Things are getting ugly for the Philadelphia Phillies, and fast.
For a team that was expected to come into the regular season as a favorite in the National League East, poised to contend for their sixth consecutive division crown in spite of injuries to some of their big players, you could easily make the argument that their 2012 season has been a letdown as a whole.
But when you break it into several, smaller letdowns, that's when you start to uncover the bigger picture. It's time to face the music. As it's constructed now, this Phillies team just isn't very good.
Coming into the regular season, that wasn't supposed to be a problem. We knew the offense would miss Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but an elite pitching staff and more than a couple of All-Stars that remained in the lineup were supposed to be enough to pick up the slack.
There's still time for this Phillies team to turn things around, but that window of opportunity is fading fast. If they have any chance of roaring back into contention, they'll need to solve these early season letdowns and leave them in the past, and fast.
2012 could have been a big season for Joe Blanton, who missed most of the previous season with arm troubles. He is a prospective free agent following the season and could have earned himself a few bucks with a solid year.
Through the month of April, Blanton was surprisingly good. Since then? Well, not so much.
It was unreasonable to expect Blanton to keep up his fast-paced pitching that we saw during the month of April, but who expected him to fall this far?
It's mid-June and his ERA is north of five. He's allowing more than 10 hits per nine innings.
The Phillies needed Blanton to step up in light of Roy Halladay's injury and he fell flat on his face.
It's been the story of the season for the Phillies. Just when something seems to be heading in the right direction; when someone appears to turn a corner, something goes horribly wrong.
Jose Contreras can attest to that. After missing most of 2011 with arm troubles, it took more than a month for him to shake off the rust. But as the month of April turned into the month of May, Contreras was making noticeable improvements.
Contreras had made seven consecutive scoreless appearances before damaging his ulnar collateral ligament, which requires Tommy John Surgery to repair.
The big right-handed reliever says he wants to pitch in the MLB again, but it probably won't be for the Phillies.
Given the state of the Phillies' bullpen right now, Justin De Fratus' early injury hurts much more now than it did on Opening Day.
De Fratus was suffering from elbow soreness during spring training and the club shut him down, hoping to have him ready by the time the club broke north to head to Philadelphia. However, De Fratus suffered a setback and still hasn't thrown an official pitch this season.
Ranked as the Phillies' seventh-best prospect heading into the season by Baseball America, the Phillies could surely use the right-handed reliever right about now.
This is easily one of the biggest letdowns of the season for the Phillies.
Roy Halladay just wasn't the same pitcher this season, and it was clear early on. Scouts ragged on Halladay throughout spring training and early on in the season, citing his drop in velocity and pitch selection as viable reasons for concern.
In true Halladay fashion, he just shrugged those reports off.
A couple of months later, Halladay is on the disabled list with a significant strain in his latissimus dorsi. After going 4-5 with a 3.98 ERA, "Doc" will be on the shelf for six to eight weeks and the Phillies are clearly scuffling without him.
Now, we have to wonder which Halladay will return upon his activation from the DL: The Cy Young winner or the 2012 version?
Consider this slide an open letter to everyone who still believes that Kyle Kendrick is a viable starter:
Dear everyone who considers Kyle Kendrick a viable starter,
Just stop it.
Kendrick, who has spent most of the regular season in the Phillies' starting rotation thanks to injuries to Vance Worley and Roy Halladay, has not pitched nearly as well as you believe he has.
The right-handed pitcher, as a starter, has posted a record of 2-5 with an ERA of 4.59. In 51 innings pitched, Kendrick has surrendered 26 earned runs, including seven home runs. He's walked 16 and struck out just 34.
His opponents are seeing the ball well. They've tagged him with a .294 batting average and an OPS of .841.
He's been even worse as a reliever.
My, what one complete game shutout can do to cloud an observer's judgement.
Some things in baseball are just hard to explain, and Cliff Lee's strange winless streak is certainly among them.
Though some traditionalists will argue otherwise, Lee has not pitched poorly this season. Though his record currently sits at 0-3, the onus for Lee's goose egg in the win column should be on the Phillies' defense and bullpen.
In fact, you could make a strong argument that Lee is actually pitching better than he did last season.
He's striking out 9.42 batters per nine innings. That's a better rate than 2011. The walk rate is nearly identical at 1.66. He is inducing more ground balls this year at a rate of 52.3 percent. Lee's xFIP, a good indicator of future performance, is 2.67. His 2011 xFIP? 2.68. Lee has posted a WHIP of 1.05. Last season's WHIP was 1.03.
