Entering 2013, it was well-known in baseball circles that the Philadelphia Phillies were supposed to be the hungriest club. Their injury-plagued, star-crossed 2012 campaign, combined with the knowledge that this would probably be a farewell tour for the aging dynasty of the NL East, was supposed to be a recipe for a great rebounding year.
Superficially, the logic made some sense.
For the first time since 2010, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard would both be in the Opening Day lineup. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, both having seasons of anomaly a year ago, would get fresh slates. The eighth-inning woes of the previous season would be solved with the signing of Mike Adams, arguably the best setup man in the game. Throw in a torrid spring training from Domonic Brown, and expectations were sky-high on April 1.
As we sit here on April 18, however, Phillies fans are left sipping a cold glass of reality.
Fifteen games into the 2013 season, the club is 6-9. The offense, which scored 4.22 runs per game in 2012 for their lowest total since 1997, is scoring a pathetic 3.47 runs per game. The pitching staff, whose 3.83 collective ERA in 2012 was supposed to be fixed by good signings and rebound seasons, is pitching to the tune of a 4.90 ERA in 2013, over a full run higher than 2012.
The storylines that made the hearts of Phillies fans happy prior to the season have yet to come to any kind of fruition. Chase Utley is leading the team in home runs and RBI with 3 and 12 respectively, but has struggled to find consistency. His .283 batting average is acceptable, but his high number of ground balls and sudden impatience at the plate are very frustrating.
Ryan Howard has been a non-factor at the plate this season; there's no other way to put it. The fact that he leads the Phillies in strikeouts with 16 is not overly surprising, but his slash line is. The "Big Piece" is hitting only .241 with a single home run and 5 RBI in 62 plate appearances. His .362 slugging percentage is horrible. Going beyond the stats, Howard looks totally uninterested when the bat is in his hands and seems to be going through the motions.
While Cliff Lee has come out in 2013 ready to put last year's aberration behind him, he has been replaced with Cole Hamels starting the season off with an aberration of his own, with the newly-signed left-hander starting the season off 0-2 with a 7.56 ERA. Roy Halladay's problems have seemed to follow him into the new season, as he sits with a 1-2 record and a 7.63 ERA.
Domonic Brown's great spring seems to have been a complete mirage. Batting just .231 with two home runs and 11 K's so far, No. 9 looks no different than he did in the first three seasons of his disappointing career. A back injury that he sustained Wednesday night could send him to the disabled list, further cementing his player profile of an injury-prone underachiever.
Mike Adams hasn't made too many mistakes, but what good is a great setup man when you are always trailing when the eighth inning comes around? The Phillies' brass arrogantly advertised the Adams-Papelbon duo as the best one-two punch in baseball prior to the season, but the moribundity of the bats coupled with the inability of the rest of the staff to hold a lead going into the eighth inning has led that particular brag to become tantamount to a Miami car salesman bragging about his newest automobile's terrific heated seats.
Sadly, the most unfortunate part of the lackluster beginning to this season is how predictable this mediocrity should have been. Mr. Amaro, who had been a pretty liberal-spending and gutsy GM in his first few seasons, made the same mistake as Mr. Lurie and Mr. Roseman did across the street. He, along with the rest of the Phillies management, assumed the team would simply take the field on April 1 and be a better team than they were in 2012 simply because they are the Phillies, who won so many division titles and two pennants in recent years past.
The organization decided to ignore the troubling facts going on around them; they chose to believe a middle-relief corps made up of unproven puppies such as Jeremy Horst and Phillippe Aumont and hangers-on of yesteryear such as Chad Durbin and Raul Valdes would suddenly and smoothly become a cohesive and solid group.
They chose to believe that the 40 percent of their starting rotation that owned career ERA's north of 4 would be a reliable back end that could pitch quality starts, even though neither Kyle Kendrick nor John Lannan ever proved they could do so consistently.
They chose to believe that their outfield, which on Opening Day of 2012 was composed of two All-Stars, would not miss a beat in production going into 2013, even though it was composed of a .235 career hitter who never started an opener, a 24-year-old second-year player who never hit a home run and a 29-year-old who still hasn't had enough plate appearances in a season to qualify for a batting title.
It doesn't make any Phillies fan feel any better about the outfield when we cast an eye on our division rivals in the deep south, where we see that Justin Upton, a player for whom Mr. Amaro eschewed trading, is leading the major leagues in home runs with eight.
In closing, I will present a caveat of optimism to this pessimistic article: A 10th of the way through a long MLB season in no way presents the entire story. At this point in the season, simply winning three or four games in a row can give an entirely different feel and look to a ballclub.
But as optimistic predictions turn into real statistics and standings, we are taught a cautionary tale about this game of baseball: numbers on the backs of jerseys and numbers in those players' pasts don't determine success. What does is producing at the plate and on the mound, which the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies better start doing, and fast.