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Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

What a difference a week makes... 

Today, after spending the last week studying for and taking the bar exam and spending two days moving some of my things to my new apartment, I finally got some free time to sit down and see how the Phils were doing.

I am not impressed.

I was stunned to see exactly how bad the four game set in Miami went: a four game sweep? Giving up ten and eleven runs? Ever since they beat the Marlins 2-1 on the 21st, they’ve gone 2-7, and they’ve given up ten or more runs in four games. Worst of all, they’ve fallen to four and a half games behind the Braves, and they are now mired in third place. Ominously, just two and a half games behind them are the Mets for fourth. The good news?

Looks like the Expos got fifth locked up.

I parsed the stats looking for the reasons for this horrific collapse and I found a few culprits: David Bell is hitting awful in his last seven games (2 for 20), Paul Abbot likes to give up home runs (five in eight and a third innings). But honestly I think the team’s real problem has been its inability to beat division rivals: 21-30 against the NL East … 12-26 if you subtract our 9-4 record against the Expos. While the Phils aren’t doing that bad against the Braves (6-7) or the Mets (5-8), their 1-11 record against the Marlins is shocking.

At this stage in ’03, they were 57-46 and, even though they were in second ten and a half games behind the Braves, they had the third best record in the NL despite their struggles. This year’s team- infinitely more talented, larger payroll –is running dangerously close to disaster. For a group of guys projected to do well and win the NL East in a walk, this has been a bitter disappointment.

So who’s to blame? Bowa? Management? The Players?

I honestly can’t fault many of the day-to-day guys. Burrell, Bell, Thome, Abreu and the rest of the regulars are doing what has been asked of them. The Phils offense is still potent: fourth in runs, third in OBP, fourth in slugging percentage, and fourth in home runs. The Phils are still a sabremetricians dream: third in RC27, fourth in ISO, etc. Thome is doing what the Phils asked of him when he signed in '03. All of the day-to-day guys are.

The Phils pitching has been awful: tenth in WHIP, thirteenth in ERA, etc. The staff of Millwood, Milton, Myers, Padilla and Wolf simply didn’t come together this year and realize their potential. The pitching has been a big problem, but it isn’t the main culprit:

Larry Bowa isn’t popular amongst Phils bloggers because of his attachment to “small ball” and his emotional style of leadership (I think we’d all prefer a calmer, more methodical, more intellectual coach like the Cards Tony LaRussa at the Phils helm). To see a team this loaded with talent fail two consecutive years … you just have to wonder if Bowa’s leadership grates on players and if it becomes counter-productive over time. I suspect so.

I certainly can’t fault management, though I know some do. They didn’t swing any big deals, but then I think they were smart not to make rash, win-now decisions like sending Chase Utley to the Pirates for Benson. Management wants to win, but keep the prospects that are going to keep the team competitive into the future. Management may not be bold, but they are careful and not foolish. The ’04 Phils weren’t built perfectly, but this team is way better than 52-51.

So is ’04 a lost cause? I don’t think so. This team could still make the playoffs, though I am skeptical. Momentum is certainly against them. The fact that they’ve gone 7-24 against the Marlins in the last two years weighs heavily on their chances for the post-season. The fact that they can’t do better than .500 against the Mets and Braves doesn’t help either. Bottom-line: now is not the time to panic. If the Phils are more than five or so back in a month, then we’ll talk panic, but let’s see how these next few weeks shape up: we have games against NL Central and NL West foes than the Phils have had some success against in ’04.

There is still hope.

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