So far, Phils' plan not working

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay wipes his head in the dugout in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Tuesday, April 30, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay wipes his head in the dugout in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Tuesday, April 30, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Posted: May 06, 2013

Baseball rewards panic the same way a pit bull rewards sudden movement. There's no future in simply turning and running from a bad start from a baseball team, or in trying to repair a six-month season with a few weeks of glue and duct tape.

The Phillies were constructed for 2013 on the precarious hope that their aging veteran starters would pitch well and that their aging everyday players would regain their productivity. Around that central theme, the front office sprinkled journeymen and prospects who might be good enough if everything else went right.

They broke a bottle across the bow of that ship, rolled it down the rails, and sent it off for the long journey of the season. Altering its course significantly isn't going to happen now, so enjoy the scenery if you can't entirely enjoy the ride.

At the moment, as they attempt to get well against the dreadful Miami Marlins this weekend, the Phils look like nothing more or less than a .500 baseball team once again. They are alternately good enough to earn a tough split against a solid St. Louis team and just bad enough to get shut down by the Cleveland Indians.

Their record would be far worse than it is if not for the Mets and the Marlins, against whom they are 9-3 heading into Sunday's series finale. That includes Saturday night's shutout loss. If the season were made of nothing but Mets and Marlins, the Phillies might even get by, but that's not how it works in the major leagues, a fact that will become more apparent at the end of this month when they finish with seven straight against the Nationals and Red Sox.

After a month of baseball, the Phils' offense is near the middle of the pack in batting average, but close to the bottom in slugging. Worse yet, the team earned run average is well over four runs per game and, in the biggest surprise, the staff is second-to-last in the National League in ERA during the first six innings of games.

Well, what to do about it? Unfortunately, very little. If nothing changes, then this season is the balloon payment coming due for the stretch from 2007 to 2011 in which the Phillies went to the postseason five straight times and won a World Series. Few teams can accept the mortgage that comes with that kind of success without paying the price eventually.

The front office wanted to go for it with this group just one more time, betting more than anything that Roy Halladay would rebound and that the infield troika of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins had a last hurrah before the long silence. In a town that supposedly values courage over the timid approach of waiting for the light in order to cross, the dice roll should be applauded. We'll see how that goes.

On the offensive side, at least with that aging core, more has gone right than wrong. Utley and Howard are playing every day and hitting for decent averages with strong production. Rollins is lolling down around .245 with no pop and a lot of strikeouts.

Elsewhere, the plan of patching the holes isn't going so well. The outfield, which was Dom Brown, Ben Revere, and a platoon of John Mayberry and Laynce Nix through most of April, has been mostly ineffective at the plate and a nightly thrill ride in the field. It isn't that the outfield makes so many destructive errors (the team's six unearned runs is second-fewest in the NL), it is that they don't get close enough to anything in order to drop the ball. Slow and indecisive is no way to go through life as an outfielder, but the Phillies are trying it.

Would all of that, also factoring in the underwhelming presence of Michael Young and the uncertainty of whether Carlos Ruiz has more than merely warning-track power, be as huge a problem if the starting pitching were consistent? Hard to tell, because the most vital component of the whole strategy - dominant seasons from Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels - hasn't materialized yet.

Halladay is the most perplexing because he sometimes appears to have made peace with his new limitations. He had a three-start stretch in which he allowed just four earned runs over 21 innings, then followed that with a miserable bombardment in Cleveland. When he takes the mound Sunday against the Marlins, there is no telling which Roy will be out there. Will he be a chicken or a hunter? The Phillies would really like to know.

Not that there is much to do about any of it. The players in the minor leagues are there for a reason and wouldn't do a better patch job than what is currently on the roster. There is no sense in shutting down the season and tearing the team apart in May for two very good reasons. First, the season is too long to really know what will happen. Second, the market won't peak until much closer to the non-waiver trade deadline. Whatever value the front office might obtain from stripping the roster to prepare for rebuilding won't be at its highest until much later.

That's where we are, cruising in the direction set by the organization. And the front office doesn't look very bright with some of the calculations it made in setting it.

The season might still work out, although that wouldn't be the way to bet. Baseball is receptive to surprises, but it just doesn't do as well with shocks.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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