(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Saturday, June 19, 2004

The Philadelphia Phillies Will Do Something . . .

with their roster, with their manager, or both.

Going into the season, the Phillies were viewed as a playoff-caliber team and, by many, as the winner of the NL East. Well some funny things have happened since they were so anointed.

1. The New Stadium. It's a nice park, not as dramatic as Camden Yards, but aesthetically a big improvement over The Vet, and the fans sit much closer to the action. But the Vet was a rather neutral park in terms of whether if favored pitchers or hitters, and the local writers now refer to Citizens Bank Park as "Soars Field", a takeoff on the launching pad in Denver known as Coors Field. While the home team is built for power, it was also built for pitching, and the new park has taken away the advantage in the arms' race the Phillies thought they had.

2. Hitting. Many prognosticators liked the Phillies' lineup and thought they'd improve on 2003. Pat Burrell has definitely improved, and his OBP is great, but three of the eight position players are having bad years. Marlon Byrd, in center, had a good season last year, but he's hitting .220 and his OBP is .295. Ouch. Catcher Mike Lieberthal's OBP is a paltry .305, and SS Jimmy Rollins, whom the Phillies hoped would be their leadoff hitter, has an OBP of .330 (not good for the top of the lineup). Regardless of whether you're a Billy Beane disciple, the Phillies' offense is not getting the job done.

3. Pitching/Injuries. For the Phillies, they go together, and the other night the pitchers who worked were Paul Abbott, Geoff Geary and Elizardo Ramirez, a castoff, a AAAA pitcher and a guy who was in A ball last year. As for the starters, the bad ERA and WHIP of Kevin Millwood is making Phillies' fans wish that the Phils hadn't traded Johnny Estrada, who's having a good year for the Braves, for Millwood 2 seasons ago. Eric Milton is 8-1, but his ERA is about 4.40 and his WHIP is 1.55, not exactly dazzling numbers.

4. The Skipper. When the Phillies were trying to regain their respectability, the argument was that Larry Bowa was bulletproof because he was their biggest marketing advantage, the link to the 1980 World Champions. Now, the Phillies have Jim Thome, a revived Pat Burrell, and a starting pitching staff, when healthy, that includes perhaps 5 of baseballs top 50 starting pitchers (although none would be in the top 25). And Billy Wagner. So, Bowa is expendable, but the irony here is that the bad start isn't Bowa's fault. The injuries to the pitching staff have been staggering, no one could have predicted how the home field would turn out (at least in terms of giving the home team an advantage), and the hitting hasn't been there. In Bowa's defense, much of this hasn't been his fault, and the stories about clubhouse tension with Bowa just haven't been there either.

5. So What Might Happen? Some type of big trade has to be in the works, in order to get some players with better OBPs in the lineup. It will be hard to get into the playoffs when 3 of your 8 position players are having bad offensive years. Center field is the obvious spot where the Phillies might make a change, and I also wouldn't be surprised to see the team move Jimmy Rollins if they can get a better offensive SS and one who listens to coaching about his hitting. Larry Bowa, though, should be safe for now.