The biggest concern for Lee has been the home run rate, and it only looks a lot worse this season because he was so good at keeping the ball inside the ball park in 2011.
So Lee's winless streak, while certainly a letdown, should not be a concern.
Don't get it twisted. When the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to be their new closer, they made it clear that his job was to convert save opportunities into saves, and he's done that flawlessly.
But there's more to baseball than save opportunities. The Phillies have asked Papelbon to keep the game close during non-save situations several times and he has not answered the call.
In non-save situations, Papelbon is getting shelled. Opponents are hitting .306 against him with a 1.009 OPS in those situations. He's surrendered three home runs, a double and a triple.
In saves situations, he's practically untouchable.
Early in the season, I actually wrote that Chad Qualls could prove to be one of the best free-agent signings of the last offseason. I actually said that. I'm still trying to convince myself that it wasn't just a bad dream.
But early on in the year, Qualls actually did look like one of the winter's best free-agent signings. The Phillies had picked him up out of the bargain bin late in the winter just before spring training and gave him a shot.
At the time, it seemed like a win-win situation. At the very least, he provides a veteran presence and middle relief help. At most, he's a possible set-up man.
At one point, it looked like the Phillies were going to get the most out of Qualls this season, when Charlie Manuel named him his set-up man.
Then something went horribly wrong for Qualls and the implosion is still ongoing. I don't think I've ever seen anyone take the "Danys Baez Path to Phillies Implosion" so quickly.
This was supposed to be a big year for Mike Stutes.
During the 2011 season, he came out of nowhere to give the Phillies' bullpen a real lift before fading down the stretch, and the club was hoping for a little more consistency in 2012.
If he lives up to his potential, Stutes is a back end of the bullpen arm, easy. But he's never going to live up to that potential while he's on the disabled list.
The Phillies need Stutes to heal up and get back on the field. He'll have an opportunity to help out a struggling bullpen big time.
Freddy Galvis wasn't necessarily tearing the cover off of the ball with the Phillies this season, but at the very least, he was entertaining to watch.
He came as advertised: A supreme defender who struggles with the bat at times. While that report proved to be accurate, it was also a little deceiving. Galvis was one of the Phillies' leaders in extra-base hits and his defense at second base was second to none.
Instead of finishing off a promising rookie season, Galvis will likely finish most of the year on the disabled list. The second baseman suffered a Pars fracture in his spine after taking a swing. It's a crack on the vertebra that will have him in a brace for at least three weeks and out of action much longer than that.
This has been a letdown for a long time now.
We all know the story. On the final out of the 2011 National League Division Series, Phillies' first baseman Ryan Howard tore his Achilles tendon and was forced to embrace an uncertain future.
Fast-forward nine months and Howard's future is no more certain than it was last October.
Though it may be true that Howard has been in decline offensively over the last couple of seasons, there is no doubt that the Phillies' lineup looks a lot different with their slugger in it.
The Phillies are way out of first place right now and Howard isn't particularly close to rejoining the club.
When the Phillies made a three-year commitment to Placido Polanco before the 2010 season, it wasn't a deal looked upon in a favorable light.
The Phillies were moving the Gold Glove second baseman to the hot corner, and while his defense has been top notch, he just doesn't have the bat to be a productive regular—at least at third base—any longer.
Coming into the season without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phillies were lacking some serious power, and without a power bat playing third base, they've been relying heavily on guys like Hunter Pence and John Mayberry Jr. to provide some power.
There's no doubt that the third base situation has been a letdown. The Phillies will have a chance to rectify this situation at season's end by turning down Polanco's contract option.
When the Phillies signed Jimmy Rollins to a new three-year deal over the winter, they knew that his offense was on the decline. They signed him to play above average defense first and foremost, and he's done that.
But who could have expected his offense to be this bad?
Rollins has seen a drop in his numbers across the board, including speed, power and contact. He's struggled to push his on-base percentage above the .300 mark this season.
And yet, Charlie Manuel refuses to move him out of the lead-off spot.
With their recent road trip to some American League ball parks, Jim Thome is looking more and more like a designated hitter with the ability to help out consistently in that role.
The real problem here is that the Phillies signed Thome to provide some thunder off of the bench as a pinch hitter, not as a full-time DH.
As a pinch hitter, Thome is 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts. That's not going to cut it.
While it finally looks as though Chase Utley has gotten a handle on his chronic knee condition, to call the first half of Utley's 2012 season anything other than a catastrophic letdown would be a blatant lie.
