It is under that same sage-like gaze that the Phillies have gone from first to worst this season. They ended Major League Baseball's unofficial first half with a record of 37-50. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out, it took a lot longer for the Phillies to get to 50 losses in 2011:
The Phillies lost their 50th game last season on Sept. 12. They were 94-50. They are 37-50 right now.— Matt Gelb (@magelb) July 8, 2012
At the rate the Phillies are going, they're going to end the season with over 90 losses. For them to turn things around and make it back to the postseason, they're going to need both good health and a few miracles.
If Jonathan Papelbon feels like doing some sort of rain dance jig, that probably wouldn't hurt.
In times like these, a lot of peoples' first impulse is to blame the manager. There's some of that going around where Manuel is concerned at the moment. Barring an epic turnaround in the second half, one obviously has to wonder if this will be Manuel's last season in Philadelphia.
Shoot, one has to wonder if he'll even make it to the end. When a team is playing as poorly as the Phillies are, the manager is never safe.
...But nobody should be reaching for torches and/or pitchforks. This isn't one of those situations.
One thing that's for sure is that the Phillies aren't going to fire Manuel because they think firing him will be the spark the Phillies need to snap out of their funk. Phillies fans tend to give Manuel (and everyone else under the sun) a hard time, but even they have to realize that it's not Manuel's fault that the team is so far under .500.
It's not his fault that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were just featured in the same lineup for the first time all season a couple days before the All-Star break. Manuel did not ruin Utley's knees, and he did not rupture Howard's Achilles. The team struggled to score runs without the two of them, but Manuel can't be blamed for that either.
Nor can he be blamed for Roy Halladay's shoulder woes or Cliff Lee's various issues.
Though some have ventured to criticize his handling of the bullpen, it's not Manuel's fault that the Phillies lack both depth and talent in their bullpen. What they have out in the pen would be good enough if the team's starters were going seven or eight innings every night, as they did last year, but that hasn't happened in 2012.
So, it's not like we're talking about a really good team that is underachieving. We're talking about a team that has been undermanned all season due to injuries.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Phillies' Pythagorean winning percentage says they should have a record of 41-46 this season. Given all that has gone on, this essentially indicates that the Phillies indeed should be under .500.
Firing Manuel would accomplish little. Removing him from the equation would not return Utley and Howard to the form of their glory days. It would not make Doc Halladay a Cy Young contender again. It would not add more wins to Lee's record. It would not fix the bullpen.
In other words, firing Manuel will not make the Phillies great again. Firing the manager can be a useful means to light a fire under a team's collective posterior. But the Phillies aren't one of those teams. If anything, firing him would make things worse, not better.
If Manuel is fired this season, it will be a mercy firing. And this is only going to happen if it's clear by the trade deadline that it's not happening this year (that's already clear enough, of course). By this time, the Phillies likely will have already traded ace lefty and free-agent-to-be Cole Hamels. Probably Shane Victorino as well.
But again, it's hard to see this happening during the season. Manuel has been around since 2005, and the Phillies have finished second or better each year he's been in the dugout. He doesn't get a ton of respect as a manager, but any manager who wins a World Series at least deserves his share of respect from his own organization.
If the organization knows in August and September that the Phillies are out of the race, it will not do Manuel the dishonor of cutting him loose. At worst, that would be disrespectful. At best, it would be an awkward and anticlimactic end to a great run.
Even if this does end up being Manuel's final season as the skipper of the Phillies, it's more likely that both sides will wait until the season is over before they come to some sort of mutual agreement. Manuel only has one year left on his contract, so it's not like either side is into this relationship for the long haul.
Of course, this is a scenario that's dependent on what kind of personnel moves the Phillies make in the next couple months. If Hamels and Victorino are both shipped out of town or leave as free agents, then it's going to be clear that the Phillies are headed towards something of a rebuilding phase.
Manuel shouldn't want to be around for that. And if that's the direction the Phillies are going to go in, they may as well find themselves a new manager.
One way or the other, don't expect Manuel to be out as manager of the Phillies as a form of punishment. If he loses his job over this season, it will be because everyone will have realized that the timing is right for his departure.
Try not to boo him if and when he leaves town, Philadelphia. This has been a rough year. But the rest? They were OK.
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