Phils faithful: Pop a chill pill

Raul Ibanez throws his bat in disgust after striking out on May 6. The Phillies run production so far has been worrisome.
Raul Ibanez throws his bat in disgust after striking out on May 6. The Phillies run production so far has been worrisome. (MICHAEL BRYANT /Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 19, 2011

Some people worry about everything. They can't help it.

I have a buddy like that. His default position is "gross overreaction." He becomes especially anxious when medical matters are involved. Every cuticle cut convinces him that he'll be forced to amputate the digit, if not the entire limb.

You know the type - they spend hours punching random symptoms into WebMD, only to confuse a common cough with typhoid or a minor fever with ergotism (better known to medieval historians as "St. Anthony's Fire.") Won't be long now until one of those do-it-yourself home doctor databases offers online lobotomies from the comfort of your couch. Sit back and relax: One quick click and you won't feel a thing.

If only a similar sort of device existed to rewire the malfunctioning sports hypochondriac - the obsessive, concerned fan who examines his favorite team from afar, jots down various problems on a handy homemade chart, then comes up with an alarming diagnosis.

What seems to be the problem? Injuries and sluggish offense, eh? Not good. It's most likely terminal. I'll send for a priest.

 This week, the Phils limped home from their road trip in the midst of a four-game losing streak, their longest of the still-young season. The Phils stopped that slide Wednesday night with a 2-1 win over the Rockies. Still, you wonder whether those two lonely runs will be enough to calm an anxious crowd. Judging by some of the e-mails, texts, and tweets I've read lately, not to mention the breathless radio callers who only stopped hyperventilating into brown paper bags long enough to vent about what ails their beloved Fightin's, you'd think that this team is in last place and it's time to have a hard talk with its next of kin about pulling the plug and ending its suffering.

"Right now," Ruben Amaro Jr. said, "we have to ride out the storm a little bit, get guys healthy, and hope guys perform a little better."

It was a measured response. It was also the right one.

It's May. The Phils have played slightly more than one quarter of their schedule. Despite the club's recent struggles, not to mention the slew of injuries the Fightin's have sustained so far, the Phils still have one of the best records in baseball.

But wait, you say. They can't hit or score runs, you cry. And you're right, except that's not exactly new. Last year, the Phils scored three or fewer runs in 75 games, or nearly half the season. Nothing has changed on that front. This season, the Phils have scored three or fewer runs in a majority of their games. Before Wednesday night, they were 8-14 when failing to score at least four runs. That's not great, but it's also unfair to indict a team that hasn't put its best lineup on the field all season.

"There's a reason why people are bench players," Charlie Manuel said. "You put one in your lineup, a lot of times you can get away with that. You put two in your lineup, you might get away with that. But when you start putting three or four or five, you [start] running into trouble. I'm not saying our team is necessarily in a slump, we just don't have what we call our regular players - the guys we pay the money to put in the lineup and hit."

The Phillies entered Wednesday's game 10th in the NL in runs scored. While that's troubling at first, it should be pointed out that just nine more runs this season - a small number when spread out over more than 40 games - would move them up to fifth in the league. More important: Only three other NL teams - the Reds, Cardinals, and Braves - have better run differentials. The Phils aren't that far off the production pace - even though, as Manuel noted, they've been without some key players, including Chase Utley. (Oh, and if you think Jayson Werth would fix all this, check his numbers with the Nats. He's not exactly mashing the ball down in D.C.)

But wait, you say again. They can't always win close games, you cry. That's true, too. No matter how well the starters pitch, the Phils - and this will surprise some of you - can't win them all. Sometimes, they're going to lose several in a row. That's nothing new, either. Last year, they had four three-game losing streaks, three four-game slides, and one five-game skid. And they still won 97 games.

The thing the sports hypochondriacs sometimes forget is that slumps and losing streaks infect lots of teams over a long season - as in all of them. Even if you could make it happen, would you want Amaro to swap rosters with another organization, with Florida or Atlanta or Cincinnati or St. Louis or Colorado? Would you give up the Phils' four starters and the still-excellent defense? Or would you pause for a moment, remember everything is relative, and realize the Phils are better off than most?

While you're thinking about it, pop a few Advil. It's just a headache. It will pass.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/gonzophilly

 

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