Age-old question for Phillies

Posted: June 04, 2014

IT ENDED at 10:23 p.m. on June 2, 2014, 57 innings after it began. Total playing time for the Mets to win four games and the Phillies to win one game: 20 hours, 36 minutes. For those who witnessed all of it, all of the anguish and the despair, life will never be the same.

Leaving the ballpark last night, one of them said, "I have been with God and with the devil. I fought between the two. I seized the hand of God, it was the best hand. I always knew God would get us out of there."

Oh, wait. Scratch that - wrong notebook. That was a quote from one of the Chilean miners rescued after 69 days trapped underground in 2010.

Apologies for the confusion.

The fifth and final day ended with this score - Mets 11, Phillies 2 - and with the home team bathed first in Our Town's special sort of sullen rapture, and then in silence. One-hundred-seven to go.

We are at the point in the proceedings where the manager is left to tap-dance around the obvious and talk about how "a hit here or there" could have turned around the series. On the one hand, he talked last night about a lack of sound fundamental baseball being a problem - this, after he emphasized fundamentals from the day he got the job last year. On the other hand, when asked if the talent is there, Sandberg said, "Well, we've showed better baseball before this series. We've showed better baseball than we've played overall. And I believe the guys are there, the core group is there."

The core group is not the team. It is only a subset. With that, the day began with the posting of a splendid Phillies lineup that told you everything you needed to know about what an impossible job it is to manage this baseball team in 2014. The one name leaped from the lineup card: Cesar Hernandez (.156), playing shortstop, hitting second.

It is the conundrum that Sandberg is now forced to stare down on a nightly basis. On the one hand, he has that veteran core of good players - Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd - who all are aged 34 or older and all need days off. On the other hand, he has a bench that is collectively hitting under .200, to go along with Domonic Brown and Ben Revere and whomever is playing third base that day.

To play the veteran guys every day offers the only realistic chance of winning most nights. Even then, there is realistic and then there is realistic; the Phillies are 24-31 so far while playing the veterans a lot. To play them too much, though, invites a complete implosion in the second half of the season. Yes, even worse than this.

So, in the midst of this interminable, abominable series against the Mets - third place in the National League East to the Phillies' fifth place - Sandberg, on the one hand, really needed a couple of wins here but, on the other hand, felt as if he had to rest Utley in one of the games and Rollins last night.

He says the veteran core has been rested enough "up to this point."

"We had a number of days off through April and through the first half of May, almost too many days off," Sandberg said. "So with the stretch of games we're in now, I'll try to pick my spots as needed, and conversations with the players as needed."

Because of that early schedule, the Phillies have played about two fewer games than the typical NL team. The problem is that it all ends up at 162 games in the end. In the meantime, all four of the key veterans are on a pace to have at least 678 plate appearances.

In the last 50 years in the National League - a half-century, mind you - a player that age has gone to the plate that often only 39 times. And, to repeat, the Phillies have four players on a pace to do it in 2014.

"They haven't had too many days off," Sandberg said. "I'll play that by ear and keep an eye on the guys."

The whole thing is untenable and everybody knows it. The older players cannot make up for three or four empty slots in the lineup, depending upon the night and the configuration. The starting pitchers cannot carry enough of the load to keep the bullpen from getting exposed. There are no ready alternatives within the farm system. The only prudent purchase for the organization at this point would seem to be dynamite. One-hundred-seven to go.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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