Charlie Manuel said the Phillies, in the midst of an eight-game skid, have to improve "at a lot of positions." (AP)
It’s funny how quickly things have changed.
Once, the Phillies held one of the longest postseason droughts in all of baseball. From 1994 through 2006, the Phillies did not have one playoff appearance. And mostly, they weren’t even close. In team history, the five straight division crowns from 2007 to 2011 are unprecedented as the club has made just 14 postseason appearances in 129 seasons.
So as the Phillies limp into the dog days with a 48-56 record and a ready-to-move roster, it appears as if the old days are back with the Phillies.
Barring an unforeseen late-season surge, the Phillies will miss the playoffs for a second straight year. With a payroll that ranks up with the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers and spoiled by the recent success, a two-year drought takes some getting used to.
But according to manager Charlie Manuel, recapturing the not-so-old glory is going to take some work.
“I think we’re a ways off,” Manuel said before Tuesday night’s game against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park.
Take your pick as to why this is the case. The aging core, a roster loaded with starting pitching but not much experienced bullpen help, injuries and a dearth of prospects ready to contribute in the big leagues. As Manuel says, watch the game.
“I’ve known what we’ve had for the last two years,” Manuel said.
Manuel knew it, but there isn’t much he’s been saying. During the lost weekend in Detroit where the Phillies were swept by the Tigers and outscored 24-5 in three games, Manuel pointed out how managers aren’t asked for much input when the front office puts together the roster.
Before Tuesday’s game against the Giants, Manuel lamented the lack of bullpen talent.
“We have a young bullpen that needs experience and it takes a top-flight team to win the division and be able to go to the World Series,” Manuel said. “That's what we're talking about here, right?”
Certainly, that’s one part of it. But it’s tough to pin the entire woebegone season on the relievers. During the current eight-game losing streak, the Phillies have batted just .202 and scored 14 runs. That comes to 1.75 runs per game, which, combined with the 6.19 ERA by the pitching staff, shows just how tough it’s been.
Plus, Manuel’s lineup in Sunday’s loss featured just three players that were in the opening day starting lineup. Where’s the consistency?
“Age goes into it, injuries go into it, that's what I've been talking about,” Manuel said.
Age and injuries. Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay stand out in that regard. Meanwhile, outfielders Ben Revere and Dom Brown have been out as well. However, even if the Phillies had been healthy all year, Manuel still isn’t sure if it would have been enough to keep the Phillies in contention.
“There's a lot of ifs in there,” Manuel said. “We’ve got Brown coming (back), we’ve got Howard, if we can get him well. He's gotta get well, he's gotta get healthy and then he's got to get into top-notch shape. We've got Halladay -- if we had Halladay, then yeah, we’d get better. But there's a lot of ifs there.
“Now I have to (ask), if we can we count on people? Count on the issues that we had getting better, and also performing at their peak. When the year starts, I like every one of our players. I've always said that and I still like our players. But I also see how we play. Let's don’t fool ourselves. How we play is how we play.
“Now if we play like we did on the road trip, we're not going to be very good. We have to play better.”
How to accomplish that is the big question. Manuel says the Phillies need to get better “at a lot of positions.” He also said that the Phillies need to improve beyond what anyone is talking about.
Perhaps Manuel is suggesting that the Phillies need to get better at positions that aren’t seen in the box score?
“What do I think when I watch our games? What do you see? You tell me what you see every day, day in and day out,” Manuel said. “I see that we have to get better.”
It’s hard to disagree with that. Going into Tuesday’s game, the Phillies were in third place in the weak NL East, 11½ games behind the Braves. So yes, the Phillies need to get better.
How to get better is a different issue.