By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —The omens came the first day of Spring Training, when Phils’ ace Cole Hamels opened by announcing he had biceps tendinitis and was behind schedule. That was followed by the supposed rift between Jimmy Rollins and manager Ryne Sandberg, a collective team hitting slump, and then for good measure, throw in some MRSA, which Freddy Galvis contracted.
Consequently, Galvis will start the regular season on the disabled list. With the recovering Hamels.
It’s a team that’s been breaking down the last three years: 102-60 in 2011 (knocked out by the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals); 81-81 in 2012 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2006; and 73-89 in 2013, the Phils’ worst record since 2000, under Terry Francona.
The Phillies should have transitioned a few years ago, seeing their aging core deteriorate before their eyes. What they’re left with are the remnants of the greatest era in franchise history—which they apparently seem reluctant to let go of. Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard aren’t Rollins, Utley and Howard anymore, circa 2008.
The disgruntled fanbase knows it. The intrepid media that covers the team knows it. Scouts that watch and analyze the Phils know it (“They’re awful,’ said one; “Painful to watch,” said another; and a third uttered, “Their window didn’t close slowly—it shut). The only ones that don’t get it, it seems, are the Phillies themselves.
What’s worse is seeing Rollins, Utley and Howard have to endure this, after providing Phillies’ fans, and the team, with an unforgettable decade. The Phillies, to their credit, showed incredible loyalty in locking them in and paying them exceptionally well for their service.
Seeing them today, however, and what the ravages of age and the pounding the game has done, is like watching a once-great fighter who’s lost his skills get pummeled every night.
That’s what might happen in 2014—and Phils’ general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged it.
“I think offensively we are a weaker offensive club,” Amaro told the Philadelphia Daily News. “We only scored 610 runs last year. That can’t happen again. So if we lose guys in the middle of the lineup again, we’re basically screwed. We need the production from the guys in the middle. Particularly [Ryan] Howard and [Chase] Utley and [Marlon] Byrd. We need those guys to produce and stay healthy. I mean, pitching is always the most important part, but if we don’t score runs with a team that was weak offensively last year, we’re going to be in trouble.”
The Phillies are going to be in trouble. You don’t have to be a baseball expert to see it.
Some prognosticators have them going 65-97 (Sports Illustrated). Others have them slightly better, at 71-91. And most, if not all, have them finishing either fourth, behind the Nationals, Braves and Mets, or last in the NL East, behind the lowly, though young, Miami Marlins.
It could be a long, long year at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies have been an outstanding 458-355 (.563 winning percentage) over the 10 years that they’ve played there.
This says here fourth place in 2014: 72-90.
Maybe it’s what finally has to happen for Amaro to break up this nucleus and admit it: The window has closed. Call 2014 the farewell tour for some of the best baseball players this town has ever seen.