In the immortal words of Casey Stengel, "Can't anybody here play this game?"
Judging by the results of the Phillies' recently-completed 3-5 homestand that left them at a desolate 9-14 overall, at least in Philadelphia the answer seems to be "not so much."
Entering the season, the big question marks were, in no particular order:
- Roy Halladay's diminishing velocity and effectiveness
- Ryan Howard and his ability to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2012
- Chase Utley's ability to stay healthy and produce
- Michael Young and the challenge of playing third base every day after spending last season as a designated hitter
- Mike Adams and the rest of the bullpen's ability to handle the eighth inning
Amazingly, all of those question marks have, in the main, turned out all right so far.
After a very shaky couple of outings, Halladay has turned in three outings that have ranged from above-average to really good.
Howard is hitting over .280 and playing every day.
Utley is hitting over .300 and his power has returned. He leads the team in runs batted in thus far.
Young is also hitting well over .300 and his defense at third base has been more than adequate.
And Adams, but for a violent hiccup against the Pittsburgh Pirates, has been the steadying late-inning presence he was advertised to be.
Recent troubles have focused on the sixth and seventh innings, but then everyone figured that the bullpen leading up to Adams and Jonathan Papelbon would be a cover-your-eyes proposition.
Despite all of the favorable harbingers, the Phillies are in 4th place in the National League East and sinking like a stone.
Why? To a significant extent, it is because the Phillies play terrible fundamental baseball.
- In a 6-4 loss to the Pirates, Cliff Lee was picked off second base, and in the same game Utley ran into an out at home plate with first-and-third and nobody out; dishonorable mentions go to Cliff Lee giving up the game-tying single on an 0-2 pitch and Phillippe Aumont putting a .148 hitter on by hitting him with a pitch.
- The night before in a 5-3 loss to the Pirates, Rollins negligently ran into an out at home plate with (wait for it) first-and-third and nobody out, and Utley played a semi-difficult Starling Marte pop-up to short right field into an RBI triple.
- The night before that in a 2-0 loss to the Pirates, John Mayberry Jr. ran into an out at home plate with (hard to believe, really) first-and-third and nobody out.
- Two nights earlier, in a 7-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Utley was doubled off second base on a routine fly ball by Young because he apparently lost track of the outs, and Domonic Brown loafed a Matt Adams short fly ball into a single.
Note to the reader: Not one of the examples above is criticizing a player for grounding into an inopportune double play, or committing an error in the normal course of play. No team and no player is above human frailty.
But the displays of baseball from the Phillies lately, in legal parlance, range beyond the simply negligent and eke into the careless or reckless.
The Phillies' slow start has been minimized by other facts out of their control, including but not limited to the fact that the presumptive division favorites, the Washington Nationals, are still languishing around .500. "Small sample size," you might hear.
Unfortunately, unwavering effort and a rudimentary understanding of the fundamentals of baseball are not things that tend to correct themselves over a 162-game schedule. If anything, these flaws just multiply and become magnified as the weather warms and the season drags on.
Phillies fans keep talking about how the returns of Carlos Ruiz (from suspension) and Delmon Young (from injury) should right the ship.
They might be better off calling on Fred McGriff and Tom Emanski.