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Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Didn't the Phillies' Brass See What the Fans Did?

The Phillies had full- and partial-season ticket plans available before the season for the first time in five years.  Last year, their consecutive sellout streak ended.  This year, they're averaging at least 8,000 fewer fans per game at Citizens' Bank Park.  They are one game below .500, and that's after playing a schedule that has included cupcakes, creampuffs and twinkies.

Carlos Ruiz missed 25 games because of a using a banned substance.  He's now on the DL.

Roy Halladay had what looks to be season-ending surgery after the arm equivalent of gimping through much of last season. 

Chase Utley will miss 2-4 weeks because of a mild oblique strain.

Ryan Howard's gait hasn't looked right since he blew a tire in an NLDS-ending at bat after the 2011 season.  He's "day to day."

Set-up man Mike Adams, signed as a free agent after dealing with arm problems, also is on the shelf.

Sound familiar?

Hope was the strategy going into this season, and either it was the best Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro thought he could play the hand he had or he was lying to himself big-time that the Phillies, who finished .500 last year despite missing Utley and Howard for huge chunks of the season, would get healthy, rebound, and make the playoffs.  Either way, Amaro has botched the job.

First, aging teams don't typically get healthier.  It was wishful thinking -- dating back to 2010, when the Phillies had many stars on the DL for chunks of the season (Utley and Howard included) -- to think that Howard and Utley would sail through this season being able to play 150 games fully healthy.  Strike one.

Second, it was wishful thinking to think that there was not something wrong with Roy Halladay, both at the end of last season and into spring training.  Strike two.

Third, it was wishful thinking to think that the years of depleting the farm system and not developing position players would not catch up to the team.  Sure, Domonic Brown is showing signs of delivering on his prodigious talent.  But the rest of the team isn't all that patient at the plate, doesn't walk enough, doesn't hit well enough -- and hadn't last year, either.  The excitement around Freddy Galvis stems mostly from the young infielder's defense and energy, but not from his bat.  Perhaps it's the best excitement the Phillies can muster, but with a paltry on-base percentage, Galvis will disappoint pretty quickly playing as a regular.  Strike three.

The fans saw it, perhaps because they have the ability to walk away from a $3,000+ commitment (starting with a partial plan) than it is for management to "blow up the team" (what, with the 10-and-5 rule and contracts that make an albatross a relatively easier burden to bear), and they finally broke.  They were concerned when the team got older by signing Raul Ibanez in 2009 and then an oft-injured Placido Polanco in 2010.  They were concerned when position players didn't pan out, too.  Yes, there was much, much joy, and no one will dispute that.  There were lots of good times at the Bank from 2007-2012, a golden age, as it were.

But live in the present management and the fans must.  The rudder is damaged, the ship listing, the excitement -- the buzz at the park -- gone.  In 2008, the team was on the rise, no one had a big contract, and they played like there was no tomorrow.  Management honored the fact that many of the stars were between 29 and 31 and tried to "win now," adding pitching and pieces, trading prospects (none of whom has turned into a Jeff Bagwell or John Smoltz), and trying to win a second World Series.  But injuries developed, other teams got hot, and seemingly lesser talented teams found chemistry, timely hitting, a better ability to get on base and even more "lights out" pitching to take the title away from the Phillies.

Ironically, it wasn't the Moneyball team that beat them, but it's cousin across the San Francisco Bay that figured out a way to put together bits and pieces to build an elite team the same way Annakin Skywalker built his championship pod racer and win two of the last three World Series.  The Phillies -- with the stars and the big contracts -- turned into Moneyedball -- with a hefty payroll and players who seemingly lost some of that extra something, and perhaps it was the drag of the big pocketbooks they were lugging around.  Perhaps they lost some incentive because of the guaranteed money, perhaps they lost some of their zeal in training, and, yes, the nagging injuries got worse.  Whatever it was, other organizatons adapted, and the Phillies found themselves coming up just short.

As my teenager pointed out, in '08 they won the Series, in '09 they lost it, in '10 they lost in the NLCS, in '11 they lost in the NLDS and in '12 they completed the stepdown by failing to make the playoffs.  Now, they're trying to reverse momentum.

Without Utley.

Without Halladay.

With a gimpy Howard.

With almost no bullpen.

With almost no outfield.

And it's only May 24.

It will be hard to win with this lineup.  It doesn't scare anyone.

Opposing hitters will try to wait until the late innings to capitalize the way they did last year.

Fire sale signs beckon.

The Bank has more debts --  in terms of long-term contracts -- than deposits (in terms of fans).

It's still a nice building.

It has passionate customers.

But they thirst for a better product.

And they will wait a long time for it.

All because required forward planning that should have been thought through immediately after the 2008 World Championship season did not take place in sufficient detail.

Perhaps because the front office thought it would last forever.

Which in baseball is about five years.

Forever is here.

And it is not pretty.


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