Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Phils are Phorked
As in, Stick a fork in 'em, they're done.

Today's loss finished a sweep at the hands of the less than mighty San Francisco Giants. The Phils held leads in all three games in this series, and gave it away every time. Blame Brett Myers for Friday's follies, Milton and the bullpen for Saturday's swoon, and a little bit of everything--but mostly Bowa, who batted Doug Glanville in the #2 slot for the second straight unfathomable day, and the offense (let's start calling them the Mike Lieberthal all-stars, for the veteran catcher's stunning inability to hit with men on base is apparently spreading to the rest of the roster)--for Sunday's sucktacularity.

The team is now back at .500, 59 up and 59 down. As the Cubs also continue to lose, they haven't technically drowned in the wild card pool yet, though it sure looks like they're floating face-down and I don't think they've moved--unless you count the looking-up motion of watching balls sail over outfield fences--since coming back from the west coast.

It's damn hard letting go. I'm finishing a big project at work, on which we're partnering with a research group based in Albany and the primary liaison is also a displaced, fanatical Phils phan. The final report is due September 16, and back in January and February when we were getting it going, the two of us had a grand time joking about whether or not we'd hand it in before the Phils clinched the division. Now the question--a much more fitting one, given the team's history--is whether or not they'll be mathematically eliminated before we finish the project.

In South Jersey last week, I was also able to watch and listen to more Phils games than I probably had all year to date; honestly, this proved to be the worst part of the vacation. But I think I'm ready to start backing away, picking up the pieces or what have you: I turned it off after 7 today, with the team down 2-1.

The whole thing still defines logic. All year I've told myself that this team has 95-100 win talent. I look at the roster and I still see it. Thome and Abreu are legit all-stars, Utley is a solid offensive contributor, Polanco and even Lieberthal (if you trust the numbers rather than one's own lyin' eyes) are doing about what they're supposed to do, and Rollins and Bell have actually exceeded expectations. The rotation features two guys with ace stuff, Padilla and Myers, and lefties Wolf and Milton who are solid 2-3 quality. The bullpen is deep and talented. Yes, I know about the injuries, but if it's not an excuse for the now-kicking-our-asses Braves or the apparently unsinkable Anaheim Angels, why should we get a pass?

All that's left to do--as if we haven't been doing it already--is something we Philadelphians are good at and naturally take to: assigning blame. I hate Ed Wade, I'll probably always hate him, the fact that Paul stinkin' Abbott made ten starts for this team is beyond sad, and I think he made a potentially big mistake a couple weeks ago trading all the second-level prospects for irrelevant role players. But I can't deny that he put together a team with by far the most talent in the division. One more right-handed slugger would have been nice, but that's a fairly minor quibble.

His biggest fault, and one I think he'll finally address (albeit way too late), is not recognizing how badly Bowa and his coaching staff have hurt the club. Saturday on the pregame radio call-in show, my final exposure to the team while driving home, Wade didn't speak about Bowa's job security at all when one caller demanded he immediately axe the skipper; this seemed like a hint that he's finally going to make the move, though I'm sure it won't be till November. Others think the injuries will save Bowa's hide again, but I can't be that pessimistic--and it's not exactly like this club was a juggernaut even when Burrell, Millwood, Madson and Wagner were all healthy.

Okay, it's probably not all Bowa's fault. But these neanderthal Bowa defenders I find online, who write things like "change the players, not the manager", apparently fail to realize just how much change this team has seen since midseason 2002. Gone are Scott Rolen, Travis Lee, Jose Mesa, Terry Adams, and Robert Person among others; in their stead we've added Jim Thome, Billy Wagner, Kevin Millwood, David Bell, Placido Polanco, Eric Milton and Tim Worrell. That's a serious net increase in talent on hand, but the team is playing as bad or worse as they did in that first disappointing year. It's time to at least test the theory that Bowa is a big part of the problem; it's pretty damn clear he's not helping, at any rate.

Let's hope Bowa and his merrie men are cut loose, a real skipper like Davey Johnson or AAA manager Mark Bombard is brought in along with one or two big additions--Matt Clement and Magglio Ordonez are my picks--and we get a chance to see what this team really can do in 2005. And that at least the Eagles will provide their usual allotment of laffs and good times before they too inevitable crush me...

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