In their 11-7 loss Tuesday in their series opener at Minnesota, the Phillies wasted 14 hits. It might take them another three games to get that many.
This was yet another lost day in a season that is growing increasingly troubling. At this point, the notion that help may be on the way in the persons of rehabbed players seems overplayed.
To update: Chase Utley is batting but not playing the field in Florida; Ryan Howards return date is still unknown; and Roy Halladay wont be back for several more weeks. Really, it doesnt matter.
Dust the Phils first 64 games this season and the evidence speaks loudly and clearly: This is not their year, and the fix wont come with the return of some combination of Utley, Howard and Halladay. No, the problems run too deep. The imbalance between pitching and offense is too debilitating, and players that were positioned to provide depth off the bench have come up short. At their current rate theyd have to trade rosters with the first-place Nationals to compete for the NL East title.
Phillies pitching was pounded Tuesday night in a game started by Kyle Kendrick. It is mid-June and Cliff Lee has yet to win a game, and Cole Hamels has hit a slick spot after building the kind of traction early on that raised talk of a Cy Young Award. In two June starts, Hamels has been tagged for eight earned runs in 12 13 innings. Thats a drastic downturn from the 11 earned runs the free-agent-in-waiting allowed over six starts in May.
The Phillies team that finished last season as a five-time defending division champ is unrecognizable right now, and every indication it has given by its performance suggests were in for a long summer the kind that will continue to turn even the most ardent fans into blue seats. Simply put: the machine doesnt run well anymore, and theres one person thats on the spot for constructing a bridge over the trouble waters. Not Ryan or Chase. Not Roy. Not even Charlie. From here on out, its all up to Ruben.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has assembled this team. His rep as a team-builder is on the line, but so too is his ability to now repair what he put together. Thanks to the stocked cupboard Pat Gillick left him, Amaros regime has been more about reloading than rebuilding, but player age and underperformance are threatening to test him like never before not to mention the potentially sticky issue of fitting in a nine-figure payroll slot for Hamels.
The rest of the NL East is leaving the Phillies behind. Amaros decisions to this point have been compromised by serious injuries to key players, but it is impossible to mistake the barebones roster that has been exposed in the process. So, Amaros focus on fixing his team must take a long-term view, because 2012 is looking like a lost season. We are going to see in the coming months how well Phillies management can reposition its team to compete against as many as four division opponents that may be better equipped for the future. Consider that possibility for a moment.
Amaros strategy of stockpiling aces and hoping they would lead the way to a championship has not worked. The offense has languished, and injuries have only widened the gap between pitching and hitting. In short, he allowed himself little wiggle room in case of injuries, and the team is paying for it with the freefall we are witnessing. It seems to me at least one ballyhooed ace, and maybe two, will have to be moved in order to properly outfit the team for 2013 and beyond.
Look around. The Nationals are for real, and are led by young talent. The Braves, Mets and Marlins have taken steps to improve their rosters, and to this point each team has outperformed the Phillies. The tables have turned within the NL East, and taking stock of this seasons misfortunes, the Phillies decline has been gradual but unmistakable.
Amaro was promoted to GM soon after the Pat Gillick-constructed 2008 team won the World Series. His two signature moves to date are the acquisition of Roy Halladay and the trade of Cliff Lee to Seattle. Bringing Lee back to great fanfare might rank third. Still, his strategy to load up on starting pitching has not drawn the team closer to a championship.
Since 2008, with each passing year, the Phillies have fallen one step backwards. It is a pattern that projects them to miss the playoffs altogether this season. So far, thats about the only area where they are not missing the mark.
E-mail Ron Burke at email@example.com