Inside the Phillies: Problems go beyond absences of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard

Posted: June 04, 2012

The game itself was played in 3D - dull, dull, dull.

Two hits through seven innings, six hits total, and one eighth-inning run in a 5-1 Phillies loss to the Miami Marlins was far less than the 45,356 had hoped to see Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

Joe Blanton's fourth consecutive futile trip to the mound was not a crowd pleaser, either.

The scenes afterward once again were surreal for a last-place team that has been unable to sustain any momentum this season.

Charlie Manuel fielded a total of 16 questions, and a quarter of them were about the rehabilitation of second baseman Chase Utley. The manager had as much trouble dealing with those questions as his hitters had with Carlos Zambrano, the Marlins' rejuvenated righthander who picked up his fourth victory.

"No, I don't," he said when asked whether he knew anything about Utley's health. "I don' . . . I really don't. I've talked to him, but I don't know too much about that. I just watch him work out. I know he's been working out pretty good and he looks like he's been running a little bit more freely. I've seen him do that."

Wasn't he curious about how Utley feels?

"Oh, I've asked him," Manuel said. "He says, 'I'm not there yet.' He says, 'I'm getting better.' "

From the time it took Manuel to walk from the media room to the clubhouse, Utley apparently got even better, because he announced in the postgame clubhouse that it was time for the next step in his rehab.

"I'm actually going to head to Clearwater," Utley said in front of his locker. "I'll be there [Monday] to kind of further my baseball activities, so I'm excited about it. I made some strides over the past few months and I'm ready to take the next step."

Manuel should have been given that information before he met with the media Sunday afternoon. Why not arm the manager with good news after such a dreary afternoon? If he knew, why didn't he just give the honest answer?

The manager did not have any great answers for the other questions directed at him after Sunday's loss, either, but that's not his fault. When you're filling out a lineup card with a cleanup hitter who has 11 fewer career home runs than the opposing pitcher, you're in a lot of trouble to begin with.

That's not a knock on Hector Luna, who has performed quite well since joining the team from triple-A Lehigh Valley. And it certainly is a compliment to Zambrano, who accounted for the Marlins' first run Sunday by launching an opposite-field home run off Blanton in the third inning. It was Zambrano's 24th career homer, the most among active pitchers and 10 more than Babe Ruth hit as a pitcher.

Manuel said he batted Luna cleanup because he wanted to give Ty Wigginton a day off. When you're inserting a guy who has played most of his career in the minor leagues for a guy who has spent most of his career as a platoon player with second-division teams, you have some issues.

The Phillies' issues at the moment go far beyond that and cannot be solved simply by the return of Utley and/or first baseman Ryan Howard.

This is not a team that is only offensively challenged.

A year ago, you looked at the pitching matchups for a series and you easily could see the Phillies' taking two out of three or three out of four games, which they quite often did. With Roy Halladay likely out for at least another six weeks, every series is dicey for the foreseeable future.

Consider this week's four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It starts Monday night with 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw going against Vance Worley, whom the Phillies removed from the disabled list after Sunday's loss.

Who do you like in that one?

Then you have Chad Billingsley against Cliff Lee. That favors the Phillies, but not nearly as much as it would have a year ago.

Dodgers lefty Chris Capuano against Phillies righthander Kyle Kendrick?

Advantage Dodgers.

The series finale matches Aaron Harang and Cole Hamels, and that clearly favors the Phillies. Hamels, of course, lost Saturday against the Marlins, and when the current ace lets one get away, the probability of the Phillies' winning a series dwindles significantly.

The most honest answer Manuel could give to any question about his team right now is that the Phillies are just average. That would not be a good idea for the manager, but it is the truth even if it hurts to say and is often painful to watch.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

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