Updated: Apr 30
The Phillies appear to be a good ballclub — good enough to make the playoffs. This fall, 12 major league teams will begin the playoffs (compared to 10 in 2021); that's 12 out of 30.
Indeed, the Phillies are good enough to be one of 12. Besides, now with the designated hitter rule balancing baseball — finally — the Phillies appear better offensively than in previous years. But how much better? And will it overcome its defensive shortcomings?
The truth is, we don't know yet: they hit sometimes and have good pitching other times. And sometimes they play poor defense.
Girardi can use the DH to balance the lineup and rest players in the dog days of August and September. The DH changes the game. It will mean more runs scored, extend players' careers, but will end bunting as we knew it, eliminate double switches and make the game faster — if that's what the Gods of baseball want, a faster game.
Lookit, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were the Phillies.
Corn will be knee high by the Fourth of July, but will the Phillies?
Some things in baseball can be the kiss of death.
Not hustling; mouthing, "I hate this f'en place;" criticizing The Faithful while they pay your salary; leaving Philly after signing a humongous salary elsewhere (see Jason Wirth).
Not blocking the plate with a runner bearing down (see Rod Barajas).
But this one, this one, can be the biggest kiss of death: Expectations.
A player is EXPECTED to be a star before playing one major league game (see Scott Kingery.)
A team is EXPECTED to be great before it plays a game and is EXPECTED to win the NL East and World Series.
See the 2022 Phillies.
Two players: Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, set the city baseball fans — here called The Faithful — on fire. Ticket sales, both season and single-game — immediately surged upward. The Comcast television broadcasters stopped talking nonsense. Yeah, well forget that one.
Two players who weren't exactly Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, uplifted The Faithful's expectations — who fondly remember the days of Chase, Jimmy, and Ryan — and were starving for a trip to the playoffs.
Starving so much that when the Phillies threw them a bone, they ate it up and licked the plate clean. They bought the theory that these two players were their ticket to October baseball.
No ifs, whens, and buts about it.
Two cloth manufacturers that make the small white towels hired new employees to handle this fall's EXPECTED business. McCarthy went on a diet, and Kruck got a new hat.
Dan Baker started practicing the Yankees' names, "enunciating them," as he likes to say. "Now batting for the Yankees, number 27, Giannn - Carlooooo Stan - ton."
Two players. But nobody thought of telling the Mets, Nationals, Braves, and Marlins, who currently happen to be in front of the Phillies in the NL East standings — and all passed on Schwarber and Castellanos before the Phillies signed them.
But, with every disaster, there's silver lining.
The Phillies are in last place.
Repeat the above sentence because that's the silver lining. That's right, repeat it and smile.
When they hit the cellar, the EXPECTATIONS when poof, like a dandelion in late summer. Quickly, The Faithful got ahold of themselves. They woke up. My God, what were we thinking?
We can get real again with the expectations gone like a Septa trolley car. There's still a lot of time to play baseball. A lot of time. And there's work to be done.
Dombrowski, you want to make the Hall of Fame, repair the Phillies.
There's the bullpen — it needs help. There's the manager — is he the right one? I'm not saying he isn't. I'm just saying. The Faithful are beginning to whisper.
Centerfield has been a disaster. But let's face it, the youngster Matt Vierling isn't the only underachiever. This team is full of them.
The rotation needs help. Wheeler might have to be shut down until he's healthy. Nola needs offensive support. Eflin and Suarez have to step up.
But now that the EXPECTATIONS are gone, we can begin again — the right way. Many parts of the Phillies are good. Better than good.
The team can win. And CAN is better than EXPECTED.
As my old baseball coach used to say, "Shit or get off the pot."
Previous New Day Dawning
Philadelphia's official bird was just jolted awake.
It wiped the sleep from its eyes and got dressed. Madder than hell that it got dupped, it grabbed the morning paper and looked up the date the Phillies return. It jotted down April 22, Brewers.
In Philadelphia, it's not nice to dupe The Faithful.
Giddy and in such a good mood seeing the new Phillies lineup, The Faithful even threw a bone to the third baseman: It's okay kid, we know young and stupid, here. Don't worry about it.
"I hate this f'en place?" How else can you explain why The Faithful didn't take the kid's head off the next time he stepped to the plate?
It's not nice to dupe The Faithful. And when The Faithful gets mad, this usually follows: "BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO."
And then some.
Already, there are those The Faithful are watching, and the third baseman isn't even in the top five.
1. Manager Joseph Elliott Girardi, who has not played a game in October in his first two years with the Phillies — even with the stud billionaire, MVP hitting third. And now, with an all-star cast, he can't keep the team above .500.
Besides, Girardi's moving guys around like the last manager did, and The Faithful got him exiled to the west coast, never to be seen again (The Faithful doesn't follow west coast teams, they don't stay up that late.)
2. Kyle Schwarber, who drove one into the right-field porch first time up and sent The Faithful into a frenzy. Since then, he's been three for thirty-two. In case you're not keeping score, three for thirty-two on the calculator shows .094. To boot, he's averaging over $20 million a year for four years.
3. Zach Eflin, injured for most of last season with some kind of knee thingy, Eflin has been an enigma . The Faithful are asking: "Can this guy pitch or not?" Yesterday, he didn't make it to the fifth.
And here's something else that annoys them: The Phillies traded icon shortstop Jimmy Rollins for Eflin, and so far, Eflin has had — arguably — one good season. He's 33-41. Damn, are you kidding me? Jimmy would have won more games than that.
4. The bullpen. We've been told the bullpen is different this season. So we bought it. They got rid of Hector, didn't they? They then signed a dominate closer.
Uh-huh, maybe so, but The Faithful are scoring it up, and so far, the bullpen numbers don't add up. These people watch everything.
5. Aaron Nola. He was the club's ace — meaning the club's best pitcher. Then Zach Wheeler came along and said, "Move over, kid, let me show you how it's done." Since then, Nola's pitched more like the ten of diamonds.
Last season, he had too many awful games, and this year, he's being watched by you know who. And let me tell you, they know the difference between a Steve Carlton and a Vince Velasquez.
Lookit, the Phillies have plenty of time to turn it around. It's early. But as Yogi said, "It gets late early around here."
And Harry would reply: "Right you are, Yogi. Ah, what do you think about that, Wheels?"
The Faithful can be patient for a while, but here's what can happen if Girardi and company don't turn it around:
The first time Kyle Schwarber takes a third strike with the bases loaded, watch out.
The next game that the bullpen blows a save — or if Eflin or Nola get hammered early, watch out.
And if Girardi can't get this all-star cast above five hundred by Memorial Day.
Double watch out!
Because The Faithful say, "You can fool me once, shame on you. You can fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, and the wrath of hell will be upon you."
It's two and counting.