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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sorting Through the Rubble of the Phillies’ Collapse

          Unlike some of the Phillies who are tweeting about beautiful days (Shane Victorino) and people needing to get over their criticism of fans (Jimmy Rollins), I’m still annoyed that we’re forced to watch the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS instead of the Phils.

          So, it’s time to sort through the rubble of what became a collapse after a 100+ win season. I’ve been surprised to hear a lot of criticism of Charlie Manuel since the season ended. He’s certainly not blameless in the collapse, but he’s pretty far down my list.

          Early on when Manuel took over as manager of the Phillies he sort of had an image of the bumbling idiot because of his southern draw and some basic mistakes he made having managed in the American League with the double switch of the National League. Well, the man brought this team to a World Series Championship and has won the most games in franchise history in a season and in a career as a manager. I think people have the bumbling idiot image tucked away and they’re too willing to lean on it now.

          However, Manuel is not blameless. I agree with those suggesting that he should have shook up the lineup in Game 5. Placido Polanco, whether due to injury or age, clearly had nothing left. He batted .105 for the series. Wilson Valdez or Michael Martinez probably deserved a shot. Raul Ibanez batted .200, and I would have liked to have seen John Mayberry or even Ben Francisco play a game or two. Remember, Francisco’s pinch hit homer in Game 3 is the only reason they won that game.

          I’m also as baffled as others about why he stopped batting Hunter Pence behind Ryan Howard. I thought the Pence acquisition was the key to the Phillies season. Batting Chase Utley, Howard, then Pence, sent Howard on his best stretch of the season. Howard was clearly awful in the NLDS. One home run in Game 1 doesn’t make up for batting 1 for 16 the rest of the way, including zero hits after Game 2.

          I’ve gotten some feedback about my post right after the loss Friday night in which I said Roy Halladay was the only guy who performed up to snuff in the NLDS. The post was admittedly very reactionary to the last game, and I can’t quibble with too much of what I’ve heard in response.

          Cole Hamels was high on the list of people that I snubbed according to the response. Hamels only went 6 innings in his start, so I can’t go too far giving him credit. But he muddled through it without giving up a run.

          The bullpen was also mentioned as an oversight, but I’m not totally convinced of that. They made Game 1 interesting by giving up 3 runs in the 9th and the Phillies won 11-6. Halladay went 8 innings. They were good in Games 2 and 4, but the Cardinals were already winning. The bullpen held, but I think it’s different when teams are batting (as the Cardinals were) with a lead. And, yes, they held in Game 3, but I think it cost most fans a year off their lives. It certainly wasn’t a dominating performance.

          Jimmy Rollins was good, and I will admit I just don’t like the guy’s attitude. He batted .450 and there’s no way to suggest he didn’t play well. But he does have a tendency to sort of “follow” the big hit with a hit – pressure’s off, then he slaps a double. A perfect example was Game 3. The game was tied at zero until Francisco hits the 3-run homer in the top of the 7th. Rollins followed with a double, and then stole third. He only stole two bases in the series, and a 2-out steal of third means nothing – he still essentially needs the batter to get a hit to score. But it pads his stats, so he loves it.

          I’m a huge Utley fan, and checking his numbers for the series I was surprised. He batted over .400. But I never saw the guy make a dumber move than trying to go first to third on the Pence grounder. And he wasn’t a bit clutch when it mattered most, putting up just one RBI and no homers.

          Shane Victorino was certainly the biggest oversight in my comment. He got a few potentially big hits and batted .316 for the series. Unfortunately, it seemed like nobody ever knocked him in. The rest of the lineup also came up small. Pence batted .211, Raul Ibanez batted .200, and Ruiz hit .105.

          Of course, no one mentioned Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt as oversights. Lee gave up a 4-run lead in Game 2 and can easily be said to have cost the Phillies the series. Oswalt took the loss in Game 4 giving up all 5 earned runs by the Cardinals.

          Halladay did almost everything he could do in Game 5, though some are pointing to the fact that he gave up a double and a triple to the first two batters to give up a 1-0 lead. It may have been demoralizing, but considering he stopped the damage right there and the Phillies lost by that same score blaming Halladay is absurd.

          Bottom line, the Phillies offense still put a big fat zero on the board in the deciding game of the season.

          That zero points out the fatal flaw of the Phillies that does go back to Charlie Manuel – they wait for the home run. And the result in the playoffs in the last two seasons illustrates what happens when that doesn’t work.

          It won Philadelphia its first World Series in 28 years in 2008, and it was awesome. I’m not ignoring that fact.

          But the home run simply isn’t going to be there all the time. The biggest clichĂ© in baseball is that it’s a game of failure. Hitting 3 out of 10 is great. A player hitting 40 home runs in an entire season is phenomenal. It’s not something that you can rely on.

          Today, Ruben Amaro Jr. actually spoke about the need to change that approach going forward. That’s a promising sign, but I think it’s easier said than done.

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