Roughly 50 weeks ago, I posted a sad piece I had to call “Philadelphia Phillies Stumbling to the End of Their Best Era.” At that time the Fightin’s were six games below .500 and exhibited the three earmarks of fading champions: aging, injured players; astonishing underperformers; and ridiculous over-performers offering false hope. Despite being “only” three games below .500 as this is written, things now may actually be worse for the 2008 World Series champions.
Oh, the Local Nine should be given some credit for a marginal improvement over the last two-thirds of 2012 and the first third of the current season, but an examination of the categories above reveals the roots of their fan base’s more despairing outlook:
Aging, Injured Players: Hopes were high at the beginning of this campaign. After all, Chase Utley would actually take the field for game one, unlike the last two years; Roy Halladay’s shoulder was rested, a possibly minor injury healed over the winter; Ryan Howard’s healing Achilles tear was also rested.
Utley began well enough; Howard began fairly well, and…well, Halladay ended up in a surgical suite, but not promptly enough. Now on an extended visit to the disabled list, the best pitcher of his generation managed only a 2-4 record (8.65 ERA) before he decided that maybe that shoulder needed a closer look. As for Utley, he too is on the DL although he should return shortly, assuming his version of the omnipresent modern player’s oblique strain is, in fact, minor. As for Howard, the one-time league MVP is nursing a sore knee directly above his repaired Achilles. That the two injuries could be related seems a reasonable, if unproven, conclusion. For the moment Howard is trying to play through pain with cortisone injections that seem effective for a few days at a time. That the team is not dismissing the possibility of a torn meniscus is even more troubling.
That is not the sort of devastating injury a torn Achilles is, just another guy on the DL for a while at worst, but more concerning to Phillies fans have been Howard’s horrible-looking plate performances when he doesn’t put the ball into play. One fan texted me this: “I swung at a curve better than that in Little League”; others are scrambling for the ratio of The Big Piece’s lifetime strikeouts to home runs (that would be 4.44 to 1).
Set-up man Mike Adams, catcher Carlos Ruiz, and fifth started John Lannan have also visited the DL; Ruiz and Lannan are still visiting.
Astonishing Underperformers: The principal story here is the uncovered story of Cliff Lee unloading his bad karma from last season onto fellow “ace” Cole Hamels. Last June, Lee’s Father’s Day gift was an 0-3 record despite a 3.48 ERA in 11 starts; this year, well in advance of Father’s Day, Hamels is 1-8 (4.48 ERA). The team’s offense, for whatever reason, has simply failed to support a top pitcher two years running, but Hamels – despite commentators’ overpraise of some of his efforts – is actually performing worse this season than Lee did in ’12. However, team offense isn’t off the hook at all with respect to any of their starters. Astonishing case in point, courtesy of a Matt Gelb print article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer: veteran Michael Young’s slugging percentage today is lower than his on-base percentage (.341 to .350). This statistical outlier comes as no surprise when a team seems to drive in nobody – ever.
Ridiculous Over-performers Offering False Hope: In the category designed to offer a whiff of the positive, there’s nothing much to say. Last year there was a brief power burst by Jim Thome, as well as Carlos Ruiz’ (possibly Adderall-aided) batting average. This year? Well, for about 24 hours (May 20-21) Freddie Galvis’ .298 batting average lead the team. When I first saw Galvis play single-A ball in Williamsport (PA), no one had any hope that he would ever hit in The Show. Well, he can. Other than that? Domonic Brown has 10 home runs. That’s it.
What’s a loyal Phillies fan to do? Personally, I’m going to Baltimore Friday to see if my other team, the Orioles, can hold Miguel Cabrera in check for an evening.