“Charlie Manuel’s steady job as manager of the National League all-star team will be on the line in the months ahead. The gig, which goes to the NL representative in the World Series, is well-deserved this year.
In the middle of last week, Manuel made a few pointed remarks about the funk that had settled on his Phillies. They were playing, he said, without “that edge” that defined them as they developed into contenders and then champions over the last few years. Manuel didn’t use the word complacency, but there was no mistaking his meaning.
The Phillies won their next four games, including three extra-inning thrillers in a row, all against the first-place Cincinnati Reds. On the final weekend before the all-star break, with their manager’s words still echoing, the Phillies finally looked like the Phillies again.
It is at such times that Manuel’s normal, steady approach really pays dividends. If he were the sort of manager who spouted off after every loss, or who played mind games with players when they struggled, he wouldn’t have the same impact when he did speak up. This team knows that when Chuck gets upset, there’s a legitimate reason.
So what are we to make of these Phillies at the break? They teased us with a rare strong start, hit a feel-good zenith with Roy Halladay’s perfect game on May 29, and then tumbled from first place to third during the first two weeks of June. Their powerful offense has disappeared for long stretches and their pitching has been inconsistent.
And yet, you can make the case that this team has done well to be in position to make a second-half run, and that Manuel deserves a fair amount of credit for not letting things spin out of control.
Explanation: The Phillies have not allowed this brutal rash of injuries to destroy the season completely. And it really has been that bad, even if many fans and most media pretend otherwise.
One reason these last few years have been so special is that these Phillies are a team in the truest sense. They are not merely a collection of stars, like the Yankees. They are a team, and that means chemistry and consistency are as much a part of their success as sheer talent.
Take Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Placido Polanco, and Chase Utley out of the lineup for long stretches and there are bound to be consequences. That is half the starting eight. Rollins, Polanco and Utley are the first three hitters, the ones who jump-start the offense. If it seems obvious that injuries are the main culprit in the Phillies’ inconsistent season, then why has there been so much ire directed at general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.?
Amaro absolutely should be aggressive in improving this team before the trade deadline. But it is unrealistic to expect him to wave his magic wand and replace half of the best lineup in the National League.”