The Phillies, who've employed a veil of secrecy about injuries this season, came into spring training filling the minds of fans with garbage about how Utley would take it slow in the spring.
Well, now more than three months later, he sure has taken it slow.
That's by no fault of Utley. You can't blame the guy for having a chronic knee condition, but there's no doubt that his absence has hurt the Phillies' severely, both on the field and off of it.
The second baseman is now on his minor league rehab assignment, and one of the biggest things to watch for in the second half of the season will be the impact a returning Utley has on this club.
This may be more of a "minor letdown," but certainly one that is building momentum in recent weeks.
In a lot of ways, Ty Wiggington has bailed the Phillies out big time. You may look at his .719 OPS an find that laughable, but remember what Wigginton's role was when he was acquired by the Phillies.
The club knew that Ryan Howard would be out for quite some time, so Wigginton was going to play some first base. The club was concerned about Placido Polanco's long term health, so Wigginton would play some third base to give him a breather.
Now, using hindsight, it's safe to say that both of those situations have been inherently worse than the Phillies expected, and Wigginton has been forced to play a good deal more than he should be playing.
He's given them a solid, right-handed power bat, but his defense has been a huge letdown, helping to cost the Phillies a couple of games in the win column.
The Phillies haven't had much success when attempting to give everyday roles to guys who have served as bench players in the past.
First it was the Ben Francisco debacle. He failed to replace Jayson Werth in right field and now is a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
John Mayberry Jr. has taken a similar path, given the task of taking over in left field following the departure of Raul Ibanez. Like Francisco before him, he's failed to do so.
Is the next logical step a one-way ticket out of the Phillies' organization for Mayberry?
Don't laugh. It could actually happen. The Phillies are going to have to make some tough decisions when some of their injured players return. Mayberry is out of minor league options and more likely than not, would not make it through waivers.
Mayberry's failure has put the Phillies in a difficult spot in more ways than one.
Believe it or not, when Laynce Nix hit the disabled list more than a month ago, he was one of the Phillies' hottest hitters.
He was a in a situation similar to Ty Wigginton—a role player forced play much more than he should be, but Nix was having much better results.
In 51 plate appearances, he had posted an OPS of .979 and was definitely one of the Phillies' hottest hitters.
So when he suffered a pretty severe strain in his calf, it was a tough break for the Phillies, who were already lacking offensive firepower.
Nix, who is in Clearwater revving up his rehab, could give the Phillies a nice offensive boost upon his return.
When you're tasked with a difficult situation like the middle of your order spending most—if not all—of the first half of the season on the disabled list, one of your first reactions should be something along the lines of, "who is going to pick up the slack?"
Prior to Opening Day, that seemed like an easy answer for the Phillies. First and foremost, they'd need Hunter Pence to continue his productive Philadelphia tenure. Another guy they'd need would be John Mayberry Jr., who showed a glimpse of real power at the end of 2011.
But perhaps the biggest piece they'd rely on would be five-tool outfielder Shane Victorino, a player who helped carry them offensively in 2011.
Victorino, however, would not answer that call—at least not initially. The outfielder has gotten off to a relatively slow start, though he's picked things up recently. He's posted a lower OPS than Juan Pierre and his batting average is hovering around .250.
The Phillies will undoubtedly need him to pick it up if they want to climb back into this thing.
It's been like a disease for this Phillies' club this season. Sure, you have some top-notch players on the disabled list, but the excuses only stretch so far.
This is a club that—even without the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay—has the pieces to, at the very least, keep their heads bobbing above water as the ship nears to haul them back aboard.
But they've done nothing consistently. They haven't hit consistently. They haven't played defense consistently. This team hasn't even pitched consistently, and that may be the biggest shocker.
When they pitch, they don't hit. When they hit, they don't pitch. And when they're doing both of those things well, someone makes a big error.
The Phillies, regardless of who returns from injury, are going to need to play more consistent baseball if they have even a sliver of hope to climb back into the race.
Now that he doesn't have a lethal offensive and toxic pitching to hide behind, all of Charlie Manuel's real flaws are coming right to the surface.
Just think back over the last couple of seasons. When the Phillies won it all in 2008, they were one of the best offensive teams in baseball, if not the best offensive team in baseball. Ditto for the 2009 season, when they had four players hit more than 30 home runs.
In 2010, the shift began. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt gave the Phillies one of the best pitching trios in the game. A year later, they added Cliff Lee.
