Stop worrying: Phillies will wake up in time for postseason

The Phillies have lost four straight games this week. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)
The Phillies have lost four straight games this week. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)
Posted: September 21, 2011

IF YOU CAN charge full price for NFL exhibition games and get away with it, you can charge full price for a game that, at one point, featured this nine, top to bottom: Bowker, Valdez, Mayberry, Moss, Francisco, Kratz, Orr, Martinez and Kendrick.

By the 10th inning, a bonus from the baseball gods, it was only a tiki bar short of paradise.

When it was over, though, every available hitter had a plate appearance in the first game of a day-night doubleheader against the Washington Nationals. The Phillies still lost, 4-3. The second game, with Cliff Lee pitching, featured a more complete lineup. The Phillies, though, managed only two hits through the first 7 1/3 innings before erupting for a third and final single in the eighth. Nationals 3, Phillies 0.

The team that devoured the National League this season roused itself and belched once, loudly, on Saturday night. Then it fell back into its food coma. Comfortably, the Phillies sleep.

A suggestion: you might as well join them.

There is no sense worrying about it, about the fact that they have scored fewer than four runs in 12 of their last 13 games. It is just something to talk about between now and the time when the postseason begins, the lead up to when - with all apologies to Grantland Rice - the One Great Scorer marks against their names, not how they played the game but whether or not they won the damn World Series.

Between now and then, the resting of injured and tired players will continue, until it doesn't. Runs will be scored, or they won't. Sleepwalking will define the end of the regular season of this great Phillies team, or there will be an awakening. In the meantime, Ryan Howard is resting his gimpy foot/ankle, and Hunter Pence suddenly has patellar tendinitis and will have an MRI today, and everybody else is trying to stay as sharp as they can in the midst of a nap, and as Lee might say, "Whatever."

"Probably, I'll start really playing our regulars the last 2 days in New York," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. That would mean Saturday at Citi Field.

"Our complete lineup, when we get Howard back, we'll probably play them the last 5 days of the season," Manuel said. " . . . I'd like to get our guys, our lineup set up and let them play a little before we go into the postseason."

That is the standard play for a team that clinches everything as early as this Phillies team did. If you look at the last week of the regular season for the 2001 Mariners (116 wins) and the 1998 Yankees (114 wins), that's pretty much how they did it. Both of those teams used almost all of their regulars in either five or six of their final six regular-season games.

The Mariners? They struggled to win their division series and then lost in the championship series. The Yankees? They won the World Series. All of which means, once again, that the answers - like most baseball answers - can be found filed under Y (for Youneverknow).

For his part, Manuel says he isn't worried about the slide, that "it's normal in some respect" to have this kind of a letdown after clinching everything, that "whether you realize it or not, you're not really focused." He said he isn't ready to start yelling.

But this should be noted: those Mariners hit .296 in August and .309 in September/October that year but only .247 in the first round of the playoffs. Those Yankees hit .317 in August and .280 in September/October, but only .253 in the first round of the playoffs. This season, the Phillies have hit .265 in August and .240 in September, and in three of their four first-round series, their hitting declined from where it was in September (the exception being 2009 against Colorado).

Of course, everyone understands the counterpoint. That is, that this core of Phillies players will forever be defined by the idea that they play their best when it matters the most - and that the rest of the time, things just take care of themselves.

Which is where things are now.

"It's better if they're going well, of course," Manuel said, talking about the run-up to the postseason. "But at the same time, it doesn't mean that they won't go well when the playoffs start. It's different, and their adrenaline will be different, and just how they feel.

"How you feel determines a lot about your hitting. It's hard to explain to somebody, but really, hitting is relaxation, focus and feel, being tension-free, things like that."

Soon enough, the adrenaline will be produced by the bucketful. But in the meantime, you can almost hear the snoring above the muttering in the crowd.

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