Laying The Blame For Another Bad Start

Before the season even started, Charlie Manuel asked for patience from fans and the media. He asked for a 35 game honeymoon, so to speak. For most fans watching the Phillies trudge through yet another mediocre opening month of the season, this whole saga is starting to feel like deja vu all over again. With a lineup that has been together for the past three seasons and finally has it's country club atmosphere it so desired, 35 games is practically an eternity.

To say that this franchise as a whole has tested the patience of its fan base throughout its history would be a vast understatement. In their 122 years of existence the Phillies have won just a single World Series championship, and that was 25 years ago. Many fans are so outraged that they spend most evenings at Citizens Bank Park chanting "E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!" And then, there are the 20,000 fans who show up every night dressed as empty seats.

Mike Lieberthal wondered aloud after the opening series against the Nationals "Where are all the fans?" Well Mike, perhaps they are frustrated by the lack of pennants dangling in the outfield wind at Citizens Bank Park, maybe they missed all of those glory days that were supposed to be brought upon by the acquisitions of Jim Thome, David Bell, Kevin Millwood and Billy Wagner in recent years, or is it possible that they simply have had enough of your .215 batting average, 4 RBI and terrible performance with runners in scoring position? Think that may have something to do with the empty seats and boos that cascade upon you as you step up to the plate night after night?

This lineup that supposedly was loaded, has come up empty time and time again where it counts, on the field.

It's becoming apparent that Pat Burrell and Jim Thome simply cannot coexist in the same lineup. For whatever reason, when one has a solid season and puts up numbers at the plate, the other simply fizzles. It's well known that Burrell had been in a seemingly never ending slump the past two seasons, but he has come out of the gate with guns blazing this spring. Burrell fell one RBI short of the club record for April RBI, with 21. Thome on the other hand is hovering dangerously close to the Mendoza line, batting .203 with only 12 RBI. If these two power hitters could post numbers that they are capable of back to back in the lineup, then this could be one of the most powerful one-two punches in Major League Baseball. But in the three seasons since Thome was signed via free agency, that possibility has yet to materialize. Remember too, it was Thome who lobbied openly and eventually convinced the Phillies brass to bring Manuel into the fold in the first place.

The Phillies struggles haven't been limited to their futility at the plate. Yes, Brett Myers and Jon Lieber have started the season on a tear notching 5 of the clubs' 11 wins, but Vicente Padilla, Corey Lidle, Randy Wolf, and Tim Worrell have been directly responsible for 10 of Philadelphia's 13 losses in the month of April. When a pitching staff struggles, it is a reflection on two things. First and foremost it shows the ineptitude of the pitchers involved, and secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it is a direct correlation between the manager's ability to control the flow of the game and the result of the match up in question. There were at least three situations in which the Phillies held leads in the eighth inning, with one out and instead of going to Billy Wagner to get the final five outs of the game, Manuel chose to leave Worrell in the game to get bombed by opposing hitters. Yes, Larry Bowa's management of the pitching staff was questionable at times throughout his tenure, but at least the previous regime knew how to correctly execute the double-switch, something that has been Manuel's achilles heal to begin the 2005 season.

Between the Phillies futility at the plate and pitching that often leaves the game way out of reach before the sixth inning, this ballclub is destined for a long and disastrous summer. The indecisiveness of the manager to choose between playing the present and future second basemen and the veteran who should have been traded at the deadline last summer, who is managing to hit .270 when he's not complaining about his playing time, could prove to be the downfall of this club's success now and in the future. His ineptitude as a gameday manager puts Danny Ozark to shame. But the players are happy and that's apparently all that matters in Phillieville.

In fairness, not all of the blame for yet another mediocre start for the losingest franchise in the history of professional sports can be blamed on Charlie Manuel. He simply is in over his head, and that is the responsibility of the man who hired him this past off season, general manager Ed Wade. Not only did Wade pass on signing a center fielder who truly could have been the difference maker in this lineup, and refused to trade for the starting pitcher who would have returned this rotation to respectability, but he also passed over the best managerial candidate to visit this city since Dallas Green.

Jim Leyland practically got down on his knees and begged for the Phillies managerial position. Callers flooded the switchboards on Philadelphia sports radio offering to pick Leyland up at the airport and show him around town before dropping him off at his office at Citizens Bank Park. Yet Wade ignored Leyland's career achievements, including three division championships and the World Series ring he wears on his right ring finger that he earned during his 14 years as a manger. Instead, he opted for the mild mannered Manuel whose goal to do everything in his power to appease his players has been made loud and clear on numerous occasions this season. In essence Wade has allowed the inmates to run the asylum and sooner or later, Manuel, the underachieving veteran nucleus of this club and even Wade himself may find themselves being run right out of town. Then, and only then will Phillies faithful get to give that tour after all.


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