Inside the Phillies: Reason for worry over Phillies' postseason chances

Posted: September 25, 2011

Let's not pretend there is no reason to worry.

The Phillies are about to embark on their fifth straight trip to the postseason, and it's impossible to say that the emperor is fully clothed.

Look at it this way: If the season were about to end and you were thinking about how this team could get better in 2012, would you have a list of things to do?

You bet you would.

You'd look around the infield and wonder how general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. could possibly go into next season with the same starting four who will be on the field for Game 1 of Saturday's National League division series at Citizens Bank Park.

Placido Polanco, who will turn 36 in two weeks, has a year left on his contract, but you have to wonder if he has a year left in a body that has broken down so many times that he often resembles a horse on its last legs. Polanco had seven doubles, two home runs, and 19 RBIs and was hitting .398 through April. In the five months since, he has hit .246 with nine extra-base hits (six doubles and three home runs) and 28 RBIs through Friday.

Chase Utley, 32, has two years and $30 million left on his contract and is sputtering toward the finish line of this 2011 season. Manager Charlie Manuel has said several times that Utley appeared to be finding his stroke before suffering a concussion on a pitch to the helmet from Atlanta's Eric O'Flaherty in a Sept. 7 game.

But long before that game, Utley appeared to be fading. After returning from the knee injury that cost him all of April and most of May, Utley had a solid June and even better July. But in the 25 games before his concussion, he was hitting .206 with two home runs and seven RBIs. In his first 10 games since returning from the concussion, he was 6 for 31 with zero extra-base hits and zero RBIs.

After swinging at a breaking ball way out of the strike zone against Washington's John Lannan on Wednesday night, Utley showed his frustration by flipping his bat in disgust.

Manuel said Thursday that Utley's inability to work on his leg strength because of his knee problem could be affecting the second baseman's ability to hit. Maybe surgery can help him in the offseason. The Phillies have to hope that a shot of adrenaline will help him in the postseason.

"In the last three years, Chase has missed a lot of games and I think it has taken its toll on him," Manuel said before adding hopefully that he thinks his second baseman will get better the more he plays.

At shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, 32, is a free-agent-in-waiting who has offered nothing except cause for concern since returning from a groin injury earlier this month. He was hitting .196 in 15 September games with one extra-base hit, one RBI, and three runs scored going into the weekend series with the New York Mets. The pop-ups and lazy fly balls cannot all be about disinterest, because the Phillies had their division locked up long ago.

Ryan Howard, 31, is mostly a health concern. Bursitis in his heel and ankle has limited him to 15 starts this month, but at least when he was playing he was producing. He provided a huge three-run home run in a win at Milwaukee and a game-winning double during the second game of a doubleheader against Florida. The way the rest of his infield teammates are swinging, Howard's bat is going to be more important than ever this postseason.

Add in centerfielder Shane Victorino's September nosedive, rightfielder Hunter Pence's sore knee, and the recent slides of relievers Mike Stutes and Antonio Bastardo, and there are so many reasons to worry that you wonder how this team ever climbed so far above .500.

The answer, of course, is the reason that the Phillies absolutely still have a chance to win it all. The Four Aces - Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt - are the reason that confidence should remain high.

No team in baseball can match the talent and experience of those four guys. On the other hand, if the offense does not recover from the recent malaise, the pressure on the aces may be too much.

Despite all the great pitching the Atlanta Braves had during their run of 14 straight consecutive division titles, they won only one World Series. The Braves' record in the World Series during that stretch was 11-18, and they scored three or fewer runs in 13 of those 18 losses.

By losing eight straight, including a doubleheader sweep Saturday in New York, the Phillies have jeopardized their chances of topping the franchise record of 101 victories in a single season and damaged their chances for being known as one of the best teams in baseball history.

"[The franchise record] would be nice, but it doesn't compare to the World Series," Manuel said. "I'll take a World Series."

Before the Nationals finished a four-game sweep of the Phillies last week at Citizens Bank Park, a man who used to reside in the home clubhouse was asked if there was any reason to worry about the 2011 Phillies.

Jayson Werth didn't seem to think so.

"I know those guys don't like to lose, but at the same time we'll see how they finish," Werth said. "They could be one of the best teams this city has ever seen. Either way, they have to be right there. Right now, they're playing games that essentially don't mean anything. Guys are a little nicked up. We'll see what happens, but I don't think they'll have a problem turning it on once the postseason comes."


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com

or @brookob on Twitter.

 

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