The Phillies hit a low-water mark for the season after Tuesday night’s 11-7 loss at Minnesota. They were a season-low 5 games below .500 and a season-high 9.5 games out of first place.
After pointing out last week what seems to now be obvious – that the NL East being a close race is a myth – the issue now shifts to whether the Phillies’ 2012 season is already over.
Yes, the 2007 Phillies were as far as 8.5 games behind – and 7 games behind as late as September 12.
The 2010 Phillies were 7 games behind on July 22. They traded for Roy Oswalt a few days later, went 49-19 and blew away the competition in the NL East.
But is there anyone who believes that the current Phillies team is as good as the 2007 team or the 2010 team? Even when all injured players return sometime in late July this season, can the Phillies play .700 ball again – with an unbalanced schedule and improved competition in the division?
It’s possible – but not likely.
Realistically, if you had to say yes or no to the Phillies making the postseason, the smart money says that their chances are less than 50-50, so the odds say “no” even if the heart wants to say “yes.”
Two out of three ain’t bad: After dropping the first game in Minnesota, the Phillies won their first series since beating the Mets on May 30, four series prior. Since that win, the Phillies went 2-9 before winning the last two at Target Field.
On target: Speaking of Target Field, Jim Thome made his return to Minnesota, receiving two standing ovations in the process. One was understandable, and maybe even expected, when he was introduced at the plate in the series opener. But on Wednesday night, Thome’s 466 foot blast over the center field batting eye drew gasps and then another spontaneous ovation.
Thome is the Phillies’ hottest hitter right now (11-20, 3 HR, 13 RBI in 6 games as DH) – which is a shame in some ways, because the Phillies have announced that Thome will not play in the field again this season, leaving him to DH three more times in Toronto before being relegated to pinch-hitting duty over the final 90+ games of the season.
Knowing what to do: I have been critical of the way Ruben Amaro, Jr. put the bench and bullpen together for the 2012 Phillies, and also of his failure to recognize the need to trade for Ernesto Frieri and sign Mike Gonzalez – instead relying on a past-his-prime Chad Qualls, riding out a 2-year deal for a 40-year old Jose Contreras and getting about 2 months out of him, and throwing AAA pitchers Michael Schwimer, Raul Valdes, Joe Savery, Jake Diekman and B.J. Rosenberg into the fire in the season’s first 60 games.
Then again, it’s also fair to dole out criticism to manager Charlie Manuel. Instead of recognizing that Qualls no longer misses bats the way he used to, Manuel made Qualls a late-inning option and didn’t adjust until Qualls blew 4 saves. Now Manuel is willing to use Jonathan Papelbon in the 8th inning (we examined this in our May 5 Phillies Notebook), when Papelbon has shown in the past that he can do just that.
Ty Wigginton‘s defense at third base cost the Phillies dearly in Baltimore. Only after the games were lost did Manuel turn to Mike Fontenot at third in Placido Polanco‘s absence (injured finger), and Fontenot responded with two spectacular plays in a losing effort Tuesday.
The only new player that Manuel has used appropriately from the get-go has been Juan Pierre. And even with Pierre, who has almost exclusively batted second, there is a viable argument that Pierre should have been leading off instead of Jimmy Rollins.
In short, it would help the Phillies a lot to have a manager who pushes the right buttons in anticipation of what might happen, not just in reaction to what did happen.
Hamels, Blanton shine: Cole Hamels continued his pursuit of a 20-win season in his walk year by winning his 9th game Wednesday – after having dropped his prior 2 decisions. Joe Blanton‘s up-and-down season continued Thursday, with Blanton pitching his second complete game of the season (tops on the team), winning his 6th game (second only to Hamels), and lowering his ERA to 4.93.
Utley to return by July 3rd: With Chase Utley starting a rehab assignment this week, barring the dreaded setback, rules require his activation within 20 days of the start of the rehab assignment – which would mandate a return to the Phillies by no later than July 3 at Citi Field.
As an aside, Utley went 0-5 with 3 strikeouts in his first rehab game in Clearwater, and drew boos in his last at bat.
With Freddy Galvis in a back brace with a pars fracture in his vertebrae, Michael Martinez has been seeing the bulk of the playing time at second base. The urgency to get Utley back has increased exponentially with Galvis out and the Phillies skidding.
Looking ahead: The Phils wrap up their AL road trip with 3 games in Toronto this weekend, with Vance Worley, Cliff Lee (still winless) and Kyle Kendrick facing Drew Hutchison, Ricky Romero and Henderson Alvarez. The Phillies then return home and kick off a 10-game homestand after a Monday off-day with 3 each against the Rockies and Rays and then 4 against the Pirates. The Phillies would have to go 9-1 or 10-0 to get their home record (currently 12-19) back to .500 or better.