CD's Connect the Dots... Bad Taste

Well, now that certainly was fun wasn't it? About as much fun as going to the dentist or paying bills. Let's face it, this year has not seemed right from the day we woke up to a 1-6 record and have been listening to excuses about the team's record ever since. And now we sit at 46-41, with a three day respite from what has seemed like an interminably long walk into oblivion. Yet somehow, someway, in first place. What can we expect in the second half, and do we have a chance of standing tall?

This much is clear. The Phillies are the weakest first place team in baseball and I am quite sure that there are three other teams in our division that are convinced of their superiority. And why not? We have shown little propensity for beating the Mets or Braves when it counted, and we have shown no propensity at all for defeating the Marlins.

Unfortunately, it could get worse before it gets better. Remember, we had that 14 game homestand to hang our hats on and even the most pessimistic of fans felt 9-5 would be a worst case scenario. No less an authority that resident veteran catcher Todd Pratt made it clear that anything less than 11-3 would be unacceptable. Well, my friend, may I introduce you to Mr. Unacceptable, as in 8-6.

If this column sounds a bit irascible, it is meant to. This team has under performed all year, and we have been bombarded not with accountability, but excuses. Too many injuries, too many home runs at the new ballpark, too many bad calls by the umpires. No one has been more prone to excuse making than our resident skipper, Larry Bowa, who seems to have it as his goal to be thrown out by every umpire in the National League.

Friends, while this may make for good theater, it does nothing to ease the soul of the troubled mind of an umpire, and you can be sure that they not only compare notes, but make sure Mr. Bowa is not on their Christmas Card List of Favorite Baseball Managers.

As I have mentioned on more than one occasion, I loved Larry Bowa, the shortstop defensive genius. His spit and grime personality was the ultimate elixir for the more casual atmosphere constructed by sluggers Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski. Yet, it has become more than clear to me that this talent on the field has not, nor will it ever transfer to the dugout.

Frankly speaking, Larry Bowa is just not a very good manager. He loves the Phils, but love alone is not enough. On an almost nightly basis, we find ourselves outmaneuvered and out managed by the likes of Bobby Cox, Jack McKeon, Dusty Baker, Tony Larussa and even Art Howe.

Yet Bowa is far from the only problem, though I believe he is the most serious one. At this stage of the campaign, the Phils, simply put, have a terrible starting rotation. If not for Eric Milton's 11 wins, our staff would be in shambles, and if not for a fine bullpen, we might find ourselves four or five games out of first place.

Kevin Millwood has been a bitter disappointment and rumors are rampant of his impending departure via trade. Vicente Padilla is currently injured, and although this mysterious date of August 11 has somehow been floated around as the date of his possible return, it seems unlikely that we can count on him in the second half.

Randy Wolf is throwing like a pitcher with a sore elbow, and no team counting on the Abbott's and Powell's of the world can reasonably expect to make an October appearance in the playoffs.

As mentioned, the bullpen has for the most part been a revelation, from Tim Worrell to Billy Wagner, but mostly from rookie Ryan Madson. His efforts have been Herculean, and should he hit the proverbial wall in August as many rookies do, the Phils dog days of late summer may seem like an endless walk through the desert sand.

Now that we have that out of the way, the next question becomes, "Are there any straws to grasp, any hope to quell the rising tide of discontent?" In fact, there are a few, though it takes powerful binoculars to sift through the rubble of inconsistent play, and long periods of falling behind early in the game.

For all their foibles, the Phils have shown a remarkable resiliency about them. Indeed, the 8-6 homestand could have been infinitely more distasteful if not for several late game rallies. The Phils pulled victory out of the hat of defeat on at least four occasions on this home stand alone, and have won a remarkable 27 come from behind games already this season.

This shows character, and it will take a yeoman's seasons worth of it to overcome the resurgent Braves, cocky Mets and World Champion Marlins and win the NL East. For the true reality is that at this point in the season, the Phils are heading into the second half of the race as the fourth most talented club in the division.

Another straw of hope is the middle of the order trio of Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome and Pat Burrell. All three are on pace for seasons of near 120 RBI, and each in his own way has fueled more than one memorable rally with a power packed performance.

Add to this the improved play of Jimmy Rollins and Mike Lieberthal as well as the steady as they go professionalism of third baseman, David Bell, and there were more than a few pluses as the Phils paused to collect their respective breaths.

Yet simple math tells a person that six regulars have been mentioned in a lineup that features eight. Two spots are conspicuous by their absence, second base and center field. It is my contention that the Phils should think long and hard about placing new regulars in these two spots soon after the break.

Although Placido Polanco is a Bowa favorite, and as calming an influence as is available anywhere, the simple truth is that Chase Utley makes them a better ball club. His defense may be spotty, and he hasn't the experience of Polanco, but there is a gritty quality to Utley that is badly needed by this team. It would not be the worst move in the world to consider trading the free agent to be Polanco for a trusty arm…. or a center fielder.

I know, I know, whenever I mention the need for a center fielder, I am bombarded with cries of Michaels and Ledee are fine, and Byrd will be back in his nest any day now. While this may be true, I still subscribe to an old Gene Mauch theory I learned long ago. When asked how he felt about having two shortstops, Bobby Wine and Ruben Amaro rotating on an almost daily basis, he replied that "when you play two shortstops, its because you have none."

These were very wise words indeed, and it is this writer's opinion that along with another dependable innings eating starting pitcher… repeat after me, Livan Hernandez, Livan Hernandez, the Phils must address the issue of center field.

For one thing, playing Michaels or Ledee on a semi regular basis takes them away from what they do best, come off the bench in a pinch. And for another thing, it encourages Bowa to play University of Penn favorite Doug Glanville too often.

Of all the Phillie moves in the off-season, undoubtedly the most short-sighted and ill-conceived was the signing of Glanville. Truth be told, he has hurt this club in ways that they probably don't even realize yet. Not just his .200 average, though that is painful enough.

Perhaps worse than that, it might have lead to the youngster, Marlon Byrd, having to look over his shoulder and worry about playing time, when he should have been worrying about improving his power stroke. This young man hit over .300 last year, yet had to listen to Bowa talk of giving Glanville playing time this season whenever Byrd struggled.

This talk was the worst kind of negative self-fulfilling prophesy and it is not at all surprising that Byrd's once promising career is now hanging in limbo. If the Phils brain trust is honest with themselves and fair to their fandom, they will quickly offer Glanville an administrative position with the club and replace him with a younger more talented player.

Finally, the Phils will have to find a way to beat the Marlins, as they will play them 13 times in the next few months. Considering their 0-6 record this season, and 2-18 record over the past 20 head to head meetings, this will be no small task.

Yet, it is a task that must be accomplished, along with acquiring a top starting pitcher, replacing Polanco with Utley and finding a capable day in day out center fielder. If this scenarios take place, then the first half struggles will just seem like a bad nightmare.

If not, then the only thing memorable about this season will be the 200 plus home runs the team hit, and the countless sellouts from a fan base far too trusting, and far from satisfied with what has been up to now a most tasteless campaign.

Columnist's Note: Please send any comments or suggestions to and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast

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