Trying to Make Sense of It All

Thumbnail image for utley swings.jpgI left the Phillies’ clubhouse last night feeling a little dizzy.

Charlie Manuel talked about edge and cockiness and swagger. He said the team is trying too hard, but said a couple times the game (i.e. winning) needs to be the players’ No. 1 priority. He said he hears talk about losing, but then said he sees a difference in the clubhouse more than hears it. Shane Victorino expressed his frustrations at a few fans who ripped him last night. He brought up Jimmy Rollins‘ infamous frontrunners comment from a couple years ago — you can think it, but why would you say it? — but then said Phillies fans have been great and have brought a ton of energy to the ballpark.

Confused with the contradictions?

I am, too.

Here is my take:

There is a difference in the clubhouse this year. The edge is missing. But let’s be real: the Phillies have had 12 players on the DL this season and those injuries have caught up with them. It has caught up with them in talent on the field, and it has caught up with them in attitude. Lose enough games, struggle enough and people become Debbie Downers. People start worrying about other things. They start complaining. They don’t feel invincible. They don’t feel like they can overcome their problems. It’s human nature.

“We don’t quite have the swagger that we once had,” said Jamie Moyer, who gave the clearest answer of anybody of what is ailing the team. “I don’t think it was a cocky swagger. It was just a swagger. And I think it was carried by all. We have some new faces in here. That’s not the reason, but as teams change, I think it’s the responsibility of those who remain to try to continue that swagger in the way that we play.”

I think we’re seeing how important Chase Utley and Rollins are. Rollins is the swagger. Utley is the enforcer. Rollins missed most of the first half with a strained right calf. The Phillies missed his bat, and his attitude in the clubhouse. Little seems to rattle the guy, and I think that filters through the clubhouse. Utley has a different impact. He sets a tremendous example with his work ethic. He might hate talking to reporters, but he will pull a teammate aside and chew him out if he does not like his effort. You don’t mess with Utley. You don’t mess with him because nobody works harder or cares more about winning in that clubhouse. How can I say that? Because Roy Halladay said it — he called Utley the Derek Jeter of the National League — and Halladay works harder than everyone. Utley and Rollins are the team’s heart and soul. They are the double-play combo. They are the leadoff hitter and three-hole hitter. The Phillies simply don’t have people to replace them. The Phillies are better equipped to lose one of their outfielders or a relief pitcher or a starting pitcher than Utley or Rollins. Wilson Valdez has done a nice job, but he is a short-term solution.

But while the Phillies need to make a move to soften the loss of Utley, the onus falls to five players: Rollins, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Victorino. Now is the time for Rollins to step up to his “red-light” reputation. Howard always has been an unbelievable second-half player, but it would be nice to see him accelerate that timetable to July. Werth has hit just .173 with runners in scoring position. The team’s No. 5 hitter must be better than that with RISP. Ibanez keeps working hard and saying the right things, but his .726 OPS is the lowest of his career since he became an everyday player in 2002. Victorino has hovered around .250 most of the season. He can be better.

Would improving the pitching help? Absolutely. But the Phillies have a 4.03 ERA, which ranks seventh in the league. They should be OK with those numbers — if the Big Five in the lineup picked it up. The Phillies had a 4.61 ERA before the All-Star break last year, which ranked 14th in the league. They had a 3.90 ERA in 2008, which ranked fourth before the break. They had a 4.91 ERA in 2007, which ranked last.

The point is: while the Phillies have had inconsistencies in their rotation and bullpen, they have not been as awful as they were in 2007 and 2009. The Big Five needs to step up. If they do, they will start winning again and the attitude will improve. And when Utley returns in late August/early September, the Phillies will have something to play for.

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I will be signing copies of my book Saturday from 4-4:45 p.m. during Pigapalooza at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown.

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The Zo Zone is on Facebook and Twitter. His Phillies book “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly” is available online, and at Delaware Valley bookstores!

6 Comments

Todd, totally agree with your take. The onus is on The Big Five. Even with the injuries this team still has NINE active players who have been All-Stars. If Werth wants to get paid like a franchise player this offseason, he needs to start performing like a franchise player now. And I love Victorino, but Mr. thumpbump is dead on. Victorino has already set a career high in HR’s and you know what? It’s been a disappointing season. He needs to stop making like Willie Mays Hays and worrying about the fans and start focusing on getting on base and stealing bases.

Sometimes I feel like this team still wants to be judged as the plucky underdogs from Septembers of 2007 and 2008. But those days are over. They’ve been world champs. They’re two time defending league champs. They have the highest payroll in team history. And with those accomplishments, fans’ expectations have risen as well.

They have lots of injuries, but so do lots of teams – that excuse is tired and does not explain their terrible play. Victorino could quiet boos if he would play better and stop thinking he is a power hitter and Werth’s play is just all around horrendous.

Todd, totally agree with your take. The onus is on The Big Five. Even with the injuries this team still has NINE active players who have been All-Stars. If Werth wants to get paid like a franchise player this offseason, he needs to start performing like a franchise player now. And I love Victorino, but Mr. thumpbump is dead on. Victorino has already set a career high in HR’s and you know what? It’s been a disappointing season. He needs to stop making like Willie Mays Hays and worrying about the fans and start focusing on getting on base and stealing bases.

Sometimes I feel like this team still wants to be judged as the plucky underdogs from Septembers of 2007 and 2008. But those days are over. They’ve been world champs. They’re two time defending league champs. They have the highest payroll in team history. And with those accomplishments, fans’ expectations have risen as well.

As much I disliked the guy I’m starting to believe Brett Myers WAS the swagger. He showed emotion in these times. He was also a practical joker when the mood needed it … hmmm.

The Big Five have to step it up and lead by example. The mood has to lighten up a bit as well without being to complacent. There’s a balance that has to be maintained both on the field as well as the clubhouse. Good entry, Todd! Barb
http://barbward.mlblogs.com

I’ve got no problems with Victorino’s comments, by and large they were complimentary to the fans. I was at last night’s game and made it a point to cheer him (before the home run). I was at a total loss for words on the play the tied the game up at 2-2. I can accept strikeouts, a booted grounder or a muffed fly. I can’t stand mental errors. Championship teams do no commit mental errors. How can you allow a runner to score from second base on a strike out? Standing up, no less. When hitters are going well, Charlie ‘rides’ them out. Kendrick had only thrown 68 pitches going into the 7th and was pitching strong. Why take him out? Right after the play that gave the Phils the lead 2-1 Victorino on first, left handed batter, the pitcher is hurting, why not steal the base (Victorino gets picked off several pitches into the hitter, mental error). Late in the game with a right hander at the plate, no out, Castro steals and gets thrown out. They also need to get a bunt down. I’m still on the bandwagon, the season is only half over – but sometimes they sure do condound me!

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