Even Manuel unsure if Phillies can make run

Even Manuel unsure if Phillies can make run
June 23, 2013, 6:00 pm
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Of the Phillies' remaining 66 games, 34 are against teams over .500. (USA Today Images)

So many ups and downs. It’s remarkable the Phillies don’t gobble motion sickness meds before each game as a preventative measure.

It has been a long week for the Phillies. Carlos Ruiz returned. So did Chase Utley.

Jonathan Papelbon blew three out of four save opportunities for the first time in his career. Ryan Howard hit three home runs, including two in one game for his first multi-homer outing in almost two years. The Phils dropped a heartbreaking game against the Nationals and another one against the Mets. Kevin Frandsen hit a walkoff homer to save the bullpen from itself.

And then there was Charlie Manuel.

The manager might have had the most stressful week of all. He defended one player against the thinly-veiled accusations of another, and he showed his exasperation with the Phillies’ slow-drip offense, a unit that had scored the eighth-fewest runs in baseball as of Sunday. That last bit also led to a hilarious exchange with a certain yammering local media mainstay, during which Manuel said the Phillies will score 10 runs when the manager knocks the reporter out. (We’re all still waiting. That should be a fun day.)  

To finish off the eventful (if not successful) six-game home stand, the Phillies got clobbered by the Mets, 8-0, at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday. Same old, same old for the Phils (see Instant Replay).

“We were 3-3 on the homestand,” Manuel said. “It feels to me kind of the way we play. That’s how I look at it. If you watch us play all year long, there’s an inconsistent part of it. That’s kind of how we play. Of course we need to play better baseball and get in position where we can run off a streak.”

That won’t be easy. Manuel knows it.

“I think things have to fall right for us,” Manuel said. “We have to play really, really tremendous baseball. That includes defense, offense and pitching. We’ve got to get enough of each.”

They haven’t gotten enough of anything this season. In addition to a team that’s had trouble scoring runs, Manuel presides over a bullpen that started Sunday’s game with a 4.67 ERA while allowing 40.7 percent of its inherited runners to score. Both stats were worst in the Majors. And only the Astros pen had a more bloated opponents’ batting average. As Manuel said, the team has holes. The one out in the bullpen could swallow up an entire city block.

To make matters tougher, the Phils have to leave town again for a while. On Monday, the club will start a 10-game road trip -- three against the Padres in San Diego, four against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and three more against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. The Phillies won’t return to Citizens Bank Park until July 5 when they begin a 10-game homestand that will lead them into the All-Star Break. That stretch at CBP will include three games with the Braves and four more with the Nationals.

“The road trip is important,” Manuel acknowledged, “but the farther or deeper you get behind is what’s important.”

The Phillies are 36-40. They are eight games out of first place in the NL East. Half the season is almost gone, and the trade deadline is rapidly approaching. Either Ruben Amaro gets the Phillies some hitting and bullpen help, or before long he’ll be forced to fold up the tent and send everyone home without much of a show.

When asked how often he discusses “subtraction or addition” with Amaro, Manuel said he talks to the general manager “quite a bit” and that the front office is trying to “help our team any way they can.” OK, but which will it be -- subtraction or addition?

“I think they realize the valuable players on our team,” Manuel said. “If you’ve got some frontline players, it would have to take something really big to pry them away. If they can improve our team, they will.”

But what if the team further decomposes during the road trip? It’s hard to imagine the Phillies grabbing new pieces if they don’t peek their head above .500 and keep it there for a while. If you have your doubts about their ability to do that, you have some company.

Does Manuel question whether these Phillies can go on a run?

“I wonder if we can do that,” Manuel admitted. “Yes.”

He isn’t alone.