Hey! CD, how do you keep such a volatile group of players, from young sluggers and hurlers, to seasoned veteran s who know what it's like to be in the playoffs, together and focused when they're playing pretty good but chasing the best team record wise in the ML right now.
Anthony, a very good question and the answer may well determine the Phillies ultimate fate in the final three weeks of the season.
This Phils team is a mixture of tested playoff veterans like Jim Thome, Kevin Millwood, David Bell and Placido Polanco and young untested players like Marlon Byrd, Brett Myers, Chase Utley and Nick Punto. It also includes a strong core of players who were part of the 2001 club that chased the Braves until the final four days of the season. This group includes Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal.
It is my opinion that it will be the veterans who will need to step up and carry the Phils during the final three weeks for the Phils to achieve their goal. As pressure-packed as the games seem now, wait until next week when the Phils will play 13 of their final 19 games against the Braves and Marlins. EVERY one of those games will be mini-playoff games and it will behoove Thome and Millwood to lead the way with their play.
The youngsters seem almost oblivious to the pressure and I expect the 2001 core to perform as they have all year. Millwood must lead the pitching staff and Thome must lead the offense. Something important to watch for is the health of Polanco. His injury has been masked by the Phils stout play this week but I do not think the Phils can sustain it against the likes of the Braves and Marlins without the steady play of Polanco. His injury has me concerned and if he is not healthy for the final three weeks it may be asking too much of the Phils rookies to make up for his absence.
Q: On Free Agent Pickups, from Jose Rivera, Rhode Island
Hey! CD, Now that the Phillies will be moving to a new facility next year, will that help to get free agents and other heavy hitters to consider Philly more strongly?
Thanks for the question, Jose, and one that Phillies fans will be monitoring all winter regardless of how the 2003 season ends up. It is apparent that the Phils will be in the market for a bullpen closer, possibly another starter to replace Kevin Millwood, and perhaps a young catcher. The market has players that may appeal to the Phils, players like Keith Foulke, a relief ace with Oakland or Bartolo Colon, the standout starting pitcher with the White Sox.
It is my opinion that the recent clubhouse turmoil with Larry Bowa and his players could affect free agent decisions by some players. Lets face it, some players just do not like playing for an in your face manager like Bowa. This is not to judge his abilities, merely an honest answer to a perplexing question.
The Phils will have a major decision to make after the season ends and that decision will be who will mange the Phils in 2004. If Bowa returns, it may be difficult to lure free agents to the Phils despite the new ballpark. However, players enjoy winning and if Bowa can somehow lead the Phils deep into the playoffs, all may be forgiven and forgotten and the Phils may have another banner crop of free agents.
However, it is more likely that GM Ed Wade will be active on the trade front and watch for him to reacquire Curt Schilling from the D'backs. Shill is a natural fit to replace Millwood should Millwood return to Atlanta and with the D'backs cost-cutting measures, it might not take much to reacquire him.
Needless to say, the off-season for Phils fans will be an exciting one and culminate in the opening of Citizens Bank Park in April of 2004. It says here that Schilling will be the Phils opening game hurler in the new stadium.
Q: On Phillies Road Woes, from Alan Stager, Tampa Bay, FL
Hey! CD, Why do you think the Phils have such trouble winning on the road this year?
Alan, my friend, the answers are difficult to ascertain but need to be answered soon as they have 10 road games coming up in the next 17 days.
One possible reason is the Phils youth at certain positions like second base with Chase Utley and center field with Marlon Byrd. Traditionally young players perform better at home than on the road and this may have some affect on the Phils record.
Another possible reason is the Phils lack of a great closer, which affects pitching decisions staring in about the seventh inning. If you have a closer like John Smoltz or Eric Gagne, you establish a bullpen rotation with one objective in mind, to get to the ninth inning with a lead. When your closer is not as effective, it often changes what a manager can do with his pitching rotation. This has showed up on several occasions this year when Manager Larry Bowa removed starting pitchers earlier than he might have had the Phils closer situation been different.
One more factor, and it is an often overlooked one. This years Phils crowds have been loud, enthusiastic and supportive. In fact, I believe it has been the most vocal and supportive group of fans since 1993. This has helped the team on numerous occasions and has played a part in the Phils outstanding home record.
It would just stand to reason that the more fun it is to play at home, the more difficult it would be to leave home and go on the road. Just a thought with no real empirical proof to back it up. But fact is …. The Phils' winning or losing this wild card race depends entirely on how they perform and tackle the challenges on the road.
The Phils must have a decent road trip this week to Atlanta and Pittsburgh to guarantee that the final two weeks will be meaningful.
Columnist's Note: This ends today's edition of Hey! CD. I welcome comments & questions. Please send to email@example.com, and I will respond in a future edition of this column. Thanks for visiting, and see you next time! CD