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11/06/2004 Archived Entry: "Phillies Journal - 2004"

Phillies Journal - 2004
by Max Blue

Indeed it feels like the Phillies are dead. What began two years ago in bubbling excitement when Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood were signed has ended with yet another failed attempt to make the playoffs.

Final Standing of the Clubs – 2004
National League East
Atlanta (what else is new? 96 66
13 straight division
Philadelphia 86 76
Florida 83 79
New York 71 91
Montreal 67 95
National League Wild Card
Houston 92 70
San Francisco 91 71
Chicago 89 73
San Diego 87 75
Philadelphia 86 76

The Phillies fired Larry Bowa two days before the season ended and hired Charley Manuel a couple of days ago, passing up the chance to hire Jim Leyland who insisted that he really wanted the job. In his post-interview press conference Leyland said the biggest problem with the Phillies was they swung and missed too much; they had too many poor at-bats. Does anybody think a new manager will fix that?
In his press conference after he got the job, Charley Manuel said, “I’m the right guy for this job because I’m a motivator.” Does he think he can motivate his guys to not swing and miss so much?

But guess what? With all due respect for Jim Leyland and Charley Manuel, the reason the Phillies lost had nothing to do with hitting—big surprise—the problem was pitching. Wagner, Madson, Millwood, Padilla, and Wolf all missed major time on the disabled list. Eric Milton managed to win 14 games even though he gave up 43 homeruns—43!! Who did he think he was, Bert Blyleven? Robin Roberts? Right. You can make the Hall of Fame even though you give up a ton of homeruns. But don’t look for Eric Milton to make the HOF. Brett Myers was painful to watch—there were days when he was terrific followed by performances so bad you wanted to cry.

Speaking of crying. Pat Burrell must have the worst approach to hitting of anybody who has ever played the game. Don’t get me started on Burrell. Let’s talk about Jimmy Rollins, Polanco, Abreu, David Bell—all had great numbers. Jim Thome and Mike Lieberthal were pathetic with runners in scoring position, probably costing the Phillies a pennant. Sure, Thome had 42 homeruns and 105 runs batted in – he should have had 150. He started the season with a broken finger and a strained thumb and probably played all year with sore hands, but he didn’t want to make excuses and we never knew for sure except for the many times he checked swing and shook his hand hoping to stop the pain.

Chase Utley. You have to talk about Chase Utley. The ninth inning homerun off John Smoltz to tie a game the Phillies won in ten; a 95 mph fastball just below the knees that Utley slammed 400 feet over the centerfield fence—WOW! Fourteen homeruns and 53 RBIs in less than 300 at bats. He plays second base with grit, determination, and increasingly with skill. So now what? We already have a great second baseman in Placido Polanco. Polanco is a free agent; should we let him go? I don’t think so.

And what about Ryan Howard? Here is a kid who hit almost 50 homeruns between AA Reading, AAA Scranton-Willkes Barre, and the Phillies. He played enough in the Bigs to show he’s no fluke. A big raw-boned lefthanded slugger with a pretty good glove at first base. A young David Ortiz. But he’s not going to replace Thome. We’re told they might try to make a leftfielder out of him. Wouldn’t that be something? We wouldn’t have to watch Burrell’s frantic hacks.

So there it is. It’s over. We lost. The future is fogged.

Max is Blue
November 6, 2004.

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