This isn't just about third baseman's glove

Posted: May 15, 2014

BEFORE LAST night's game, the Angels trotted out Mike Trout and Raul Ibanez to talk about their connection to the city of Philadelphia. Their connection to the product that the Phillies are putting on the field is a bit more tenuous, but it is worth noting. In 2009, the Angels selected Trout with a pick they received from the Yankees as compensation for New York's signing of Mark Teixeira. Two picks later, the Mariners drafted infielder Nick Franklin with the first-round pick that the Phillies gave them as compensation for signing Ibanez.

That's where it began, the broken road that has delivered the Phillies to the inevitability of games like the last two. Not that they shouldn't have signed Ibanez, or that they should have drafted Franklin, or even traded for him, instead of the Phillippe Aumont/Tyson Gillies/J.C. Ramirez triumvirate that they ultimately landed when they shipped Cliff Lee to the Mariners the following December. The point is that the kind of talent deficit that the Phillies are running at some critical positions is one that takes several seasons to develop. It requires the forfeiting of multiple draft picks, the trading of multiple prospects, the misallocation of tens of millions of dollars. Organizational depth isn't drained any faster than it is fixed. And, as the Phillies are in the process of showing, it ain't fixed fast.

Fatalism isn't the most uplifting philosophy in the world, but it's more fulfilling than heaping 3 years of talent erosion on the shoulders of a 24-year-old third baseman who probably did not sleep a wink last night. The easy thing to do after back-to-back games like Sunday's ninth-inning implosion against the Mets and last night's 4-3 clunker against the Angels is focus on guys like Cody Asche and Jonathan Papelbon. On Sunday, Papelbon was unavailable due to "general soreness" that probably did not sit well with his old-school coaching staff. Yesterday, Asche's three errors were the biggest factor in the four unearned runs that the Angels scored off Lee.

But the reality of baseball is that young infielders are going to have rough nights, and 33-year-old relievers are going to need an unexpected blow every now and then. Most teams are going to experience those kinds of things over the course of a season. The good ones have enough depth to prevent them from becoming headlines.

The biggest issue isn't Asche. It's that the guys who have been behind him are Freddy Galvis (can't hit), Jayson Nix (can't hit), Cesar Hernandez (has never played third base at the major league level), and Reid Brignac (four career big-league starts at third, with two errors in 19 chances, and a .443 OPS in 384 plate appearances since 2011). It's that Domonic Brown's triple in the seventh inning was his fifth extra-base hit in a month. It's that Ben Revere entered with a .293 on-base percentage and a .308 slugging percentage. It's that the lineup as a whole was able to produce only two runs against Matt Shoemaker, who entered with five career major league appearances.

The issue is that the Phillies' starting third baseman was playing in the Big 12 3 years ago and that they do not have anyone behind him who might help make his trial a little less fiery. The issue is that the lineup doesn't score enough runs to alleviate some of that pressure, and that, even if it did, the bullpen might render them moot.

For a guy like Lee, who last night had the kind of stuff that, in past years, resulted in complete-game shutouts, the only option is to talk oneself into believing that all of this stuff will somehow fix itself over the course of the next couple of months.

"I know that when you don't play complete baseball, it's hard to win at this level," Lee said. "If the pitcher is not throwing strikes or your team is not swinging the bat or you are not playing solid defense, it's hard to win if any of those are missing. We just have to do a better job of playing well-rounded baseball."

But the Phillies do not have a well-rounded roster, or well-rounded depth behind it. They have already experimented with virtually every internal bullpen option that is not currently on the squad. They have no lefthanded power on the bench, and no fourth outfielder who might significantly alter the conversation in leftfield or centerfield. And we haven't even reached the part of the season where people start getting hurt. Certain aspects of this Phillies team give you reason to think that it might end up surprising you. But they are always quickly countered by the aspects that look impossible to fix.

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