The Phillies have lost 3 of their last 4 games and there are still more questions about this team than there are answers. Perhaps the biggest question right now is about the Big Piece, Ryan Howard.
Take a look at the timeline for Howard this past week and a half:
Howard had a cortisone injection on May 19th; he was back in the line-up May 21st and feeling better. By May 23rd, he needed a break again. He started the next 2 games and went 1-8. On May 26th, he sat out, but pinch hit into a double play later in the game. And last night against the Red Sox, Howard was visibly uncomfortable; he went 2-5 with a double play and a huge base running blunder where he got picked off at 2nd base. He appeared to be having great difficulty running.
All of this is very bad news. The MRI Howard had showed inflammation and changes in the meniscus, which basically means he has cartilage tears. If the cortisone injection lasted only a few days before he felt discomfort again, the options for treatment during the season will be limited. And he will be doing further damage to the cartilage as the season progresses and he continues to pound that knee.
And the plot thickens: According to manager Charlie Manual, “He has some arthritis. It comes and goes in his legs. He’s going to always be bothered by that.” Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease which has no cure. It can be caused by wear and tear as one gets older, or it can result from an injury. In Howard’s case, it could be due to the extra stress on his knee after his Achilles surgery.
Whatever the cause, it is beginning to look like Howard’s 5-year, $125 million contract is going to be one of the biggest bust’s in baseball history. With all the recent injuries, plus the arthritis, Howard will likely never be the same player again…at least, not the one they paid $125 million for.
And with the way this team is currently constructed, having neither Howard nor Chase Utley (currently on the DL with an oblique strain) healthy spells disaster. There is no way, with the age and the injuries on this team, that the Phillies can contend.
Remember all of the criticism Spring Training that that this team was too old and too injury-prone to win? Remember Howard’s response to that criticism? He told the media, “Just don’t be surprised,” basically saying that they were going to prove all the critics wrong.
Well, it is May 28th; the Phillies are in third place and have lost 3 of their last 4 games in spectacularly bad fashion. The following key players are all on the DL: Utley, Roy Halladay (will miss at least most of the year), Carlos Ruiz and John Lannan. There are 2 rookies pitching in the rotation. The bullpen is horrible. The offense is non-existent. The fielding errors and base running blunders are piling up.
As much as I hate to be a pessimist, stick a fork in them; I believe this team may be done.
Although, Howard is certainly welcome to prove me wrong…
Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography
On Monday night, Phillies rookie Jonathan Pettibone made his major league debut against the Pirates. He went 5.1 innings and allowed only 2 runs after a fairly shaky start and some good defense. The Phillies offense put up 3 runs for the rookie, but two of those runs came from a wild pitch and a hit batter.
The lack of offense took another turn for the worse on Tuesday night. Cole Hamels pitched a great game, allowing 2 runs over 8 innings. But his teammates did nothing to help him. As a result of the 0-2 loss, Hamels still does not have a win this year. This is exactly what happened to Cliff Lee last year, who ended the season with only 6 wins, despite his 3.16 ERA.
There were only 4 hits for the Phillies last night. Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke had them all tied up in knots that they could not untangle. Sadly, it was a total Locke-Down.
For example, in the 4th inning, John Mayberry Jr. led off with a triple. Still, the Phillies managed to squander that opportunity as well. Not scoring a runner from 3rd with no outs to start the inning is ridiculous. But that has been the story of the Phillies offense for a number of years now, and it does not appear it will change anytime soon.
These guys get anxious at the plate, swing at bad pitches and watch good ones fly past them. There is no discipline at all.
Think about that 4th inning again. With no outs, Mayberry stood at 3rd and Domonic Brown on first after being hit by a pitch. Locke was getting wild and losing his command. So the only thing Ben Revere needed to do was not pop out or hit the ball the 3rd base side of the infield. Even a double play would have scored the run with Mayberry going on contact. So what does Revere do? He swings at the first pitch and hits the ball to third; Mayberry is thrown out at the plate.
This is not Mayberry’s fault either…Ryne Sandberg told him to go on contact which was verified by manager Charlie Manual after the game. As for Revere, remember he is only 24 years old. Clearly, he still has a lot to learn. But the same excuse cannot be made for the rest of the team. This is a very experienced ball club. Yet they continue to approach at-bats like frightened rookies.
When the only relief of the night is seeing bench player Laynce Nix step to the plate, something is very, very wrong.
The Phillies hired not one, but two new hitting coaches this season in an effort to improve the offense. And even though both Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner have gotten rave reviews from the players, nothing changes once a guy steps to the plate. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Apparently not.
