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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Phillies Will Not Make the Playoffs

Not with this roster, no way, no how, no matter how much the spin doctors located in Citizens Bank Park will tell you otherwise, how anesthetized they are from the gate receipts resulting from an overabundance of beer vendors in every aisle, heck they're probably drinking too much of the suds to notice the following problems:

1. Adam Eaton is terrible. He's the type of pitcher that will have a couple of outings where you'll think that maybe he's turned the corner, only to give up a two-run double to Randy Johnson, whose career is almost ready for the turkey buzzards whose mug Johnson's resembles when he gets angry. Sorry to be so harsh on all accounts, but Eaton should not be in a playoff team's rotation.

2. The team also is without a fifth starter. Brett Myers' return is all but guaranteed physically (he'll return from Allentown after the All-Star break), but where's his (ten-cent) head? If he returns and excels, great, as the Phils will have four Major League starters, but if he falters, the Phillies -- without any improvements -- will plummet faster than a guy going over a cliff in a shopping cart.

3. The bullpen will get worn out if the starters don't improve. I have great faith in Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin and Brad Lidge, but Tom Gordon is ready for retirement, Rudy Seanez is a journeyman and Cliff Condrey is a mop-up man who sometimes makes the mess worse. Recent addition R.J. Swindle's name says it all. With his oh-so-straight (and slow) fastball and his 53 miles-per-hour curve (so slow that the Phils don't show the mph on their scoreboard when he throws it, because it would lead the average Budweiser-fueled fan to think that they transposed his mph count at the pitching alley in the outfield with what's happening in the game), he's not a Major Leaguer.

4. The Phils' catching is limping. Okay, so Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz are fine defensively, but Coste is oh for the recent homestand (something like 0-20) and Ruiz is hitting .205 with an on-base percentage and isn't much higher. Right now, both are automatic outs, and that's troubling. They need passable offense from this position, and they're not getting it.

5. The off-season moves to buttress the outfield failed. The play of Geoff Jenkins and So Taguchi demonstrates why the Brewers and Cards, respectively, let them become free agents -- both are through. Shane Victorino is hot now, but he hasn't been an equal to Aaron Rowand, whose leadership and gumption the Phillies' miss. Jayson Werth had his moments earlier in the season, but he's not as good in right now as Victorino was last season. Yes, Pat Burrell is playing like one of the best outfielders in the league, but the overall outfield play has been disappointing.

6. The offense is less patient than last year, swinging at too many pitches early in the count, and is not playing as well. Ryan Howard is hot, and that's because he's gotten more patient at the plate. But Jimmy Rollins is only faring okay, and Chase Utley has cooled off since a torrid start of the season. Chants of "MVP" that sometimes pop up at Citizens Bank Park for him now are unwarranted. He's an outstanding player, but he's not playing like ann MVP.

So what do the Phillies need?

1. At least one starting pitcher, perhaps two. It may be that they should call up Carlos Carrasco from AA Reading to fill one spot and perhaps J.A. Happ (who threw well in two recent starts) for the other. Eat Eaton's contract, send him down, whatever, but shed the anxiety and the medication that goes with it when he pitches. Or, work a trade for an available starter, but get a battler. The team doesn't need A.J. Burnett, because all reports indicate that he's an underachiever with little feel as to how to pitch. If the team does nothing here, it's sending a messagse to its fans that it's happy with its revenues, it needs to save its dough for the large contracts that Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell and Cole Hamels will command shortly, and it thinks it's okay to contend for a playoff spot forever.

2. Get a third or fourth outfielder, someone with pop who has a good on-base percentage.

3. Have Jimmy Rollins continue to work with Milt Thompson and Charlie Manuel on his hitting, so that he can regain the groove that he created last year.

As Baseball Prospectus eloquently pointed out in this year's edition, a team cannot stay in the zone that the Phillies have been in forever. That zone is the 85-win zone, which the Phillies have been in for about 7 years. Teams usually go one way or the other, and at the season's outset that publication opined that the Phillies were only a good player away from doing something special (I think reaching the World Series). But they didn't enter the Santana sweepstakes, and they failed to land C.C. Sabathia or Dan Haren.

So the Phillies have two choices -- make some changes or stand pat. To do the latter would be a public denial of evolution and the inevitability of change, and a concession that they're happy with their gate and leaving the rest of their season to the vagaries of fate and the pitching ability of guys like Adam Eaton and Brett Myers. If that's not a train wreck waiting to happen, nothing is.

And guys like Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and, yes, Pat Burrell, deserve better this year.

More importantly, so do the (long-suffering) fans, who have heard enough spinning from the team to develop a severe case of fan vertigo whose only remedy either would be a sale of the team to ownership with better clues and resources or choosing another team to support.

The Phillies' front office has a unique opportunity here and a great core of players. It's time for them to step up to the plate, seize the moment and make the moves to turn a good team into a great one.


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