Friday, April 20, 2007

These are the times that try men's souls... or something like that

With a 4-10 record, the Phillies are the worst team in Major League Baseball. That should be surprising. After all, a lot of smart people who get paid a more-than-fair wage to know specifically about such things believed that the Phillies were not only the team that should win the NL East, but also were a team that could go to the World Series.

I never believed any of it. Not that the Phillies were a playoff team, a division-winning team, or a World Series-bound team. For some reason, Pat Gillick’s assessment from last July that his team was at least two years away from competition for a wild-card spot made sense. Maybe I was wrong not to move past that, but for some reason it just seemed to make sense even though the Phillies went on that late-season tear to crawl into the playoff chase.

Apropos of nothing, if I were the commissioner of baseball, football or hockey, I would not allow people that operate a gambling web site to have access to my teams in any way shape or form. I most definitely would not issue them press credentials.

Regardless, no one – from the folks who thought the Phillies were playoff-bound in 2007, to the folks who thought they’d win another 85-88 games like they do every year – believed the Phillies would have stumbled out of the gate so poorly. The worst record in baseball just two weeks into the season was inconceivable, but that’s where we are. The New York Times even documented the team's swoon.

To get out of it, Charlie Manuel took his Opening Day starter, the same guy the team’s brass invested nearly $26 million in for the next three season, and shifted him to the bullpen. Yes, the bullpen has been the bane for the Phillies, and yes, it is the one thing the manager, pundits, scouts and other team officials said was the team’s biggest weakness, but to move the team’s best starter to the bullpen is really remarkable.

In doing so, a few things must be going on. One is that Gillick must be committed to Manuel for better or for worse. The reason for this belief is because Gillick ultimately had the final say in whether Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee’s plan to make Myers a reliever would occur. So in agreeing to the plan Gillick is backing the manager’s plan to remove a guaranteed 200-plus innings from the starting five. That comes to nearly seven innings per outing every five days.

That’s a brave decision. Some say a desperate decision.

Another train of thought could be that Gillick still believes what he said last July and is still tinkering and retooling. According to what the GM said when dealing away Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle was that 2007 was going to be a rebuilding or wash-out year. As of right now that is very much the case unless something happens.

Very quickly.

Apropos of nothing, I’ve witnessed Charlie Manuel get angry. More than a few times, as a matter of fact.

Regular readers of this site know that I’m no fan of sports talk radio. That’s mostly because it makes me feel stupid or like I need to take a shower. And certainly I don’t need any help feeling stupid. There are exceptions to this, of course. Occasionally, Marcus Hayes appears on the local NPR station to talk about baseball and it’s always very good. The discussions are informative, engaging and civil and Marcus is well-behaved, too. Be that as it may, when I’m off the NPR jag I like to listen to Keith Olbermann on Dan Patrick’s show. In fact, I subscribe to the podcast so that I can listen in my car when I’m on the way home from the ballpark late at night…

Anyway, Olbermann and Patrick were discussing the Phillies on the April 18 edition of the show where they did not express any type of surprise at the team’s rough start. Actually, Olbermann says he expected it and even played old shows to prove he just wasn’t whistling a dirge.

Dan Patrick: Keith Olbermann called it during spring training pertaining to the Phillies’ chances this year.

Keith Olbermann: I’m a little worried about the Phillies. What I saw there looked like chaos to me and I don’t know if it’s going to go well.

Olbermann added:

“I think Charlie Manuel is going to get fired. I think the Phillies have woefully mismanaged their pitching staff. They have starters who should be relieving and relievers who should be starting and it’s a mess. The batting order is a mistake. Pat Burrell was not the guy to bat behind Ryan Howard and it’s going to ruin Ryan Howard this season and it’s even going to hurt Chase Utley ahead of him because they’re going to pitch around Howard and Utley isn’t going to have a chance to steal bases. Wes Helms at third base might be a good hitter, but they are just now noticing that he might not be the most mobile infielder. There are a lot of problems and I’m not really sure if Charlie Manuel is a good manager.”

Listen to the entire segment here, where the duo discusses the Philadelphia media, a certain local AM radio host that whines when his name is not specifically used when being referenced, as well as the team’s history as the losingest franchise in North American sports history. Check it out.

Anyway, Manuel didn’t hide the fact that he would not have moved Myers to the bullpen and Jon Lieber back to the rotation if the team was 10-4 instead of 4-10. Yes, the desperation is that obvious.

Apropos of nothing, the second one stars in a commercial or asks for an autograph, that person is no longer a journalist.

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