The Tailspin Continues

werth 0702.jpgIt looks bad out there.

Real bad.

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.

*

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8 Comments

From the way things are shaping up, they’ll have to win the division to make the playoffs. The Wild Card will likely come from either the Central or West, and I’d guess it will be the Cardinals.
Ibanez coming back will be a boost (provided he doesn’t suffer another “setback”) but they’re still going to have to figure out what’s wrong with the pitching staff. The strength of the 2008 team was the bullpen, and now they’re struggling. Maybe they’re watching themselves on TV a little too much? :)

Part of the problem with the bullpen are the injuries to Lidge, Condrey, and Eyre. This put the bullpen’s “rotation” on a different schedule. They also have been used alot and are obviously showing the signs of wear and tear. Madson will get better I hope now that he’s back to the set-up roll. Also JC’s 50 day suspension didn’t help matters either.

I think Ibanez’s return will also give the team a much needed boast because he’s shown what a versatile hitter he is. Plus pitchers pitch differently around him (Utley & Howard)

I meant boost not boast although we often boast about his at
bats :-)

The pitching has been very problematic, no question. Still, I will be a broken record about the offense under Milt Thompson. Taking away the 31 runs in our three blowout wins, and we’ve scored 45 runs in 15 games. With an average of three runs per game, even remarkably good pitching would have us in this same predicament. Our lineup, on paper, should be able to overcome even mediocre pitching performances more often than not. So, why does Milt Thompson continue to get a free pass? Why does no one even question him or make a critical analysis of this?

karen: Something has to give with baseball in general, not just the Phillies.
It’s true that the bullpen is stretched out, but that’s because managers don’t let starters pitch deep into games and/or the starters throw too many pitches and can’t get through the sixth inning. Then, the specialist relief pitchers parade in.

Almost every ML team is looking for starting pitching, which makes me wonder why they still use 5-man rotations. Either go back to the 4-man rotation or let them throw more than 100 pitches. Either one will help. Every team has a 5th starter that could be thrown into the bullpen mix or thrown out altogether (Lopez) and it would put a stop to the endless search for starting pitching.
Limiting the amount of work the starters do places a burden on the bullpen. But baseball people are so hung up on tradition, they won’t change until they’re forced to.

scottash: I’ve never been sure what a major league hitting coach does except talk to guys. At the point they’re at, how much coaching do they need? They watch video, analyze their swing and probably think about it 24/7.
Teams don’t have fielding coaches, which most of them could use. There are pitching coaches and hitting coaches – why no fielding coaches? A baseball conundrum.
Anyway, hitting coaches are the first guys fired when a team is struggling, and if the Phils hadn’t won last year, Milt would likely be car-pooling with Jack Taschner today.

muleman: I agree that they really shouldn’t need much coaching, but when you have two former MVP’s who are regressing at the plate (or, at best, failing to progress), I feel that the person “responsible” for hitting needs to step up and be proactive with them. To the best of my knowledge, that hasn’t happened. I just want to see our bats live up to their potential. It would be a thing of beauty…

scottash: So, you’d fire the hitting coach because two former MVP’s aren’t hitting? How does that figure? Did Milt get credit for their awards? No. So, he bears no responsibilty for their failures either.

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