Lowered Expectations: Coming to Grips With the 2012 Phillies

Lowered Expectations: Coming to Grips With the 2012 Phillies

We are at the point in the 2012 baseball season where if nothing else it's fair to characterize the Phillies' chances of winning the World Series as improbable. Technically it could happen, and this site isn't the type to promote the abandonment of hope. We simply state for the record that the club is in the hole, and the reasons to believe they can still crawl out of it are dwindling as summer begins.

Chase Utley returning should provide a shot in the arm, as should Roy Halladay -- Ryan Howard on the other hand is a little less certain. Any notion he become The Big Piece the moment he step into the batter's box seems misplaced. His presence couldn't hurt either, but you are still relying on the rest of the roster to stay healthy at least, in many cases increase production as well.

I suspect none of the above registers as earth shattering to most observers. It's merely an attempt at establishing the common ground for what we all are watching unfold.

The reactions to which have been extraordinarily diverse.

There are no shortage of people willing to declare the Phils' season over, and plenty of them are quick to play the blame game. Ruben Amaro lives squarely in the crosshairs of the public these days, as general managers often do when the teams they run disappoint. Others might accuse critics of revisionist history, but fact is everybody's job comes up for review.

Defensive fans detect the overtone in that message though, and would contend in spite of having a poor season, times have never been better for the Fightins overall. After decades filled primarily with frustration, it's difficult to interpret the whining as anything beyond being a part of a bandwagon mentality. Apparently we should be thankful we've experienced good teams at all.

So who is in the right: is it the smug cynics climbing the sinking Titanic like rats, or the self-proclaimed flag bearers of the Phillies franchise?

In all honesty, what would you even have the organization do about this mess right now?

The season started on April 5, and this is the team the Phillies brought to the dance. Players can come back from injuries, but more could hit the disabled list just as fast. There are only two more directions for them to go that are guaranteed to impact the locker room this year.

Number one would be fire Charlie Manuel. It's not an original idea, and while Cholly is an oddball, all things considered it is hard to blame him for the position the squad is in given the circumstances. Manuel's neck will be on the line sooner or later, but since he's only the most successful manager in Phillies history, he's earned a longer leash than most.

Number two, I guess, is make trades, and there are a couple of problems with this. For one, it's hard to pull off big moves this time of year because a lot of front offices aren't sure whether they are buyers or sellers yet -- more than ever with the addition of a second wild card. Regardless, it ain't easy to measure what that accomplishes, unless it's only in the vain hopes of catapulting the Phils into contention this season.

In which case, you're not searching for a trade. What you want is a magic cure-all.

I'm not sure where the Phillies go from here, but it looks like a bumpy road to the postseason, and the path fades on the way to the World Series. My suggestion is you adjust your compasses accordingly. These Phillies may have a few tricks left up their sleeve, but nothing short of a complete reversal of fortune is going to push them over the top.

But you know what? After five consecutive NL East Championships, a parade, and a measured push for more, they deserve a slight reprieve. And as bad as things are or look, the team still has several elements working in their favor: they have talent, and they are willing to acquire more.

My advice is to everybody is take a deep breath, and accept this season is likely going nowhere. If they turn it around -- and rest assured they can -- that's amazing.

Otherwise, like it or not, the Phillies bought themselves a year to retool if need be. It's where they take us from here that should really decide some fates.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.