ANOTHER SLOW APRIL -- THIS ONE HISTORICAL
Saturday, April 8, 2006
"In like a lion, and out like a lamb" is about as expletive-free an explanation you'll get from a Philadelphian describing the Phillies' transition from March to April. After impressing in spring training by having the best record up until about the last week of March, the Phillies have sputtered in the first four games of their six-game opening homestand. Starting 0-4 for the first time since 1987, and starting with four home losses for the first time since 1977, when the Phillies won the NL East, the season is already depressing and almost unbearable to watch. The 0-4 record is only better than that of the 0-5 Pittsburgh Pirates, who coincidentally share the same state. The season isn't even a week old, and yet the players are already hanging their heads and jogging lackadaisically to their positions after another weak offensive inning.
The starting rotation, already dubbed the weakness of the team, has not done anything to remove the negative labels, as Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, and Gavin Floyd have not gone more than five innings and, together, have a 9.56 earned run average. The bullpen has been decent, only giving up 4 runs in 20 innings -- a 1.80 ERA. Julio Santana, despite serving up a grand slam to Scott Rolen on opening day (three of those four runs charged to starter Jon Lieber), has been reliable for middle-inning relief, along with Rheal Cormier, Geoff Geary, Ryan Franklin, Aaron Fultz, Tom Gordon, and Arthur Rhodes.
In four games, the Phillies have a grand total of 13 runs -- the same amount of runs they gave up to the St. Louis Cardinals on opening day. Although not looking to set the record for most fans with their heads buried in their hands, the Phillies have failed to produce offensively.
The highest RBI total is 3 by Pat Burrell, who also has 2 of the 5 Phillies homeruns. In comparison, the Detroit Tigers' Chris Shelton equals the Phillies with five homeruns of his own, and Richie Sexson has 8 RBI, almost thrice that of Burrell. It's not that the Phillies have to have someone leading the league in an offensive category to succeed, but averaging 4 runs per game isn't going to cut it.
In the series opener on Friday, April 7 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies were swinging half-heartedly at high fastballs and low sinkers in the late innings against relievers Hong-Chih Kuo and Danys Baez. Even Bobby Abreu, who finished second in the National League last season in walks drawn behind San Diego's Brian Giles, was retired on three straight Kuo fastballs. Harry Kalas, the legendary voice of the Phillies, said before the at-bat that the Phillies were in luck that Abreu was leading off the bottom of the eighth because he almost always makes the pitcher throw pitches. As if to further prove that this isn't the Phillies ballclub we had seen light up the competition during spring training, Abreu swung at strike two and strike three, almost identical fastballs in identical locations: up around his eyeballs.
Luckily for the Phillies, they have 158 games to straighten things out and to give the fans a reason to stay past the fifth inning. During the first game of the season, Rollins started 0-3 in his quest to extend his hitting streak, and the fans, upset not just at the Phillies being down 10-0 at one point, but at the cold, rainy weather as well, stuck around until the eighth inning when Rollins got that elusive hit to extend his streak to 37 games. After standing up and applauding Rollins' streak, a mass exodus ensued as 10,000 fans headed for the exits. Now that Rollins' streak is done, and the Phillies appear headed for a season in the doldrums, fans aren't going to have a reason to come out. As if to illustrate this almost perfectly, the Phillies have raised the prices of 45 of their 81 home games, played May 19 to August 20. No September ticket hikes, when fans will flock to the gates to see the Phillies' late-season playoff push? Apparently, the front office doesn't think much of this season for the Phillies.
|What's in Store|
With that said, the Phillies need to take a page out of Major League and play to win against the front office. Most of the players on this year's squad won't be back next year anyway, so players like catcher Mike Lieberthal, and third baseman David Bell, who are scorned not just by the front office but by the fans as well, need to perform well to give other teams the incentive to take a chance on them. Bell's balky back and Lieberthal's irreparable knees can only hang on for so long.