No Phillies team for the past decade or so, and I truly mean no team, has been more frustrating to watch than this year's squad.
They could very easily be the most talented group the Phillies have had since getting back to the playoffs back in 2007. They finally found a great No. 2 hitter, had a guy settle into the six spot, were able to get some speed at the seven spot, and returned with All-Star quality guys at nearly every other spot in the lineup.
But then there were the injuries. Other than Jayson Werth, every other Phillies starter has done at least one stint on the DL. Even the resilient Ryan Howard couldn't avoid the bug. So because of that, the Phillies have had (I believe) a measly seven games with their complete lineup intact.
Seven games. That's it. That number would be low if we're talking about an NFL team that plays only 16 games. These guys play 162 games, have played 120 to this point, and can't get the entire group of starters together for more than seven games.
Frustrated yet? Well, it gets worse.
The backups come in and, to the delight of everyone around the team, actually play well. They're not playing with All-Star numbers, but certainly well above anyone's expectations.
That is, of course, when they seemingly feel like it.
More than any other season in the past three years, it seems like pitching gems were going to waste left and right. And it didn't matter whether it was Roy Halladay or Kyle Kendrick or any guy in the middle, the Phillies offense just could not take advantage and, because of that, have lost more 1-0 or 2-1 games than I can recall in recent memory.
And if they couldn't come through when their guys were pitching a gem, forget about being able to actually pick their guy up and give him some help when he needs it. In '08 and '09, it wasn't really a cause for concern if Joe Blanton came in and gave up three first-inning runs. The Phils offense would back him up and they'd usually be able to come out with a win.
This season, however, games were lost in the first inning. It seemed like the lineup would start to press as soon as they fell behind, and then it was just all downhill from there. Once their slumps began, they were hard to reverse.
But then, something wonderful happened—they started hitting.
Hitting coach Milt Thompson was the guy picked as the scapegoat and promptly fired. Greg Gross took over and has been given credit for the turnaround the offense had, but anyone paying attention can tell it was more about the shock of their coach getting tossed than it had to do with the new guy coming in.
After some great stretches of winning the games that had to be won, the Phillies found themselves two games out the division lead with a two-game lead on the final wild card playoff spot after back-to-back blowout wins over the Giants.
And then the unthinkable happened last night as the Phillies were shut out over eight innings, only managed four hits, and were unable to pick up a somewhat shaky Hamels and take advantage of an Atlanta Braves loss.
How, exactly, is it possible for a team like the Phillies to blow a team out in back-to-back games, and then just fold when the opportunity for a sweep is presented?
It took a little while to get to this point (and thanks for sticking with me here), but the only answer I can come up with is that Charlie Manuel is not preparing these guys properly. When a team is on a hot streak, it's up to the manager to make sure their heads are in the right place.
Instead, it seems as though he's content to lie back and let them figure things out. Manuel probably hasn't had to do a whole lot over the past few seasons and I'm not sure if it's made him lazy or what, but he doesn't seem to be doing what he needs to do.
And make no mistake, this isn't just about the losing. If they came out and dropped a game even 5-4 but were hitting fairly well and just happened to get outplayed, that's one thing. But the guys are coming out, they look flat to begin with, and then can only muster four hits and not a single run until what is essentially garbage time down 5-0 in the ninth inning.
I understand these guys are professionals and adults and should be able to get themselves right without Manuel's help, but when they've proved that they can't it's time for Manuel to step up and doing something other than blow bubbles in the dugout.
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