by Mike Prince
“Don’t worry, when it gets hot out, Ryan Howard will be crushing the ball. They’re always like this in April and May.”
Philadelphia Phillies fans – ones that have been enduring unexplainable random slumps and early season struggles for as long as the team has been a contender – have heard those words for the past three seasons. And for the final months of each of those respective seasons, there was little to worry about.
Well, now it may actually be time to worry – if only a little bit.
For the third consecutive game, as well as the fourth in the last five, the Phillies were shut out. This brings their scoreless innings streak to 27 innings, not to mention the fact that the Phillies have been held scoreless in 46 of the past 47 innings. Not to mention, this is coming during the hottest week of the year thus far – a time when the Phillies’ bats usually come alive more than ever.
It became the first time in almost exactly 27 years that the Phillies have been shut out in three consecutive games, while also marking the first time they have been shut out four times in five games since August, 1974.
Take away the three meaningless ninth-inning runs that the Phillies scored in Sunday’s loss to the Red Sox and the last time the two-time defending National League champions scored a run was seven days ago.
You can use the clichés – Raul Ibanez is (getting) old. Jayson Werth is buying into his own hype. Howard can’t hit lefties. Placido Polanco swings at everything. You can make excuses – Jimmy Rollins is hurt. The entire lineup is suffering because of injuries. Carlos Ruiz is “banged up.” The power hitters don’t hit when it’s cold out.
Oh, wait. Scratch that last one.
Whatever the reason may be, there is one way to look at the current state of the Phillies: “Don’t worry. They’re always like this in April and May.”
Right now, on May 28, the Phillies are currently clinging on to first place with a record of 26-20. In 2009, on the same day, the Phillies were 25-20 and facing recent struggles. In 2008, the Phillies were 24-22 after 46 games – and again, struggling.
How did they respond?
Well, in ’08, they only won 12 out of the next 14 games (15 of 19, as well). In ’09, the Phillies answered with a seven-game winning streak. Both seasons concluded with Philadelphia playing in October in the Fall Classic.
I may be a Phillies fan and biased towards thinking this team can do no wrong until another team claims the National League title, but I also do realize that this slump feels about as long as a bad Kevin Costner movie.
And like almost any movie the one-time Ray Kinsella has done in the past 16 years – it needs to end, quickly.
Rollins is back on the DL, but he has been there for almost the entire year and the Phillies have still maintained first place for nearly the entire past two months. Brad Lidge will be back any day now and as for Ryan Madson, well, hopefully his team’s recent struggles don’t anger him too much.
Charlie Manuel recently held a closed-door meeting. It apparently didn’t help. Cole Hamels came out and pitched his third straight (and fourth out of five) quality start. And by quality start, I don’t mean the Major League Baseball version that says a 4.50 ERA is “quality.”
For the fifth consecutive game, Hamels pitched well enough for his team to win – if his team knew how to hit a ball. That is, of course, if the Phillies didn’t nearly get no-hit by a pitcher with an ERA of nearly 6, or a knuckleballer who is almost as old as Jamie Moyer didn’t pitch his best game in years.
This was a team that was supposed to cruise through the entire season – through a less-than-par National League that featured maybe one or two legitimate threats, at most.
And it still should be.
For the first month, outside of the great Roy Halladay, it seemed pitching was the problem. Now, it seems as if the offense is taking longer breaks than Jayson Werth’s razor has in 2010.
After Thursday’s game, Manuel said: “If I could fix it, we’d never lose.”
The problem is, to fix something, you must first find the problem?
What exactly is the Phillies’ problem right now? I’m not sure, but I know I wouldn’t mind waiting until they’re no longer in first place to make that assessment.
At this rate, that could inevitably be sooner than later. But as recent history tells us, this Phillies team will give us little to worry about.
I mean, let’s just take a deep breath and realize three things.
One: It’s still only May. Two: The Phillies are in first place. And three: The Flyers are in the Stanley Cup.
Also, Roy Halladay is still a Phillie.
Things are good for Philadelphia sports fans. Hell, it could be worse. It could be 2005 again.
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