As the Phillies slog along in the National League East, their fan base goes deeper and deeper into despair, praying to the ghost of Cliff Lee that their team’s fortunes will turn around. And soon.
The offensive meltdown is now past the coincidence stage. Before they defeated the Boston Red Sox last Sunday, the Phillies had failed to score runs in historic proportions. In a span of 23 games, the Phils forged a 7-16 record. Since World War II, only four teams in Phillies history (and by the way, the Phils are the losingest franchise in baseball history) had scored fewer runs and lost more games over any 23-game span. One of those teams was the 1961 Phillies, considered one of the worst ball clubs of all time. That ‘61 team lost 23 straight games, and yet that team scored only one fewer run in that 23-game run of futility than this year’s Phils in their chunk of 23. Ugh.
Let me go on the record here and say that I still think the Phillies will win their division and go on to win the National League pennant. The numbers say that the Phils are a better team in the final three months of the season — at least in the last couple of years of this great achievement. Last year, a year where the Phils went to another World Series, they played .527 ball in the first three months and finished with a blazing 54-34 record. It follows that this Phillies team can do the same, especially when one considers they will have their full contingent of players back soon, including their engine, shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Besides that, the schedule swings wildly in their favor over the last half of the year, especially in August, when the Phils will be home for 18 of that month’s 31 days. And they will tack on three more home games later this month on the reversal of that Toronto Blue Jays series. And I’m still not buying that teams like the Mets, Braves or Marlins are in it for the long haul.
But as the Phils entered their three-game series with the New York Yankees this week, and Roy Halladay got bounced in game one at the hands of C.C. Sabathia, I buried my head in my hands, pondering the prospect of pitchers like Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick as stoppers and knowing that after Halladay and Cole Hamels, the Phils fall a bit short in the starting rotation if you’d like to actually win a World Series. And again, I started praying to the ghost of Cliff Lee.
For all the good done by Ruben Amaro to build and cultivate a team that played in two World Series, a couple of glaring front office errors have helped contribute to the funk the Phils find themselves in currently. Last off-season, Amaro tendered a contract to Joe Blanton (at a cost of $8 million, then wound up signing Blanton to a three-year deal). By not tendering Blanton, the Phils would have lost him. But losing Blanton would have only created enough space to keep Lee for one more season and would have given them a fighting chance to win a World Series against the likes of the Yankees, whose four-man rotation in the playoffs will be Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Javier Vasquez; or the Red Sox, who go with Josh Beckett, John Lester, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsusaka.
Won’t it be peachy if the Mets made a move at the trading deadline and land Lee? It wouldn’t be so bad if the prospects the Phils got from the Seattle Mariners for Lee showed some promise. But the crown jewel of that trade, pitcher Phillipe Aumont, struggled so badly in double-A ball in Reading that the Phils had to drop him to single-A ball in Clearwater. Essentially, the Mariners will flip Lee like a real estate tycoon flips a house. He buys low, splashes on the house some new paint, and sells it for a bigger profit. The Mariners are going to get better prospects in trading Lee than they had to give up to get him. That’s smart.
I can go on about Amaro giving Raul Ibanez getting a three-year contract. Or the fact that it was fool’s gold to think the Phillies improved their bench this year, but I won’t. (Greg Dobbs and Ross Gload are two left-handed hitters whom Charlie Manuel can’t trust to play in the field. And so the worn-down starters get further worn down). Fact is, the Phils have two choices right now: wait for J-Roll and Jay Happ and Ryan Madson to get back and believe that better days are ahead, or stir the pot by making a move. I say make a move. A beverage sometimes needs a stir to re-awaken the carbonation. Release Dobbs and bring up outfielder John Mayberry from triple-A when he’s healthy. At least the kid can play the outfield and hit an occasional home run. The Phils DH against the Yankees Tuesday was Ben Francisco. He flied out twice to the warning track. Warning track power doesn’t beat the Yankees. But Cliff Lee does.
Since the Phils and Yanks hooked up this week, I thought it would be interesting to compare the all-time teams of both franchises. Here is one man’s selection of a first and second team, Yanks and Phils. It’s up to you who wins the comparison. Players were selected solely by the position they played. (That’s why Mantle and DiMaggio are not both on the Yanks first team).
Yankees: Lou Gehrig (1B), Tony Lazzeri (2B), Derek Jeter (SS), Alex Rodriguez (3B), Yogi Berra (Catcher), Dave Winfield (LF), Mickey Mantle (CF), Babe Ruth (RF). Starting pitchers: Whitey Ford, Roger Clemens. Relief pitcher: Mariano Rivera.
Phillies: Ryan Howard (1B), Chase Utley (2B), Jimmy Rollins (SS), Mike Schmidt (3B), Bob Boone (Catcher), Chuck Klein (LF), Rich Ashburn (CF), Bobby Abreu (RF). Starting pitchers: Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts. Relief pitcher: Tug McGraw.
Yankees: Don Mattingly (1B), Willie Randolph (2B), Phil Rizzuto (SS), Craig Nettles (3B), Bill Dickey (Catcher), Bobby Mercer (LF), Joe DiMaggio (CF), Reggie Jackson (RF). Pitchers: Red Ruffing, Andy Pettitte, Goose Gossage.
Phillies: Pete Rose (1B), Manny Trillo (2B), Larry Bowa (SS), Scott Rolen (3B), Darren Daulton (Catcher), Greg Luzinski (LF), Garry Maddox (CF), Johnny Callison (RF). Pitchers: Curt Schilling, Chris Short, Brad Lidge.
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