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Commentary: Season Heating Up, Phils Cooling Off

So tonight begins a three-game series with the Mets. First place is on the line tonight and all week.

Tonight is also game 100. The Phillies sit at 53-46, a very borderline good team. Though their run differential stands at a stout +75, you wouldn’t know it. The offense has looked bad. The pitching holds up for the most part, but shows signs of deteriorating. To be short, this is a team on the verge of destruction.

I say this in hopes I’m completely wrong, but I can’t help but add the problems.

1.5-dimensional offense

So Chase Utley will knock in runs and get on base. And Ryan Howard will knock him in. But then what? Pat Burrell gets on base, but who gets him home? Pedro Feliz? One out of eight times. Geoff Jenkins? Please. Jayson Werth? Carlos Ruiz? Chris Coste? The bottom of the order reeks. Not to mention Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino haven’t done much of anything with situational hitting.

Maybe they can help themselves by spreading the offense. I don’t know — Ruiz in the two-hole, trying to pull the ball and hit behind the runner? Burrell in the three-hole? Still, hitting is hitting, and I’m not confident with more than half of the guys the Phils have.

Not enough starting pitching

So Cole Hamels is good. Joe Blanton? I don’t know — maybe a guy with an ERA over 5.00 in the American League can translate to the National League. Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer are nice back-end pieces, but you can’t trust Kendrick to get the job done in a late-season game, and Moyer is Moyer. Brett Myers? Do we know he’ll be effective? Clearly there are too many questions. There are no Rich Hardens and Carlos Zambranos and Ryan Dempsters. There are no assurances here outside of Hamels.

Breakdown of the bullpen

Tom Gordon went on the DL because he broke down. JC Romero has felt stiff. As has Rudy Seanez. Suddenly Joe Bisenius was on the roster. Adam Eaton is in the back of the bullpen. Clay Condrey moved up in the depth chart. Isn’t this a problem? I’d like to think Lidge/Romero/Madson/Durbin will hold up all year, but the team desperately needs a contingency plan. There’s a week left to get it.

Dissension

Jimmy Rollins practically said the team will turn it up soon, but not now. Cole Hamels complained about getting too much time off. Pat Burrell suddenly spoke out against being taken out in games. Sure, some of these arguments are valid and correct, but it seems everything is being piled on now. Teams that self-destruct have these problems. They can’t keep their mouths shut. We saw it with the Mets.

The Mets

And about those Mets. I’d like to think, like most, that they’re too old and worn down and talentless to win the East. But how do they keep finding guys who can contribute past their primes? Fernando Tatis? Sure the bullpen is rough (Billy Wagner’s pain could spell big trouble), but when I see them, I see an offense that can rattle off runs. I see a rotation that can head into the seventh of most games. And I see a bullpen that can piece it together just enough to win. Sound familiar? Yeah, like your 2007 Philies. Who won the East.

Painfully obvious things

And the painfully obvious things keep plaguing the Phils. Victorino flying out. Rollins grounding out. Jenkins swinging at low and away. Howard swinging at low and away. Waiting on Kendrick’s changeup. Hamels giving up a solo homer or two. Romero’s walks. The first inning of most games. So Taguchi. By now most of us fans know every little problem the Phils continue to encounter. And for some reason they’re not fixed. They’re not even recognized. Only yesterday did Charlie Manuel publicly speak out about the lack of situational hitting. Why so late? Can they see this?

Manuel, in general

Going back to dissension and even the painfully obvious, is Manuel the right man to manage this team? I dn’t know. He is the right man to get a group of guys on track, but once they’re on that track, he seems to never be able to reach them to the finish line. He failed with the Indians, a group of players rich with talent. Now with the Phills he has a group fo aplyers rich with talent, but they’re faltering hard. A reader just e-mailed us, saying Manuel is not a leader. He doesn’t take charge of the team. I agree. Once a team hits the playoffs, hits the success mark, they need an extra push to put them over the top. Sometimes it’s a great trade. Most times it’s the manager. A manager who can bump his team to that highest level (see Tony LaRussa, Ozzie Guillen, Jim Leyland, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre) will win championships. Manuel seems to regular, too soft, too comely. This group of players — high on talent but short on the ability to bring it together — needs a fire.

Conclusion

This isn’t me saying, “Oh, the Phils won’t win the East.” It’s me saying I’m exceedingly weary about this team’s chances. I’m not confident at all. Not until they go on some kind of run where the offense looks crisp, pitching goes deep into games and the bullpen is in shutdown mode. They did it in May. And May seems so far away. But now they’re sloping down the schedule, and they need to find it again. Can they? I don’t know.

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