If you’ve been a Phillies fan longer than the team’s recent five-year postseason run, you’ll understand the title of this post. If not, those were often the words of Hall of Fame player and fantastic color analyst Richie Ashburn to his good friend and fellow announcer Harry Kalas time and time again as the two worked Phillies games until Ashburn’s death in 1997.
I can only imagine what Whitey (that’s Ashburn for you new Phillies fans) must be thinking with the All-Star break here.
The Phillies, a team with a payroll of $175 million, were swept at home by Atlanta this weekend to end a first half that had only one real positive, the breakout performance by Carlos Ruiz. Not even a career year (done in half a season) by Chooch could save a sinking ship that was taking on water before the first pitch was even thrown.
I was at Saturday’s listless 6-3 loss (I’ve never heard Citizen’s Bank Park so quiet) with my girlfriend, and on the drive home she asked me how a team that had been so good could be so bad so quickly. It took the whole 90-mile ride home to explain it to her and I didn’t even get to everything. Lots of people like to point the finger at a player or a manager, but a team doesn’t go from losing 60 games in a whole season in 2011 to losing 50 games in the first half during this dreadful year with just a few problems. And that’s worrisome going forward.
Forget a sixth straight division title. That’s over. Making the wild card? No way, not with the lack of effort and heart (Shane Victorino, who is making $9.5 million this year, was scratched from the lineup Sunday after a meeting with Charlie Manuel about his recent, and really season-long, slump – 8-for-40 over the last 10 games and a woeful .240 average and punchless .680 OPS this season) on this team. The Flyin’ Hawaiian, who should absolutely be traded and for peanuts if necessary, isn’t the only culprit on this team, though. Far from it.
John Mayberry, Jr. had a fantastic year last season in a part-time role, hitting .273 with 15 homers and an OPS of .854. This year, with a chance to win himself an every-day job in the big leagues and earn tons of money in the future, Mayberry has been awful with a .232 average, .646 OPS and 61 strikeouts in 207 at bats.
Antonio Bastardo was lights out for the first five months last year, but since then he’s been no better than a mop-up reliever. After posting a WHIP of 0.93 last year, Bastardo has allowed 43 base runners in 28 2-3 innings this season. He came into a 0-0 game Friday against Atlanta and faced seven batters, walking three, allowing a single and giving up a grand slam that brought on the fiercest boos of the season from the crowd according to several reporters at the game.
After signing a three-year, $30 million contract to return to Philadelphia, Jimmy Rollins was a player who had to play well early while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley (I’ll get to him in a minute) were babied back to health. Instead, Rollins was awful the first two months of the season. Sure, he played well in June, but this is a guy who has been in the majors since 2001. Taking the first two months off, when you’re team is in desperate straits because of injuries, is unacceptable from J-Roll (I loathe that nickname by the way).
It’s not just on those three guys, though. They’re part of the problem, but really outside of Ruiz, Cole Hamels at times, Jonathan Papelbon more often than not and Hunter Pence (who has had a pretty good first half offensively, but is just an awful, awful defender), this whole team has been a huge disappointment. And it started before spring training even got going.
While the rest of the Phillies were on the practice fields in Clearwater, Fla., Utley was nowhere to be found. He had missed the beginning of last season with a bad knee, but going into the offseason there were reassurances given by both Utley and the Phillies that there would be steps taken to make sure that Utley would be ready for 2012. But as the days crept by with Utley missing in action, it became apparent that the knee problem had resurfaced. This time it was worse. Now both of Utley’s knees were bothering him and there was no time table for him to even begin working out let alone start playing. It took until May before he could even take ground balls. He was so-so during his rehab games, finishing up with a 3-for-5 game with the IronPigs, before homering in his first at bat of the season against the Pirates on June 27. Watch that homer again, though, and you’ll see the prettiest hanging breaking ball you could ever imagine. I wrote about Utley’s return in my last blog post and still feel the same way. That was reinforced when I saw him hit a pop up to left field on a 90 mph fastball Saturday. The old Utley drives that ball in the right-center field gap or maybe to the seats. I know, he didn’t have a spring training and was given just 37 at-bats on his rehab assignment, but the guy has no legs. Enjoy him this season and next because that’s when his Phillies career is over.
It doesn’t help that the Phillies’ two highest paid pitchers are hurt (Roy Halladay) and an underachiever who seems bored (Cliff Lee), their highest paid set-up reliever (Jose Contreras) blew out his elbow and their biggest free agent pickup for the bullpen (Chad Qualls) outside of Papelbon was awful in every aspect of the word awful. Throw in losing young reliever Michael Stutes to a shoulder injury, having Joe Blanton be good for a start and horrible for three and getting the worst season of his career across the board from someone like Victorino in the final year of his contract and it adds up to a 37-50 first-half.
How is it fixed? Addition by subtraction is a start.
Victorino should be traded ASAP. A team that needs a decent center fielder with an OK arm, a guy who has a history of getting on base and can steal some bags might give up a mid-level prospect or two. I highly doubt any team would trade anything but a little bit of money for either Placido Polanco, who has been below average this season, or Blanton, and I’m not sure who would replace either if they were shipped out, while also forcing the Phillies to eat some of their salaries, but it could send a wake-up call to the team. Or it could cause the players to tell the media that it sent a wake-up call only to go out and sleep walk through a series like they did against Atlanta this weekend.
The biggest question surrounds Hamels, who is due to be a free agent after this season and could get a six- or seven-year offer for upwards of $150-175 million. Could the Phillies afford that? Probably, but that would be four guys (Halladay, Howard, Hamels and Lee) all making more than $20 million a season with the need to also work on extensions for Pence and Ruiz and fill in holes in the bullpen and on the bench. The Phillies should try to get Hamels to sign an extension over the next two weeks and if he won’t explore the possibility of trading him. If they can’t get two blue-chip prospects and one or two mid-level guys, hold on to him, let him walk as a free agent and get three draft picks.
And we’re at 1,303 words for this post and I’m not even halfway done. It’s been that kind of season, well half a season really.