Pretty soon they will have a big offensive day again and the critics will be silent until the next several games when the bats go back to sleep again. This has become a pattern. They give us a small bit of hope, and just like that, the hope is squashed the very next day. I am seriously beginning to wonder if this is fixable.
In the meantime, all we can do is wait and see. Roy Halladay will pitch tonight; game time is 7:05pm.
Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography
In 2012, the Phillies faced Reds pitcher Mike Leake twice and destroyed him to the tune of 13 runs. He had an overall ERA against the Phils of 17.55. Ouch. But last night, this team sprung Leake from his Phillies prison, allowing him to mow them down one hitter after another.
Ah, sweet freedom for Mr. Leake. He must be quite relieved this morning.
On the exact opposite side, the Phillies probably got little sleep due to nightmares. Some people have nightmares about standing naked in a crowd. The Phillies are probably having nightmares about standing at home plate without a bat. They may as well have been standing there without one if they were never going to use it.
And that pretty much describes this entire 6-game road trip which went down in flames after getting swept in 3-games by the Reds. They scored only 10 runs in all 6 games and came away with just 2 wins, both against the Marlins.
Granted, it is very, very early in the season. The Phillies have time to make up ground, however, these are very serious issues. At some point, one has to question whether or not this team is capable of more. But we will not really know until we see the whole team together as it was meant to be; that means when Carlos Ruiz returns and we also finally see what Delmon Young has to offer. Ruiz cannot return due to suspension until April 28th. And Young is still on the DL, although he has been participating in extended Spring Training games.
To make matters worse, Domonic Brown left the game early with a sore back; he will have an MRI today. And John Lannan, who got pounded for 6 runs in 1.2 innings last night, complained of a sore knee after the game. His status is unknown.
Do not be surprised if manager Charlie Manual decides to shake up the line-up tonight against the Cardinals. And say a prayer that Cole Hamels can get his first win of the season; although, he may need a little offense to get that done. *Sigh.*
Game time is 7:05pm.
Photoshopping by Jenn Zambri Photography
Is it just me, or is it taking forever to get to the regular season? I was excited when Spring Training began, because a little baseball is better than no baseball. But that excitement has waned slowly and transformed into impatience. Can we get to the real games already!
There is not much else in Philly to get excited about right now. The Flyers are good one day, and suck the next. They are in last place in their division. And the 76ers are all but out of playoff contention, unless a small miracle occurs. And no, that miracle will not be Andrew Bynum, who does not appear to have any desire to play this year. He will sit back and collect his massive paycheck.
Some people are excited about the Papal Conclave in Rome. I get it. I was just in Rome this past October; I took the whole 9-mile tour of the Vatican museums, St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel. It was an ethereal experience for sure. But unless the smoke coming out of that chapel chimney signals the start of the regular season, I don’t have much to get excited about.
They will pick a new pope. Some people will celebrate, some will complain and life will go on. But what I really need is some baseball!
I like Spring Training; it is a necessary part of baseball. But some things about it annoy me. Mainly, that it is 6-weeks long, the games don’t count and the fact that I am not in Florida right now. Ugh.
However, there have been a number of rather interesting incidents this spring. A Hooter’s ball girl screwed up and fielded a fair ball (not that interesting I guess; this happens every year); Charlie Manuel was accosted by a strange man on a tricycle at a game against the Astros; and several Phillies playing for Team Canada in the WBC brawled with Team Mexico this past Saturday. Apparently, Pete Orr was thrown out of the game. Tyson Gillies, who has a habit of finding trouble, body slammed a Red Sox pitcher who was playing for Mexico. And Phillies Sebastian Valle, who played for Mexico, swung his catcher’s helmet at opposing players, despite their being at least 3 of his Phillies teammates on Canada’s team. Oops.
So while Spring Training has not been dull, it is just not over yet! But we are half-way there and everyone, so far, is healthy (cross all fingers and toes)…3 weeks to go!
The first official Spring Training game for the Phillies will take place on Saturday. I am excited for baseball! But there is also a little sadness that I cannot be in Clearwater this year to enjoy the first crack of the bat under the warm Florida sunshine. If you are lucky enough to be heading south, enjoy it!
Spring Training is a magical moment in time where players are generally happy, relaxed and having a good time. The fan-friendly atmosphere and nice weather draws big crowds each year. And while the games are interesting, they really don’t mean much. The real reason to head to Clearwater is to mingle with other fans, chat with players, get autographs and photos and, most importantly, get a closer look at how major leaguers behave when their guard is down.