It's easy to manage a game when you can pencil in some of the game's greatest hitters, or run out one of the game's best pitchers—an ace every night.
But now that the Phillies find themselves with neither a lethal offense nor toxic pitching, Charlie Manuel has pushed them into a real hole.
Some are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because of his reputation as a "player's manager"—a guy with the ability to get into his club's head and will them to victory—but I'm not going to pull any punches.
Manuel has been a dreadful manager this season.
It seems as though each and every time he's been tasked with making an important decision, he's dropped the ball.
Off the top of my head, here's a short list of things that Manuel has done this season that would have gotten a lesser manager fired: The management of Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins' tenure as the lead-off hitter, the bullpen management as a whole, Hector Luna batting clean-up, Ty Wigginton playing third base...
The list goes on and on.
In my opinion, one of the biggest problems for the Phillies this season had not been injuries nor inconsistency. It's been Charlie Manuel.
The countdown to the Ryne Sandberg era begins.
Ruben Amaro Jr. spent most of the last offseason rebuilding the Phillies' bench. It was one of the weakest portions of the club in 2011, and building depth was something that would've made this club infinitely better in that area.
Coming into the season, the bench looked to be a strength. The Phillies added Jim Thome to serve as the club's primary pinch hitter. Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton, both new additions, gave the Phillies power left and right-handed bats, respectively.
Along with Brian Schneider and a utility infield, who eventually proved to be Pete Orr, the Phillies' bench was certainly upgraded from the previous season.
Therefore, it was a huge letdown when we learned that they wouldn't be able to use that bench in the right way. All of their new additions, Thome, Nix, and Wigginton, were forced into action. Then the first two suffered injuries.
What had the potential to be a huge asset for the Phillies had quickly turned into a huge weakness, leading us to our next slide...
There's a difference between having "depth" and having "filler."
Depth is one of the most important facets of a ball club. Baseball is a sport where injuries are going to happen to even the healthiest of players. It's unavoidable. But having players with the ability to step in for a period of time and help out is what makes a good club great.
Filler is different. Filler are players that charade as depth. They're normally Triple-A guys that couldn't find a major league job and just happened to find their way on to an MLB roster through a stroke of good luck.
The Phillies have a lot of filler.
At the end of the day, there is just no way that you can compete for a division crown with guys like Hector Luna, Mike Fontenot, Michael Martinez, Joe Savery, Raul Valdes and B.J. Rosenberg playing a role any larger than "miniscule."
If the Phillies wanted to stay afloat, they needed depth, but tricked themselves with filler.
I think it goes without saying that the Phillies' pitching staff has been a disappointment this season.
I'm willing to give five guys a pass. Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, Jonathan Papelbon and Antonio Bastardo have all pitched well above average for the Phillies this season.
The rest of the staff? Well, they haven't been quite as impressive.
One name that's not on that list is Roy Halladay. It was a lose-lose situation for Doc. First and foremost, he just hasn't pitched well. If you're willing to blame his poor performance on the latissimus dorsi strain, I'll have to disagree. The onus was on Halladay to own up to an injury if he was pitching through one.
Who knows? Maybe he had a smaller version of the strain in spring training. He could have addressed it and been back on the field already.
I think the performances of guys like Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and Chad Qualls go without saying.
The pitching, as a collective, has been a big letdown, especially in recent weeks.
Perhaps the biggest letdown of the season for the Phillies is that they're missing out on some excellent competition in the National League East.
Just look at how the division has shaped up so far. The Washington Nationals, one of baseball's most exciting, young teams, is in first place. The Atlanta Braves are young and exciting as well, and they're not far behind.
In fact, the only team in the NL East below that .500 mark? Well, that would be the Phillies.
Again, the Phillies do have their excuses, though I'm sure no team likes to make them. The fact that they've been able to stay close to .500 in spite of injuries to the heart of their batting order and one of the best pitchers in baseball is nothing short of impressive.
Factor in all of their other injuries and the players they've replaced them with, and it's nothing short of a miracle.
With that being said, however, the Phillies are missing out on one of the most exciting divisions in baseball right now. It's also what makes it so difficult for the front office to commit to this team being a "seller" this summer.
Sure, they're out of first place by a wide margin, but when you look at the trade market this summer, how many teams have a chance to upgrade like the Phillies will?
They'll add Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Laynce Nix, Mike Stutes, and others.
It's not hard to picture this team wanting to ward off selling until the eleventh hour at the end of July.