By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—Somewhere Chase Utley has to be smoldering. He’s not used to hearing this kind of talk, of how the 2014 Phillies’ season is shot before the first pitch is even thrown and some so-called prognosticators are calling for a 90-plus loss season. Actually no one from the 2008 World Series core group is accustomed to hearing the Phillies will finish last in the National League East.
But that seems to be the talk swirling around “Rhino’s Dinos.” It’s inescapable.
This week alone, ESPN’s David Schoenfield chimed in and predicted the Phils to be the second-worst team in baseball, just above the lowly Houston Astros. Schoenfield has the Astros going 61-101, and the Phillies a meager five games better at 66-96.
It says here a Francona-esque 72-90 is more likely, possibly making this season the worst the Phillies will have since going 65-97 under Terry Francona in 2000, Francona’s last year as Phillies’ manager.
And it’s exactly that harsh slap the Phillies will need to wake up.
It appears the Phillies will need to hit rock bottom before change comes.
Phils’ general manager Ruben Amaro says the Phillies have to score between 650 and 700 runs this season to be contenders and make the playoffs—all with the second-highest payroll in the National League, an estimated $159-million, behind the $216-million bankroll of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The last time the Phillies scored over 700 runs in a season was 2011, the historic 102-win year in which they were knocked out of the divisional round of the playoffs by the eventual World Series champ St. Louis Cardinals.
It was the last healthy season Ryan Howard had, hitting 33 homers and driving in 116 runs over 152 games. Since then, he’s played in a combined 151 games, hit 25 homers and drove in 79 runs. In 2011, Jimmy Rollins struck out a mere 59 times over 142 games, while that number exploded to 96 strikeouts over 156 games in 2012 and 93 over 160 games last year.
As a team, the Phillies have struck out a collective 1,024 times in 2011, saw that figure grow to 1,094 in 2012 and last year that total reached 1,205.
Is 36-year-old Marlon Byrd the answer? Probably not. As recent as two years ago it appeared as if Byrd was out of baseball, playing in just 47 games between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, hitting a scant .210. If you want to believe 2013 is a truer indication of Byrd, go ahead. He did play in 100 more games, hit a career-best 24 homers and drove in 88, the second-highest total of his career.
Through 71 career games played at Citizens Bank Park, however, Byrd has a .209 average with four homers and 17 RBIs. Make you feel any better?
At issue here is a management that never accepted the reality that a once-great team aged right before their very eyes. Once the Eagles stumbled to 4-12, drastic alterations were made and look what happened. Once the Sixers sunk to mediocrity, they opted to tank and retool. Look where it seems they’re headed.
But the Phillies have stayed pat. This season is the convincing year that change will inevitably have to be made to move forward. Amaro’s job will certainly be under more scrutiny, and the aging Utley, Rollins and Howard, though they may try to ignore the whispers their demise is near and they’re headed to the basement of the NL East, everyone else around apparently knows.
The countdown has begun for pitchers and catchers. It may not be much longer when we’re counting down the days to Eagles’ training camp in July.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.