You may notice a lot of smiles, laughter and silly hijinks. To demonstrate, and also to get you in the Spring Training frame of mind, here are some of my favorite photos and moments from years past in Clearwater:
First up, the normally quiet and reserved Chase Utley laughs out loud and on another occasion, poses and smiles for me:
Jimmy Rollins waves hello and later attempts to play golf with his bat and ball:
Phillies alum Mike Schmidt has some fun with Reggie Jackson; Charlie Manuel jokes around with his players:
Remember Fan Fest? For some reason, the Phillies have cancelled this annual tradition of meeting players and getting autographs. But it was amazing while it lasted. Here are Chad Durbin and Kyle Kendrick signing and posing for me:
I attended a few Team USA games while in Clearwater. The most memorable moment was watching Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter of the Yankees field balls side-by-side during warm-ups. The second photo is Chooch, Carlos Ruiz, making an odd face at batting practice:
Here we have the Big Man, Ryan Howard, yucking it up on the field and later doing his impersonation of an airplane (or maybe he was just playing 1st base?):
And finally, just me and my camera hanging out by the field before batting practice. You can see how close fans can get to the field:
Are you ready to pack your bags yet? Wishing I was….sigh. Maybe next year :O)
Photos by Jenn Zambri Photography
In what has become an annual tradition, I usually post New Year Resolutions for Phillies fans at about this time. But it seems that as a fan base, most of us do seem to have our act together. As for the 2012 Phillies team, the same cannot be said. They need some serious help.
So this year, I would like to propose a set of New Year Resolutions for the team instead:
Jimmy Rollins – I resolve to stop swinging for the fences and hitting pop-ups. I will stick to line-drives and grounders.
Roy Halladay, Chase Utley & Ryan Howard – We all resolve to be healthy, productive members of this team! No more bum shoulders, ankles or knees!
Kyle Kendrick – I will not mope when I feel disrespected and just keep pitching. I will put on my big-boy pants and wear them all year long.
Carlos Ruiz – My goal is to repeat my 2012 performance, without the performance-enhancing ADHD pills, thereby regaining the respect I lost after getting suspended.
Ben Revere – I resolve to hit my first major league home run in Citizens Bank Park. If Juan Pierre can hit a homer here, then so shall I!
Ruben Amaro Jr. – No matter how tempted I am to save money, I will not sign former Phillies relief pitcher Ugueth Urbina. Yes, he paid his debt to society. However, he did attempt to murder 5 ranch hands by setting them on fire and chopping at them with a machete. Perhaps we should pass on this one.
Domonic Brown – I resolve to reach my full potential this year and prove I belong in the big leagues, preferably by May.
Mike Adams – I resolve to be fully recovered from surgery and return to my All-Star relief-pitcher form in order to be deemed worthy of my giant $12 million contract.
Charlie Manuel – I will go out on top this year! World Series or bust…
I wish you all a safe and happy New Year!
The Phillies Night Before Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas, when all over the field,
Not a player was stirring, as the 2012 season had been sealed.
The bats were stacked in the clubhouse with care,
In hopes that a Championship soon would be there.
The Phillies were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of trophies danced in their heads.
And Charlie with his new line-up tucked under his cap,
Had just settled down for a long off-season nap.
When outside of his house, there arose such a clatter,
Charlie sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window he stumbled, half asleep,
Having woke from a nightmare of his bullpen being taken deep.
The moonlight lit up the old ‘08 trophy, causing it to glow,
Giving the illusion of a night game on the grass down below.
When what to his wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh filled with ballplayers in good cheer.
With his General Manager and ace pitchers in tow,
He knew in a moment it must be Ruben Amaro.
More rapid than the trade deadline, forward they all came,
And he grumbled, and shouted, and called them by name!
“Now, Hamels! Now, Howard! Now, Rollins and Utley!
On, Brown! On, Halladay! On, Papelbon and Lee!
To the top of the National League! To the top of them all!
Now run away! Run away! And play some baseball!”
And then, in a twinkling, Charlie heard, “You The Man!”
From the shouting and cheering of each happy fan.
As he drew in his head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney, Ryan Howard came with a bound.
He was dressed all in pinstripes, from his head to his foot,
Having tossed his old ankle brace, which was tarnished, with ashes and soot.
But he arrived with a smile and Charlie gave him a pat on his back,
Surely the fully healed Achilles would put him right back on track.
Howard spoke many words, and after tightening his shoe lace,
He welcomed Michael Young, who will now man third base.
And with thunderous joy, the fans clapped their hands,
With a few shiny new toys, 2013 is sure to be grand!
Howard then sprang to the sleigh, and to his team gave a call,
“You guys are the best ballplayers of all!”
But Charlie heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,
“Happy Holiday’s to all and to all a good night!”
Photoshopping and re-wording by Jenn Zambri Photography