season mercifully comes to a conclusion.