These aren’t exactly desperate times for the Phillies, but they’re getting there. While everyone has their own theories on what ails this flagging team, there are some who watch Major League Baseball for a living and evaluate tendencies of players and teams that have their own ideas.
“What I see is a tired, anxious team at the plate that is pressing and trying to live up to all the lofty expectations that were placed on them before the season,” one Major League Baseball insider recently told me. “This used to be a team that was considered very good, and well-respected throughout the league, and it still is. The big difference I see is that the Phillies came into this season expected to win the World Series, not just contend, as they have the last three years. They’re playing under a different set of rules now, against teams that are a lot better than what they went up against to win the last three years. I have news for you, the Atlanta Braves are not going away.
“You have a bunch of character guys in that Phillies’ clubhouse, but a bunch of guys who are pressing from the pressure. They’re in a big ditch and the more they seem to push, the deeper the ditch gets. They’re not the same at the plate. A lot of these guys aren’t as patient as they were in past years. You saw that Sunday with a lot of guys swinging at the first pitch. This is also a group that’s played more games than anyone, and because of their success, they’ve been stretched like never before in the off-season. That’s time usually committed to working out. Their past success and magazine covers haven’t exactly translated well on the field this year, has it? Maybe this will all change when [Jimmy] Rollins comes back. I don’t know.”
Currently residing in third place in the National League East, the Phils are 5.5 games out of first place, which matches the largest difference from first they were in since April of last year. The latest the Phillies were 5.5 games out of first place prior to this season came in 1997, when they trailed the New York Mets by 5.5 on September 14, 1997. We all know what happened that year, when the advent of this magical course began with the Phils nabbing their first postseason berth since 1993 (thanks also in part to a historic Mets’ collapse).
Can this ship be steered in a different direction?
“Yea, I think so, there’s too much talent on this team for this to be happening,” the MLB insider told me. “I watch this team constantly, and they haven’t changed too much. They’re still the same even-keeled group that doesn’t get too high or too low about anything. But I really don’t remember this group having many player-only meetings as they’ve had this year. Then when I saw them really poop the bed against Minnesota after the game they blew in the ninth, I really don’t know what to think. This team is going against a better group of teams, and the book is out on these guys. They’re in a division with better players and better pitchers that can execute those game plans. The Phils haven’t shown an ability to adjust. They’ve looked tired.”
The Phils still have first-place Atlanta nine more times this season and the second-place Mets 12 more times. But they also have the much-improved Washington Nationals when the sensational Stephen Strasburg is on the mound–far from an easy task. What ails the Phillies may not be curable. What it may take is a bad season for the front office to wake up and realize Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez, Greg Dobbs, Danys Baez, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton aren’t exactly the players they thought they would be.
Maybe the Phils are a tired, anxious team.