Phil Sheridan: Too early to pronounce Phillies' golden age over

Posted: June 20, 2012

Charlie Manuel's job should be safe for one reason. It probably is safe for a different reason. Somewhere in between is the story of this ever-more-desperate Phillies season.

The reason the manager should be safe is obvious. He has won a championship and five consecutive division titles and deserves the benefit of the doubt in this injury-ravaged year. Until the return of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, it simply isn't fair to judge the manager for the Phillies' 31-37 record and perch at the bottom of the National League East standings.

But managers have been fall guys in the past. Heck, the Phillies notoriously fired Pat Corrales in 1983, when his team was in first place and on its way to the World Series.

Canning the manager is like applying cardiac paddles to a lifeless team, and the Phillies have been playing like they need a jolt.

The reason Manuel probably is immune from that fate is this: Firing him would immediately slap a bull's-eye on the back of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. And right now, that's the last thing Amaro or David Montgomery really need.

Over the last couple weeks, as the Phillies have stumbled to a 3-12 record, a familiar tension has been at play. Are the errors, the erratic pitching, and the lackluster offense signs that Manuel isn't keeping the players focused? Or are they signs that Amaro provided him with inadequate players?

Stay the course, wait for the return of Howard, Utley, and Roy Halladay, and maybe the season is salvageable.

Scapegoat the manager and the spotlight immediately turns to the moves Amaro made or didn't make in an offseason in which he knew Howard would be out and probably should have known the same about Utley. Splurging on a closer while trying to patch the rest of the roster on the cheap will come to define this season the way promoting Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator defined the 2011 Eagles season. It's not the whole story, but it becomes convenient shorthand, and it was Amaro's call.

So it's a pretty easy choice, even if the chore of watching this collection of kids and journeymen becomes more painful every day. By sitting tight, Amaro (and the rest of us) will find out what we can expect from Howard and Utley for the rest of this season and beyond. Meanwhile, it will become easier to make decisions on some of the players who are taking up locker space in the Phillies clubhouse.

It isn't what anyone wants to hear after a depressing sweep in Toronto, but it would be a mistake for Amaro or anyone else to overreact. This season may wind up being a lost one, and there may be some astute trade-deadline moves that fall under the category of "Sell," but it's premature to pronounce this the end of the Phillies' golden era.

The Yankees, the team they played in the 2009 World Series, featured Jorge Posada, 37, Hideki Matsui, 37, and Johnny Damon, 35. They had no set fifth starter that year. Now all three of those guys are gone, Derek Jeter is 38, Alex Rodriguez is 36, Mariano Rivera is hurt, and their rotation includes Andy Pettitte (40) and Hiroki Kuroda (37).

These Yankees have the best record in the American League this year. Compared with them, next year's Phillies won't be as old and their rotation should be markedly better. Like the Yankees, the Phillies are going to continue to have the payroll flexibility to retool quickly and remain competitive.

That may mean a 2013 team with three new starting outfielders. It may mean a new third baseman while overpaying Placido Polanco to be a utility guy. It may mean a complete retooling of the bullpen in front of Jonathan Papelbon. It may mean handing Cole Hamels a blank check or getting incredibly lucky with a Kuroda-type pickup.

It probably means a potentially unpleasant meeting with Utley, because a repeat of the past two hazy, uncertain seasons is simply not an option. If they can't count on him, they need to pull the plug.

A few weeks ago, after Halladay went down, I wrote that there was still hope for the Phillies this season. There was no excuse for them to go into the tank or to give up. Since then, they have plummeted from one game over .500 to six below. Realistic hope plummeted along with them.

But that doesn't mean there's an excuse. As terrible as the Phillies' luck has been - and Freddy Galvis was added to the injury pile since Halladay was hurt - that doesn't mean Hamels, Pence, Cliff Lee, and Jimmy Rollins get a pass for subpar performances.

It's no one's fault if bad luck ruins this season. Letting it ruin this team would be a different matter.


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

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