Phillies 2015 – Week Eight
We’re two months into the 2015 season and more than six years into the Ruben Amaro Jr. Era of Phillies baseball. What was one of the best teams in the league has been transformed into one of the worst. This week we received a brief glimpse as to how and why this happened.
First of all, everyone here at The Cave would like to take a moment to appreciate the sacrifice of those who have fallen in defense of this nation. Thank you.
In Monday afternoon’s opener against the New York Mets, shortstop Wilmer Flores’ broke a 3-3 tie with a three-run homer off of Justin DeFratus in the sixth inning and the Phillies line-up did not have a hit after the fifth. Elvis Araujo, who we noted here a few weeks ago for winning his first game with only five pitches, took the loss after throwing only six pitches. Mets 6, Phillies 3.
The Mets jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning on RBI hits by Lucas Duda and Michael Cuddyer. After Mets’ starter Jacob deGrom retired the visiting Phils in order in the seventh, for the fourth time in the game, it looked as though those three runs may as well be 3000 runs. But, in the eighth, singles by Carlos Ruiz and Cesar Hernandez chased deGrom. Then, Ben Revere welcomed reliever Hansel Robles with a bases-clearing triple and scored on Freddy Galvis’ single to tie the game. Galvis would later score on Maikel Franco’s base knock to give the visitors a tenuous, if not altogether unexpected, one-run lead. A lead in the eighth inning is one of the few ‘sure things’ that Manager Ryne Sandberg has been able to depend on this season, set-up man Ken Giles and closer Jonathan Papelbon have been extraordinarily effective in shortening the games in which they were handed a lead. Unfortunately, for the first time this season, Giles was unable to hold a lead he was asked to protect and the 4-4 game went into the tenth inning. Again, as with Monday’s opener, it was Flores with the winning hit. Mets 5, Phillies 4.
The relative excitement and ultimate disappointment of Tuesday’s game was overshadowed by the maelstrom that blew through Phillies Nation after GM Amaro responded to a question about promoting their Double A and Triple A talent to develop at the major league level. Speaking of the fans, he said:
“They don’t understand the game. They don’t understand the process. There’s a process. And then they bitch and complain because we don’t have a plan. There’s a plan in place and we’re sticking with the plan.”
This, of course, sounded like the captain of a cruise ship who, after running the ship aground, begins to yell at the passengers about their lack of nautical acumen. Understandably, the proud and dedicated Phillie Phaithful grabbed their pitchforks and torches and began marching south down Broad Street. Amaro grew up in Philadelphia, his father played here, he played here, he was the assistant to Ed Wade and Pat Gillick for the better part of a decade before assuming the title of General Manager. If anyone on this planet knew the hell that these words would unleash, it should have been Ruben Amaro, Jr. Yet, there he was bouncing from sportstalk show to sportstalk show fumbling through mealy-mouthed apologies, deflecting questions about his failures and regurgitating talking points about the bright future.
If you can filter out the arrogance and condescension, what Amaro said was not entirely wrong. Of the millions of people weighing in at office water coolers, local saloons and on sportstalk radio about ‘calling up the kids’, only a tiny percentage have ever made the drive up 476 or out 422 to see these prospects actually play. Regardless of the effectiveness of their scouting staff, this organization is full of people who have seen these kids play … a lot. Yes, the Phillies have historically allowed fruit to over-ripen on their vines. But, unfortunately, until they can find new homes for names like Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, Ryan Howard and Ben Revere, we won’t be hearing names like Aaron Nola, Zach Elfin, Brock Stassi and Roman Quinn.
Wednesday afternoon in the series finale, it appeared as though, in an attempt to beat the rush hour traffic out of the Big Apple, the Phils just stuffed pillows into uniforms and shoved them onto the field while they high-tailed it out of town. The Mets scored in five of the first six innings, most notably on a Cuddyer home run, two dingers by Duda and the first major league round-tripper by rookie starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, on their way to hanging seven runs on Phils’ starter Sean O’Sullivan. Syndergaard put his bat down just long enough to stifle his punchless opponents into the eighth inning, scattering 6 hits and striking out six en route to his second career victory as the brooms came out in Queens. Mets 7, Phillies 0.
A much needed off day. The Phillies had played the maximum allowable stretch of 20 games in 20 days, ten at home followed by ten on the road. Their 9-11 mark was misleading inasmuch as six of those wins were in succession and that they were 2-7 since that streak ended. The bats, which had roared to life, had been quieted and the arms that had been carrying the team began to show some weakness. The sliding team needed to get its feet under it and dig in for some traction before it got swept away by the negative current. Fortunately, they were sending Hamels and Harang to the mound at Citizen’s Bank Park against a Colorado Rockies lineup that was fresh in their memory.
