David Murphy: For Phillies' next Retro Night, how about 2008?

Ty Wigginton pinch-hits a broken-bat single in the 9th to account for a quarter of the Phils' hits.
Ty Wigginton pinch-hits a broken-bat single in the 9th to account for a quarter of the Phils' hits. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 24, 2012

IT WAS '90s Retro Night at the ol' ball yard, and the Phillies were flawless in their execution. Half of the crowd left in the eighth inning, the lineup combined to go 4-for-31, and the home team lost and dropped to 57-67. It was 1990 all over again, minus the artificial turf and sewer rats.

The homage to the days of "Saved By the Bell" and the American middle class provided a necessary distraction from the action on the field.

The '90s, you may recall, were not kind to the Phillies. And while their economic largesse will make it difficult to replicate those doldrums of that decade - the 2010s have already produced twice as many winning seasons - defeats like the one they suffered at the hands of the Reds are enough to bring out the cynic in all of us. When a 3-2 loss feels like 30-2, all you see are the holes.

If the lasting memory of Wednesday night was Jay Bruce's home run off Josh Lindblom in the eighth inning, well, that would not be inappropriate. But bullpens are fickle beasts that can be rebuilt on the fly through free agency. Lineups are another story.

Last offseason, the organizational talking points revolved around the approach of the team's veteran hitters. This is still a championship-caliber lineup, the general manager said on numerous occasions, a sentiment reflected in his reluctance to add a premium hitter or two. With 1 week left in August, nobody will make that argument. Of the four hits the Phillies mustered against Bronson Arroyo and Aroldis Chapman, three were tallied by players who spent the first 4 months of the season at Triple A.

For the first time in a decade, they are holding late-summer tryouts, and Kevin Frandsen and Domonic Brown appear to be making the most of their opportunities. Against Arroyo, Brown went 2-for-3 with a double and a home run, the type of power that creates endless possibilities when combined with the patient approach that he has displayed at the plate. The defense continues to be a mixed bag, one that saw Brown make two spectacular plays - a diving catch in the alley and a bullet of a throw home - sandwiched around a fly ball that he lost in the lights.

Frandsen, meanwhile, contributed a pinch hit in the ninth inning, continuing his recent habit of getting on base.

"We're going to need some pieces in our offense, but at the same time, that's why some of these guys are getting to play," manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's why Domonic's getting to play. That's why [John] Mayberry is getting to play. We'll see if we can't get a better look at Laynce Nix. That's why Frandsen's getting to play. Some of these guys that we've got, I'll even play them more. I'll play Michael Martinez some. We'll continue playing [backup catcher Erik] Kratz. We want to see what we've got. Talking to Ruben, we feel like we're definitely going to need some pieces on offense. And we don't know exactly who they are right now. It's kind of up for grabs."

That paragraph is a pretty good summation of why the whole process may feel a bit discouraging to fans. Of all the players Manuel mentioned, only Brown has the kind of realistic potential that might help the Phillies avoid a repeat of 2012. If Mayberry, who has the sixth-most plate appearances on the team but a .678 OPS, does end up showing something different over the last month of the season, it only raises the possibility that the team will enter another year relying too heavily on him. Nix, Frandsen, Martinez - if any of them end up filling a significant role on next year's roster, will it be cause to ready the trophy case?

The biggest questions about the offense involve the players who are not trying out. While Jimmy Rollins continues to provide power and defense at a premium position, his production has not been that of a leadoff hitter on a contender. In the loss to the Reds, he went 0-for-4, lowering his batting average to .238 and his on-base percentage to .297. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard continue to improve, but is a month enough time to know exactly what to expect out of them in 2013? The two sluggers combined to go 0-for-6 with two strikeouts against Arroyo, a starting pitcher they have historically battered.

A lot can go right between now and next April. But on nights like Wednesday, it is difficult to overlook everything that is wrong.


Contact Dave Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at philly.com/HighCheese.

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