Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Phillies: Keep Calm And Expect Nothing

Philly Fan Can Use The Mellow
Saturday in South Philly, the home team did not have a good day. Starter Kyle Kendrick gave up 4 earned runs in 6 innings and was, by far, the most effective pitcher on the team. The offense collected 8 base runners in 9 innings, didn't bunch the contributions and didn't hit for power, so, well, they were shut out and looked fairly awful. The bullpen, a season-long source of concern, let things go from bad to worse, and the visiting Reds were paced by Joey Votto's six for six day for getting on base. 10-0 Reds, and another brick in the wall towards the lengthening drought of playoff-free Philadelphia sports seasons.

There are two factors that are mentioned by those who would make the case that this is all too much, too soon.

1) Despite indifferent play at 20-23, the Phillies are just 4 games back from the lead in the NL East. The Braves and Nationals have both squandered hot starts, so the NL East is looking more like a 90-win situation. There's also the fact that the second wild card makes an 85 to 88 win team a likely playoff performer, and once you get in, all you need is a hot couple of weeks.

2) Under manager Charlie Manuel, this team has always turned things around in the second half, spurred on by the core three of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Once they get the bullpen settled, perhaps with the return to health with lockdown eight inning guy Mike Adams, they'll be fine.

Howevah... hidden inside that 20-23 is a fairly weak schedule (the Marlins and Mets), a negative 35 run differential, second-worst in the National League, and, well, very few candidates on the active roster that qualify as guys having a good year, or even in the ranger of where they are supposed to be. (The short list: Utley, who is still useful if no longer an MVP candidate, back-up Freddy Galvis, who might be able to handle a key defensive position without being an offensive hole, and Michael Young, who has handled third base and posted a reasonable on-base percentage, but at something of a crazy fiscal cost and with no power or much in the way of greater potential. But compared to guys like Placido Polanco, Kevin Frandsen and Pedro Feliz, he's aces.) And being a good second-half team historically sounds a lot like how the Eagles always won after a bye under Andy Reid, and were always better in November and December. It's true until it's really, really not.

Finally, there's this: I've seen teams like this Phillies club. They were built on starting pitching and defense, they were historically competitive, and they were about as much fun to watch as paint drying. They played in Oakland in the Utter Meh years at the end of the Moneyball days, before last year's renaissance.

That's because good teams do not win playoff-style baseball games all year. They get to the playoffs by being a lot better than their opponents, with an offense that keeps their pitching staffs from getting worn down to nothing by working without a net all damn year. Then they win those playoff games. You don't actually get better at winning close games by having lots of close games. You get better at winning close games by being better than your opponent. Which, well, the Phillies aren't.

And there hasn't been, well, anything in the first 25% and counting of the season that says that the next 75% will be very different...

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