Phil Sheridan: It's time to face facts: Phillies are bad

Posted: June 11, 2012

BALTIMORE - You put the ball in Cliff Lee's $120 million hand so it doesn't come down to Ty Wigginton's shaky glove.

You pay Jonathan Papelbon $50 million, then order him to enjoy the view of another walk-off loss from out in the bullpen.

You play Wigginton at third, Michael Martinez at second, and Hector Luna at first, then watch your defense give away outs.

You lose in the 10th inning when Baltimore's .255-hitting cleanup hitter doubles home a run off Joe Savery, and you have to ponder whether that's worse than the .237-hitting 8-hole hitter blasting a three-run bomb off Lee in the fourth.

You're Charlie Manuel, winningest manager in franchise history, and you may as well be John Felske or Lee Elia or any of the managers who presided over wretched Phillies teams.

"We've been losing some games lately - quite a few," Manuel said Sunday after the latest beaker full of sloppy defense, untimely hitting, and so-so pitching blew up in his face. "I think we're going to win some games, of course. . . . Right now, things are not going good for us. I've been there before. You've got to keep going. We've always kind of rebounded."

They have indeed rebounded from June doldrums and slow starts. But the guys wearing red pinstripes simply are not the guys who staged those late-season rallies.

There is no mystery here. The names on the disabled list or otherwise unavailable because of injury are more imposing than the names on Manuel's lineup card. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Freddy Galvis, Placido Polanco, Laynce Nix, and Michael Stutes would be most of a pretty good team.

This season was always about hanging in until Howard and Utley returned. That task was made tougher as the injury list grew longer. But the sad truth is that this lost weekend in Baltimore - two extra-inning losses that left the Phillies eight games behind first-place Washington - resulted mostly from the regulars failing to do what they're supposed to do.

We can all drop the poor-Cliff-Lee thing now. Yes, he has pitched better than his 0-3 record suggests. Yes, he has been a victim of poor run support. But you know what? He blew a 1-0 lead against the Dodgers in his last start, and he was staked to a 4-1 lead early in this game.

"I'll take four runs every time," Lee said.

He credited Orioles third baseman Steve Tolleson with a good swing on the 1-2 cutter he threw him. The ball soared into the left-field seats. It was the third home run of Tolleson's career.

A guy puts a good or lucky swing on a well-thrown pitch. It happens. But Lee walked two batters, the aforementioned .255-hitting cleanup man, Matt Wieters, and .206-hitting Mark Reynolds, and gave up a double to .231-hitting Steve Pearce earlier in the inning. He even got a double play to erase one of the walks. It was as if he was determined to give the lead back.

"I can only control what I can control," Lee said. Wins and losses, he said, "are important, but they're out of your control."

That wasn't really the case here. As with his outing in the playoff series against St. Louis last October, Lee had the lead and the ball. Unlike October, he has an injury-ravaged team of fill-ins and journeymen in dire need of a win. This was exactly the situation Lee was brought back to Philadelphia for. This was a case of coming up short in the part of the game he can control.

As for Papelbon's afternoon of leisure, Manuel's reasoning has merit.

"He's not going to go two innings in a tie game on the road," Manuel said. "You just don't do that. You don't play that way. If you're going to keep your closer healthy and you're going to use him in winning situations, you do not do that."

Manuel stood on principle, bringing the lefthanded Savery in to face the righthanded heart of the Orioles' order in the 10th. Savery got one out, then Wigginton booted a sharp grounder. Wieters lashed a double to right and the game was over.

If there was a time to consider an exception, this felt like it. If Papelbon gets through the 10th, you can base the next move on whether the Phillies score in the 11th. If so, and if Papelbon didn't throw too many pitches, let him try to close it out. If not, go to Savery for the latter part of the lineup and beyond.

But the real problem isn't Manuel's sticking to his beliefs. It's a bullpen full of minor-leaguers. It's a lineup filled with mediocre players. It's the remaining regulars slowly giving in as the season slips away.

The real problem is something Felske or Elia would recognize right away - a bad baseball team.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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