Inside the Phillies: Phillies have shown that slow start is no reason to panic

Phillies Domonic Brown homers in the first driving in Ryan Howard and Michael Young. Brown is greeted at the plate by Howard at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, April 10, 2013. ( DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer )
Phillies Domonic Brown homers in the first driving in Ryan Howard and Michael Young. Brown is greeted at the plate by Howard at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, April 10, 2013. ( DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer )
Posted: April 12, 2013

Nothing triggers gross overreaction and total amnesia more than a bad start to the baseball season.

By now, we should be used to it.

This core group of Phillies has been frustrating fans in the embryonic stages of the season ever since Charlie Manuel took over as manager in 2005.

Who can forget 2007's 2-7 start? Or the 4-5 records to start the 2008 and 2009 seasons?

Four wins and five losses is again where the Phillies stand after nine games following a 7-3 win over the New York Mets on Wednesday night that should at least lower the dangerously high anxiety levels around here through Thursday's off day.

The answer about who can forget those other slow starts apparently is almost everybody.

"I do think people have forgotten that," first baseman Ryan Howard said. "It's not the goal where we say, 'Let's be three or four games under .500 out of the gate,' but it's not about how you start, it's about how you finish."

Nevertheless, every amateur baseball shrink in Philadelphia is once again analyzing Howard's swing and pitch selection. The streak of non-sellouts at Citizens Bank Park is five. Some of the comments that could be overheard Tuesday and Wednesday during victories were absurd.

Howard, one at-bat after hitting a home run Tuesday, was loudly informed by a fan during his next at-bat that he performed the same function as a vacuum cleaner. The same accusation was made against righthander Kyle Kendrick during Wednesday's six-inning, two-run performance against the Mets.

Some legitimate concerns do exist.

Roy Halladay's problems didn't start when the season started. They were an extension of last season and spring training. And if you want to worry about Howard, focus more on his defense and baserunning because he just does not move the same since his Achilles tendon surgery.

The 4-5 start, however, is nothing to worry about. The players were not overly concerned because they believe in their ability.

"I'd rather have a slow start and finish up strong and be in the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs," Howard said. "It takes a little bit to get going for us sometimes, but as long as we get going, that's what matters."

Like the team, Howard has almost always started slow and finished strong. He is a .252 career hitter in April with a .797 OPS and a .291 hitter with a 1.018 OPS in the final month of the season. Howard had two hits in Wednesday night's win to raise his average to .200.

Only two of Manuel's nine Phillies teams have had a winning record nine games into the season. The Phillies' overall record after that many games during the Manuel era is 39-42.

Most of the time things have turned around and turned out all right for the manager and his team. Last year, of course, was an exception.

What's funny is that Manuel was asked last week in Atlanta about slow starts, and he recalled his best start as a manager.

"I remember over there in Cleveland . . . we won 11 out of 12 one year," Manuel said. "We won like 10 straight. Everybody was talking about how we already clinched our division."

The year was 2002. The Indians had won 91 games and the American League Central Division the year before, and they started 11-1.

"We looked up 15 days later, and we had lost about 10 in a row or something," Manuel said. "It goes either way. You've got to hang in there and stay with it. It's an everyday grind."

The Indians were 39-47 at the all-star break, and Manuel was in a need of a new job.

Here in Philadelphia, Manuel's teams have always been at their best during the stretch run. In September and October of the regular season, the Phillies are 144-91 during the regular season, a .613 winning percentage.

You could argue that the Phillies can no longer afford slow starts because the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are elite teams, whereas in the past there was no real challenger.

On the other hand, there's also a second wild card that did not exist until last season. But that's another story for another time. For now, the Phillies must continue with the grind and try once again to overcome another slow start.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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