On the Phillies Hitting Rock Bottom: Why It's Not So Bad

On the Phillies Hitting Rock Bottom: Why It's Not So Bad

A few weeks back on Lunch Break, Rhea Hughes asked me if the Phillies had hit rock bottom, to which I responded with something to the effect of No way. Clearly I was waiting for them to get swept out of Miami by a free-falling Marlins club as the 2012 season reached its midpoint before making that declaration.

We've arrived. In case you haven't been beaten over the head with the standings enough already, this is where the Phils stand after their most recent debacle: five-game losing streak; 3-7 over their last ten; 9-19 for the month of June; nine games under .500; 7.5 back of a Wild Card, eight teams ahead; 11.0 back in the NL East, all alone in the basement; GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gauging interest in a potential Cole Hamels trade.

Does it get any worse?

Well, yeah, it does -- just probably not for the Phillies, at least not any time soon. That's sort of the definition of rock bottom: no place left to go but up.

Which is not to say this year's squad will make a run at the postseason, or even start winning more games. On the contrary, while technically possible, even the most optimistic fan must concede the playoffs are in fact a longshot, and the remainder of this summer is likely futile. Not trying to be the earliest to call it -- and I certainly wasn't -- but what we've seen out of the previous half confirms suspicions dating back before the campaign ever got underway, that the road back to the World Series is not paved in pennants earned between '07 and '11.

Once you accept this is shaping up as a lost season though, you should be able to see beyond the miserable results to the sweet horizon. Other than their record, what has changed on the Phillies from nine months ago, when they were setting a franchise record with 102 wins? A few more miles on the odometers of a collection of classics, for sure, along with injuries that may very well leave behind shells of once-great players.

Still, back in February or March, most of us imagined this team would be in the hunt at the All-Star break regardless. They're really not, so I suppose congrats are in order if you called the Phils' out-and-out demise far earlier. However, the current state of the club, which we'll describe as a distant last place, was not quite mainstream thinking.

So if this truly is rock bottom, if missing the playoffs is now our expectation for this year, the worst is already over. Blame it on Amaro, blame it on Charlie Manuel, blame it on the freight train of sportswriters who supposedly forced management's hand on the moves they made. Out of the tournament is out of the tournament, and how many out doesn't count for much.

But how about next season?

The Phillies have so much talent, the general population allowed themselves to believe the team could withstand half the year without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and at least hang in the race. That obviously wasn't the case, especially as injuries continuously crippled them along the way, but it speaks to the bigger picture.

Somewhere beneath this 36-45 record is a core that can, and has, won a large number of ball games -- guys who are proven to have what it takes to deliver the hardware. Maybe a bunch of them have fallen out of their primes, but Utley, Howard, Jimmy Rollins -- contracts the Phils are likely stuck with -- have some form of production left in the tank. Put the right pieces around them, and they can be an integral part of something special.

And thanks to your overwhelming support, it's not like the front office doesn't have the money. Folks get the impression that because the organization is having trouble getting Hamels locked down, they either can't afford him or don't want to go over budget, when there is no indication that is the root problem. Heck, the expiring pacts of Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton alone almost covers it. Another year down the road, there are decisions to make on Utley and Roy Halladay, too. Between Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton, Kyle Kendrick... there's a lot of loose change under the Phillies' couch cushions. They can more or less sign who they want.

Even losing Hamels would not be the end of the world, it wouldn't even be rock bottom because you've been warned. Yesterday's report on Amaro calling would-be suitors is rock bottom -- now we're prepared when the day comes.

I'm not a proponent of trading away a World Series MVP, for reasons both performance-related and sentimental. Having said that, if it ever comes to pass, between the haul they would get in return, and the cash it frees up, the Phils should have no trouble landing on their feet. They would gain the financial flexibility to retool as early as this offseason, while simultaneously replenishing their farm system, or perhaps coming away with a player or players who could help immediately.

Based on the level of expectations, and the degree to which the Fightins have underachieved, the only way this could feel any more hopeless is if the franchise was headed back to the Dark Ages. Clearly they are not.

While there have been missteps along the way, there isn't a contract or contracts that are preventing them from winning, nor is there a prospect they've traded along the way yet who is coming back to haunt them. The Phillies have constructed a powerhouse franchise that is capable of putting a powerhouse product on the field in any given year. It's going to take a hell of a lot more than one awful season to undo that.

