The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies: Look Closer...
"Getting someone like Cliff motivates everyone. Our fans can feel it. They want that swagger…They sure don't want to see us do a Mets collapse."
For the first time in many years, the Phillies look comfortable heading into the regular season’s final month. They’ve won four in a row, and the Marlins are a healthy four-and-a-half games back.
On the surface, everything seems fine in Philadelphia. Jimmy Rollins is Jimmy Rollins again, and adding Cliff Lee looks like the steal of this year’s trade deadline. Even so, disturbing problems loom on the horizon. The champs are flawed. The curse of William Penn was lifted in 2008, but the 2009 Phillies still have plenty of demons to go around.
At first, signing Pedro Martinez looked like a great move. Philly was getting a potential ace to fill the last spot in their rotation, and giving up absolutely nothing. Even if Pedro didn’t pan out, it would only cost a million dollars.
Then Ruben Amaro traded for Cliff Lee, and the rotation suddenly got crowded. Moyer was the odd man out, and he responded horrendously. If you have to air your grievances, don’t do it behind you team’s dugout right before a game.
The Phils have plenty of leaders, but all that chemistry could be for nothing if the team’s grandfather gets grumpy.
It is time that Cole’s struggles get some serious attention. Since his early season injuries, every step forward by Hamels has been followed by two bad starts back. Even if he is healthy, which at this point looks unlikely, Hamels looks nothing like he did a year ago. He still has the talent necessary to dominate big league hitters, but he’s lost his World Series MVP mojo. Time and time again this season Hamels has had batters down in the count, only to get hit hard when he carelessly leaves pitches up in the zone. Cole needs to start bearing down now, if he waits until the playoffs he might just be watching them.
The Cliff Lee signing has Phillies fans breathing a little easier, but one ace will not be enough against a team like the Giants. In a short series, front end rotation strength is of utmost importance. After Lee, every starter has question marks attached to him for one reason or another. That could become a huge problem once autumn rolls around.
Howard is known for his huge Septembers. He had one during his MVP season in 2006. He had one when the Phillies memorably caught the Mets in 2007. And he had one last year, when the Phillies won the World Series. The Phillies had better hope that history repeats itself in 2009, because right now Howard is on pace to hit 40 homers and drive in 124 runs. Compare that to 58-149 in 2006, 47-136 in 2007, and 48-146 in 2008
Perhaps while he was losing weight in the offseason (20 pounds), Howard also lost his power. September is just around the corner, and Ryan Howard will need a month-long surge unlike any he has ever had before to get close to the numbers he put up the last three seasons.
The Ninth Inning
It is tough to make Phillies fans forget the magical season Brad Lidge had in 2008, but the man has done it. Lidge has been historically bad so far, and if history is any indicator, there is no end in sight. Keep in mind this is a closer who has a notoriously fragile psyche. In the 2005 NLCS he let up a monster game-winning home-run to Albert Pujols. The next year he posted an ERA well over 5. In 2009, Lidge’s issues have returned, and the Phillies are suffering for it.
I would love to say that a soon-to-be healthy Brett Myers is the answer, but I just don’t buy it. Brett Myers was merely passable closing for the Phillies back in 2007, and that was when he was healthy. Now he might be forced to step directly into the closer’s role in the middle of a pennant race, all while recovering from a crippling injury.
If the Phillies can’t find a serviceable closer soon, a disappointing end to this once promising season is inevitable.