July 23rd, 2012
After five straight NL East championships, will this be the year that the Phillies are overtaken in the East? I had the chance to do color for FOX this past weekend and see this team in person for the first time this year. Although I’m not willing to say that they have no chance of coming back from 14 games behind the Nationals, I am comfortable saying that this team does not have the same swagger they had over the past few years.
There are years when things just don’t go right for teams. We all know that. But it seems that if it can go wrong for the Phillies, this year it has. Cliff Lee has one win. They have played most of the year without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Roy Halladay missed seven weeks. But every team has injuries. The biggest problem I see is the bullpen.
So Charlie Manuel has had to try and piece together a bullpen that can get the ball to Jonathan Papelbon with a lead. Papelbon has been pretty good in save opportunities, blowing only three. The problem has been the seventh and eighth innings. On a nightly basis, Manuel doesn’t know who he is going to run out there. Trust me when I say this: there is nothing in the game that will demoralize a team faster than losing games after the seventh inning. It puts the offense in a mindset that says, “It doesn’t matter how many runs we score, it ain’t gonna be enough.”
In years past, the Phillies’ offense could outhit poor pitching. It is not that offense anymore. They do have Howard and Utley back, and that is the one of the reasons that I’m not willing to say they are done. With those two bats back in the middle of the order, they can overcome some poor pitching. But this team has to realize that no one is going to feel sorry for them. They have been to the Postseason five straight years. There are players who play their entire careers and never get an at-bat or throw a pitch in the Postseason.
The other reason I’m not willing to say the Phillies are done is that all the teams in front of them have not won before. The Braves have won, but not with this group of players. In this game you have to learn to win. So until the Phillies are out of it mathematically, I’m not going to say that they won’t make the Postseason. Because they know how to win. But they better start remembering in a hurry, or it will be too late.