Today things are bleakest; tomorrow is a new day. The Phillies may not be able to salvage this season, but there are plenty of ways to fix this mess. With the resources that are available, how can they possibly make matters worse?

Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

Wayne Simmonds stars as Flyers top Predators, push win streak to 5 games

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Dave Hakstol likes Wayne Simmonds’ net-front play more than that of any player in the league.

The Flyers' power forward showed on Sunday why his coach thinks that way.

Simmonds’ two power-play goals in front of the crease helped extend the Flyers’ win streak to five, their longest of the season, in a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday night (see Instant Replay).

“If there’s a better guy in the league at net front, whether it’s on power play or 5 on 5, I don’t know who that is,” said Hakstol said after Sunday's victory. “He did a great job there tonight.”

Simmonds’ first goal came when he deflected Jake Voracek’s shot past Juuse Saros, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 18:12 of the first period.

“They had great movement around the top of the box and Jake told me to go back door if he was going to get it for a one-timer,” Simmonds said. “So I stuck my stick out back door and he hit it, and it went in the net.”

Then Simmonds batted a puck through Saros' legs for a 2-1 advantage at 6:47 of the second period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season.

“It was kind of a little bit of a cluster and the puck comes to me, and I’m alone in front of the net so I just put it five-hole and it worked,” Simmonds said.

The right wing’s father was watching in the sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena during the Flyers' annual father-son trip.

“It was nice, obviously,” Simmonds said. “I just went outside and saw him. He didn’t really say much to me, but I know he’s glowing on the inside.”

Simmonds has now scored 10 career goals in 20 games against Nashville.

“What I really like about Simmer is he’s at net-front, he’s scoring goals, he’s on the power play, but he’s a great, hard-nosed, 200-foot player,” Hakstol said.

Simmonds’ goals gave the Flyers an early spark on Sunday.

“It was huge,” said Flyers left wing Michael Raffl, who scored the winning goal at 16:37 of the second period when made a power move on a rush and tucked the puck past Saros. “That gives us all the momentum.”

The Flyers improved to 7-3-1 in their last 11 games.

“We’re just trying to take care of pucks and maintain the pressure that we have,” Simmonds said. “The next shift up every game is the most important shift and that’s how we’re trying to play it here.”

Predators coach Peter Laviolette, a former Flyers coach, wasn’t surprised by his former team’s power-play success. The Flyers entered the game tied for the third best power play in the league cashed in twice on seven chances on Sunday.

“We knew going in that their power play was really good,” Laviolette said. “Their players have a lot of time together and cohesiveness and they’re pretty set in what they do. They bring pucks to the net and when they do that, things can happen. That was a difference in the game tonight.”

Winning goalie Steve Mason has started 10 of the last 11 games. He made 30 saves Sunday to improve his record to 8-8-3.

“This is the situation I want to be in, so it’s a workload that all summer you prepare for even when I was not getting the work load I wanted,” Mason said. “You prepare for it and now that it’s here I’m making the most of it.”

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

Sources: Phillies close to signing reliever Joaquin Benoit

WASHINGTON – It looks as if the Phillies will have some action at the winter meetings.

The team is close to signing veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit, sources tell CSNPhilly.com. The winter meetings officially begin on Monday. The signing is expected to be announced before the meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, is a veteran of 15 seasons in the majors. He is coming off a strong 2016 season in which he pitched in 51 games for Seattle and Toronto and recorded a 2.81 ERA.

Benoit began the 2016 season with the Mariners and had a 5.18 ERA in 26 games. He was traded to Toronto in July and gave up just one run in 23 2/3 innings over 25 games, but did not pitch in the postseason after suffering a torn calf muscle in late September.

The right-hander has pitched for six teams in his career and has a lifetime 3.79 ERA in 712 games.

Entering the offseason, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said he wanted to improve the bullpen. He opened the offseason by trading for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and last week claimed lefty David Rollins off waivers from Texas. Now, Klentak is poised to add Benoit.

Benoit has mostly pitched in a setup role in his career, but he does have closer experience. It is unclear what role he’d pitch in for the Phillies. The Phils have Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris returning to the back of their bullpen in 2017. Benoit could complement that pair or the Phillies could choose to trade Gomez or Neris.

Neris pitched in 79 games in 2016 and had a 2.58 ERA, so the Phillies would only deal him if they were to get a strong package of talent in return.