Cellar Dwelling Phillies Look For Answers

The Last Place Phillies ended the week taking two of three against the Chicago Cubs, perhaps the only team more star-crossed than the Fightins. Meanwhile, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton and Tim Worrell landed on the disabled list. Help arrived from AAA as slugging phenom Ryan Howard, red hot Marlon Byrd and pitcher Robinson Tejeda are in uniform and ready to go as the Phillies try to get on a roll this week against Milwaukee's Brew Crew and the Cincinnati Reds.

Last week the Phillies touched a new low, losing 3 of 4 against the Mets and falling deeper into last place, 6.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves. Two wins against the slumping Cubs this weekend were just what the Phillies needed, though it was not enough to lift them out of the cellar. In fact, the rest of the NL East is pulling away from the Phillies, who are three games behind the next-to-last Mets. A 9-15 record within the division is simply no way to win it.

The Phillies are going to have to turn it around this month to preserve any real hope of contention. To make the playoffs, they are going to have to win three out of every five games the rest of the way, playing at least .600 ball. With 130 games left, that would give them 92 wins, probably just barely enough to win the Wild Card.

More than anything, the Phillies still need to face the hard facts about their starting pitching. Vicente Padilla is not the tough number three that he once was. To play at a .600 clip, the Phillies desperately need a solid number three starter to take the mound after Jon Lieber and Brett Myers. It may be too early in the season to acquire a bona fide number three starter via a trade, since no team is ready to concede the pennant race just yet.

Meanwhile, the Phillies refuse to consider "Mad Dog" Ryan Madson for the job, saying only that he would probably start one day but that now is not the time. With the obvious hole in the rotation, you have to wonder: just exactly what are they waiting for?

Madson has settled into a great groove out of the bullpen, and no matter where he pitches, he will be a key piece of the Phillies puzzle. Management's hesitation to move Madson from a role in which he clearly excels is understandable, but as a starter "Mad Dog" would get more innings and solidify the starting rotation, clearly the team's top priority. If the Phillies brass doesn't like this as a long term solution, they can acquire a pitcher through a trade or free agency later in the year or over the off-season. It is a lot to ask of Madson, but of all the Phillies pitchers currently available, Madson is the one guy who would likely succeed as a starter.

While Rob Tejeda has started throughout his minor league career, he should not be expected to start right away for a pennant contender. If all the Phillies needed was a number five starter, then maybe Tejeda would fit the bill, but the Phillies need the equivalent of a proven number three.

Meanwhile, the Phillies continue to lose ground while waiting on Padilla to find his old stuff. If the Phillies insist on keeping Madson out of the starting rotation, they have to come up with a viable alternative. So far, all they have done is plead for patience. Fans have been waiting 25 years, how much more patient can anyone be?

How's this for patience: Paul Abbott, Brian Powell, Josh Hancock, Brandon Duckworth, Joe Roa, David Coggin, Bruce Chen, Nelson Figueroa, Chris Brock, Carlton Loewer, Chad Ogea, Mike Grace, Steve Schrenk, Anthony Schumaker, Paul Spoljaric, Calvin Maduro, Scott Ruffcorn, Rich Hunter, Mike Mimbs, Tyler Green, Shawn Boskie…

The last time the Phillies had an effective fifth starter was in 1993, when big Ben Rivera went 13-9 in 28 starts for the NL Champs…Before Big Ben's surprising success, the list of failing fifth starters goes on and on and on…It is a Phillies tradition to close their eyes and cross their fingers while using inadequate fifth starters. No wonder they almost never make the post-season.

When the Mets cut Jae Seo even after his gem against the Phillies, you had to think about the Phillies own starting pitching depth. Would the Phillies have cut Jae Seo? Or would he have taken his turn in a long line of battered Phillies fifth starters?

And now they ask for patience? When will we all realize that the recent seasons of higher payrolls won't go on forever? A window of opportunity is quickly closing on the Philadelphia Phillies. Time is of the essence.

Come on Phillies! What are you waiting for? Throw "Mad Dog" a bone!

The bullpen is already in disarray, so moving Madson wouldn't be exactly messing with a good thing. With Tim Worrell on the DL, the Phillies improved the pen with addition by subtraction. Terry Adams remains a pitcher on the bubble and should be relegated to mop-up duty until he shows he can still be effective. The Phillies should gradually give Tejeda a chance to pitch in pressure situations. If Madson starts, Padilla might just find a home in the bullpen as a righty specialist. The better he does, the more he can be used in games close and late. Perhaps he might even work as a set-up man in tandem with lefty Rheal Cormier, unless Tejeda earns that role. Closer Billy Wagner anchors the pen with a 100 mile an hour hammer. The bullpen is broken, but it can still be fixed in time to turn the season around, even with Madson as a starter.

When a team as talented as the Phillies is in last place, something substantial has to be done. Whatever it takes, the Phillies must achieve a winning record in May. The arrival of Marlon Byrd, Ryan Howard and Rob Tejeda may give the team a shot in the arm, but there are still difficult roster moves to make. The situation is critical and the needs are urgent. Patience with the status quo just won't cut it.

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