For Phillies, Complacency Started At The Top

The Phillies had a lot of high hopes coming into the 2003 season. The additions of Jim Thome, David Bell and Kevin Millwood seemed to be all that was needed to put this team into the playoff hunt. Literally from the beginning though, the Phillies weren't as good - especially offensively - as everybody had thought they would be. Then, a couple injuries hit and the front office stood by and watched as the season started a downward spiral.

Let's face it. During the offseason, the Phillies were somewhat lucky. If not for the Atlanta Braves needing to shed payroll, Kevin Millwood might not have fallen into their lap. Adding Millwood was a huge piece of the puzzle that the Phillies needed to push them along the road to success.

Millwood was dazzling in the early going, but the addition of Jim Thome and David Bell wasn't having its desired effect. The offense was stalled and only occasionally showed signs of what the Phillies thought could happen with their assembled cast of stars. Bobby Abreu was off to a somewhat slow start, Marlon Byrd was close to a trip back to Scranton and Pat Burrell was seemingly lost.

Then, injuries started to hit. Tyler Houston went down. David Bell finally hit the disabled list, admitting that he had been battling hip and back pain nearly all season. That was almost three weeks before the trading deadline. Also at that point, Brandon Duckworth was struggling in his role as the Phillies fifth starter.

On July 20th, Ed Wade added Mike Williams to the bullpen. Not necessarily a major pick up since Williams himself was struggling and the bullpen had been the strongest part of the Phillies team. Still, there were nearly two weeks until the trading deadline and although Ed Wade insisted that he didn't see anything else getting done, Phillies fans thought it was just posturing on the part of an experienced GM.

As the trading deadline hit, the Phillies did give an attempt at getting Jeff Suppan, but failed. They didn't really have any other irons in the proverbial trade fire and came away from the deadline talking about how they thought they didn't need to do anything to improve the club. Hello?

The problem with the Phillies has been somewhat of a domino effect. The weak offense meant that starting pitchers had to be perfect. When they weren't, the bullpen had to come in for more and more innings. Soon, the entire team was struggling and only a struggling Marlins team kept the Phillies on top of the wild card standings.

Now, the waiver trade deadline is approaching and the Phillies are still echoing the same worn out plans. 'We have a good enough team to win'. 'I don't think we need to make any changes'. Are those thoughts wrong? Yes and no.

First, let's assume that this team isn't good enough to win. That means they need help and Ed Wade is sitting idly by and watching everything fall apart. And, if the team is good enough to win, then the blame needs to fall partly on the players, but also on manager Larry Bowa. This team isn't winning! They are treading water and the wild card pool has gotten deeper and deeper.

The Phillies needed to bring in reinforcements at the trade deadline. A simple move or two would have told the players that the front office was doing all they could to push this team over the top. A key addition to the starting rotation - Suppan or Sydney Ponson would have been nice - could have saved the bullpen a lot of agony and added a big piece to the puzzle. A big bat - Brian Giles or Reggie Sanders - could have covered the hole exposed by Burrell and added punch to what should have already been a potent offense. Even going after Robin Ventura or grabbing Todd Zeile off of waivers might have helped. Instead, Ed Wade simply listened to those calls that he says he always gets and did nothing. Now, we're days away from the waiver deadline and again, Ed Wade is sitting tight.

As for Larry Bowa, just as Burrell has had a bad season, so has the Phillies manager. Yes, it happens. Managers have bad seasons. Bowa never adjusted to the fact that this team wasn't going to be an offensive powerhouse. He never resorted to being the "small ball" kind of manager that he was when he first came back to town. Hey, Larry, remember what a hit and run is? Instead, much like his boss, Bowa sat idly by afraid to be accused of being too emotional or offending any of his players with an outburst. The players tried to get things turned around. Even something as stupid as dying their hair blonde can sometimes help and it did for a while. It was something.

Watching the Phillies over the past week has been painful. The fundamentals are gone. Defensively, they look lost. Just in Monday night's game, Jimmy Rollins over-dives for a ball that should have been a double-play. Bobby Abreu makes a nice jump at the fence, but too bad the ball was three feet to his right. It's pitiful. Speaking of Abreu, where are the fundamentals in stealing a base with two outs and down by two runs in the ninth inning with Jim Thome at bat? The Cards were pitching around Thome, but what makes someone risk making the third out at second base with the middle of the order coming up? Don't even get me started on Jimmy Rollins and his knowledge of baseball fundamentals.

And why is Turk Wendell pitching four out of five days when just a few weeks ago, Bowa was saying that Wendell couldn't close because they didn't want him pitching on back-to-back days. Huh?

In the Batman movie, Jack Nicholson utters the line "this town needs an enema." Maybe Jack could amend his line to fit the Phillies team at this crucial point of the season.

Can the season be saved? Yes. Larry Bowa needs to go Mesa. Smash a table, yell at his players, kick over a fan - not the human kind, the mechanical kind - empty the bat rack, start the demolition of The Vet early. Something! Go nuts. Here's an idea - be Larry Bowa! Perhaps, Ed Wade also needs to make a trip to the clubhouse and remind everyone that they don't all have no-trade clauses in their shiny new deals - hear that Bobby and Pat - and that if they want to see Citizens Bank Park from the home dugout, the auditions begin now. And, oh yeah, Ed, return some phone calls and make even a minor deal to show that you're serious and that you do know how to make trades.

Yup, this team needs an enema. Or at least a good kick in the pants!


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