Unfortunately, the pillow-stuffed uniforms from Wednesday’s game had somehow found their way to Broad & Pattison. Rockies’ starter Chad Bettis, who entered this season with a career 1-5 record and an ERA on the wrong side of 6.00, looked like a Hall of Famer in retiring the first 18 Phillies he faced and carried a no-hitter into the eighth until newly recalled left-fielder Cody Asche grounded a single through the shift and into left field. Hamels allowed only five hits over eight innings of work while striking out nine. But, two of those hits were solo homers by Rockies’ shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and the Phils’ ace took the loss. Rockies 4, Phillies 1.
Aaron Harang took the ball, looking to halt the losing streak at five games. As Hamels had the night before, Harang allowed only two solo homers (to Nolan Arenado and Michael McKenry) and as the night before a relatively non-descript Rockies’ righthander, this time Eddie Butler, held the Phillies bats in check and Colorado was able to tack on insurance runs against a suddenly suspect Phillies bullpen. After leadoff hits in the ninth brought the tying run to the plate with nobody out, Rockies’ closer John Axford settled in and closed out the win. Rockies 5, Phillies 2.
Colorado, already leading 2-0 on a homer by Arenado off Jerome Williams, lost starter Jordan Lyles in the second inning when he aggravated a sprained toe trying to avoid Cody Asche’s line drive single. Catcher Cameron Rupp greeted Lyles’ replacement, lefty Chris Rusin, with a missile off the rightfield wall that scored Asche and cut the lead in half. Rusin settled in and stymied the home team into the seventh, where he allowed the first three hitters to reach and left the game, with the bases loaded, leading 4-1. His replacement, sinkerballing righty Brooks Brown promptly whiffed Rupp, pinch-hitter Darin Ruf and Revere to extinguish the threat and, with it, any real hope for the Phillies. Rockies 4, Phillies 1.
All of the momentum and good vibes we were feeling just a fortnight ago have been replaced by offensive somnambulance, a crisis of confidence in the bullpen and a midsummer malaise in late spring. Howard’s prodigious resurgence has waned, Franco’s impressive start has denigrated into only 5 hits in the last 11 games, Giles pinpoint control has been suspect, Galvis’ once shimmering .340+ average has been steadily trending downward, those are just a few examples.
This is the counter-point to Amaro’s incendiary comments earlier in the week. There is nothing to be lost if the season is sacrificed at the altar of player development. Bite the bullet, make the trades you can make. We all know that the chances of pulling in top-dollar for what you’re offering are low. So, find the value in making room for the kids.
As for ‘the plan’ of which he so assuredly spoke, you would be hard pressed to find a successful executive in any line of business whose ‘plan’ includes taking one of the preeminent companies in its industry and turning into a laughingstock as a means of ultimately making it more successful. Yet, this is the apparent arc of Amaro’s plan. That he is even involved in this rebuild is a condemnation of the Phillies ownership and of their top-level decision makers.
Looking ahead –
The Phillies hold their annual ALS fund-raising Phestival on Monday before hosting three-game sets with Cincinnati and San Francisco. The relative lack of anything noteworthy to watch for leads one to think that all hell may very well break loose this week.
‘Thanks for Stopping By’ of the Week –
The recall of Cody Asche as a newly-minted outfielder necessitated the release of Grady Sizemore. Once a highly touted Expos prospect, dealt with Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon … no seriously, that trade actually happened … he was an all-star in 2006, ’07 & ’08 for the Cleveland Indians. But, he never seemed to reach his full potential as injuries reduced his effectiveness in Cleveland and, briefly, in Boston. His time here was largely unspectacular as he never found any sort of rhythm or consistency. Hard to imagine there is much left in the tank for the soon-to-be 33 year-old Sizemore. We at The Cave wish him our best.
‘Show Me The Way To Go Home’ of the Week –
After going a lifeless 1-for-their-last-21 with runners in scoring position and not even plating a run with the one hit they managed, it is easy to wonder if this is some kind of bizarre aberration. Short answer … no. It is, in fact, an endemic plague throughout this lineup. After two months of baseball, here are the numbers:
With runners in scoring position – .217, with only 27 extra base hits and 116 RBI in 415 at-bats
With 2-outs and runners in scoring position – .205, 12 EBH, 46 RBI, 205 AB
I know what you’re thinking, this team was built for this ballpark, built around the three-run-homer. Welllllllllll, not so much … as of close-of-business Sunday, they had hit only 27 homers in 52 games, an unfathomable degree of anemia.
When your team isn’t hitting big flies, you had better ‘Get ‘em on, get ‘em over and get ‘em in’.