The Tailspin Continues
The Phillies have lost 14 of their last 18 games to fall into a first-place tie in the National League East with … the Marlins. The Mets are a game back. The Braves are two back.
In just three weeks, the Phillies have breathed life into the rest of the NL East.
“Without question, everyone has a shot in the division,” Braves leftfielder Matt Diaz said after last night’s 5-2 victory over the Phillies. “The Mets are going to start getting healthy. The Marlins are as solid as they appeared to be earlier in the year when everyone though they were the favorite. The Phillies are defending world champs. When they get (Raul) Ibanez back, that’s a different offense.”
How the heck has this happened? The Phillies have not hit, pitched or played particulary good defense. They have hit .233 and scored just 76 runs (4.22 per game) in this 18-game freefall. The rotation has a 5.23 ERA, and the bullpen has a 6.56 ERA with four blown saves. They have been hurt (Ibanez, Brad Lidge, Brett Myers, Scott Eyre and Clay Condrey). They have made mental mistakes.
“Times like this can build character for a team,” Chase Utley said. “That’s the way I look at it.”
The Phillies have looked flat at times, although it is easy to look flat when you’re not hitting or pitching or playing good defense. Charlie Manuel called a team meeting following a loss to the Blue Jays last Friday in Toronto. Manuel addressed a few things in that meeting, including his concern about distractions. That is something pitching coach Rich Dubee mentioned before Thursday’s loss.
“I feel like we’re coming to the park prepared,” Utley said. “We obviously haven’t been playing that well, but we haven’t seen a change in our attitude for the negative. It’s obviously a rough stretch. We’re definitely not making any excuses, but we do need to start playing better in all parts of the ball: offensively, defensively. We need to pitch better. That’s the bottom line. How do you do that? You stay motivated. You stay positive. You have to come to the field every day to prepare and prepare to win.”
The Phillies returned to Philadelphia last night for a nine-game homestand before the All-Star break against the Mets, Reds and Pirates. That normally would be considered a good thing, except the Phillies left Philadelphia for their just completed road trip following a 1-8 homestand — one of the worst homestands in the franchise’s 127-year history.
“Our game is not together,” Manuel said. “We’re all screwed up. The nights we hit, we don’t pitch. The nights we pitch, we don’t hit. We’re losing games late. We’re playing bad baseball.”
It can’t continue much longer, can it?
Jimmy Rollins snapped a career-worst 0-for-28 slump with a single to right field in the third inning. It was Rollins’ first hit since June 18, a span of 14 days and 12 games, four of which Rollins did not play.
“I got some hits, so that was good,” said Rollins, who went 2 for 4.
Is it a relief?
“Relief?” he said. “From?”
It had been a while.
“Yeah, I know,” he said.