Charlie Manuel believes that Jimmy Rollins bold words last Spring are still helping the Phillies and…
CD's Connect The Dots... Revolutionary
Ironically enough, Rollins has not only backed his words up with actions but currently carried a razor thin edge on third baseman David Wright of the New York Mets for the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Should the revolution carry the Phils to either the NL East title or wild card berth, Rollins will soon be accepting his well deserved award.
Yet, for many Phillie faithful, the true understanding of just how special this team is has been slow to recognize. Far too many seasons of frustration had left them with the attitude that Murphy's Law was undoubtedly written with Philadelphia in mind. Certainly 2007 would be just so much more of the same...and the reality is that this team, as talented and skilled as any seen in Philly since 1993, just may not enjoy the fruits of their obvious labors come playoff time.
Once again a bad start, to the tune of a 4-11 record in April, has caste the Phils in the catch-up roll, a roll that has become as maddening as it has been consistent over the past few years. And, the end result may just be the same. As well as this team has been playing, and since the All-Star break there has been no National League club better, the reality is that the deciding battles will ultimately be fought with a team from Washington. And this, after all, is a city that replaced Philadelphia as our nation's capitol and now seems poised to once again possibly take away something meaningful and cherished.
Still, there is much to like about the Phil's chances heading into the final days of the season. Certainly no team ever lived more convincingly to the adage that "any pain that doesn't kill you is likely to only make you stronger." Never was this adage more apparent that with this team, this year.
A team that was forced to win despite players like Kyle Kendrick, Jayson Werth, Tadahito Iguchi, Kyle Lohse, J.D. Durbin, Chris Roberson, Jose Mesa and J.C. Romero back in August is now winning precisely because of said players in September. When stalwarts like Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Ryan Madson, Michael Bourn and Cole Hamels went down during the dreadful, dreary of late July and the Dog Days of August and Manuel's troops seemed prepared to raise the white flag in surrender, these oft times lightly regarded reinforcements raced to the front of the battle and carried the fight to the enemy.
The result? When August turned its summer heat to September's autumn chill the Phillies remained red hot with a late season expanded roster carrying nearly 35 ready and able troops towards the final battles. Victory is not yet assured and may not be decided until the last day but regardless of the outcome, a local populace of Phillie phanatics is certain to look back on this team with a sense of pride and prejudice for many years to come.
Undoubtedly, phans will be proud of the effort, and of the intensity and professionalism of this team. Regardless of injury or any other ill-begotten fate or fortune, the club remained steadfast in the belief, first coined by Rollins in his battle cry to the republic of baseball back in March, that they were the best team in the NL East and ultimately that fact would be borne out.
Phans will be equally prejudiced in their suspicions that this team was capable of beating any team in the National League in a playoff series, inconsistent pitching or not. They will feel, and justifiably so, that the Phils are surely a match for the Chicago Cubs or Milwaukee Brewers. The Phils won four-of-seven from the pitcher-rich San Diego Padres and would probably have to fight the inclination to feel overconfident considering their second-half success against the New York Mets.
Only the Arizona Diamondbacks were a difficult match-up in PhillieLand this season. The D'backs won five of six games but even then, four of them were by one run and the Phils would certainly not feel intimated by the prospect of a five or seven game series with Arizona.
The simple fact is that this 2007 Philadelphia Phillie team has slowly evolved into an offensive machine for the ages, and when their regular season officially ends on Sunday, September 30th, they will have accumulated some offensive statistics that are likely to stand for quite some time in the Philadelphia record books.
To wit, this team now leads the entire National League in no less than ten offensive categories, many of them very important ones. They lead the league in batting average, hits, runs, runs batted in, on-base percentage, extra base hits, total bases, slugging percentage walks and hit by pitches. They are currently second in home runs, doubles and stolen bases.
This team is on pace to hit over 200 home runs and score over 900 runs. These are absolutely staggering numbers and need examples to be placed in proper perspective. Most baseball historians consider the vaunted 1977 team led by Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski as the greatest power hitting club in team history yet their total of 186 home runs for the season will be a good 20-25 home runs less than the '07 club is likely to accumulate.
As for runs scored, the '07 team is on pace to score over 900 runs this campaign and only the 1930 team with 944 runs scored ever topped the 900 mark for seasonal runs scored. Keep in mind that the 1930 season was a very strange season historically speaking when almost every team put up huge offensive statistics. In fact, the 1930 team finished in eighth place with a 52-102 record!
This team also leads the entire major leagues in comeback victories with 47 and counting. Of course, a cynic will pointedly remark that this is as much attributable to a terrible pitching staff as it is to a robust offense and there is surely some justification to this fact. Still, it also speaks to the seasonal resiliency of the team and to their never say die spirit.
If any further evidence is needed for the skills of this team, just keep an eye on the votes when the National League MVP award is announced. The Phils will have no less than five candidates who will receive votes. Two of them, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, are likely to be among the top three or four vote getters, while incumbent MVP Ryan Howard, and outfielders Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell will also garner decent support.
Frankly, it will be a shame if this team fails to make the Octoberfest dance, but in reality they will have no one to blame but themselves for this omission. Simply put, they allowed far too many early season games to get away from them and no less than three games were lost on the final pitch of the game when the Phils had the lead.
Yet, this team, regardless of their final standing will be remembered affectionately by Phillie phanatics for their perseverance, attitude and ability to play each game to the very best of their ability. In this day and age, where far too many players care only about their salaries and impending free agency status, it is a tribute to all involved that players like Aaron Rowand and Kyle Lohse as well as Manager Charlie Manuel never talked about their uncertain futures but rather focused on the here and now and about their team wide goals of a playoff berth.
Ah, all current talk involving the Philadelphia Phillies will ultimately lead itself back to this...the chances of attaining a playoff berth. Just how reasonable is it to hope for and what obstacles await the team in their path towards the playoffs.
Simply put, the biggest obstacle is the Washington Nationals, a team with nothing to play for but pride and desire, but with a stated two part goal of A] making life miserable for both the Phillies and Mets and B] insuring that they stay out of last place in the National League East. It is no coincidence that by attaining A they will most assuredly accomplish B.
The Phils battle the Nats seven times in their final ten games and while number games are often dangerous and arbitrary it does seem logical to assume that the Phightins will need to win five of those seven in order to have any chance at a playoff berth. In order to do this they will likely have to defeat troublesome National pitchers like Shawn Hill, Tim Redding [who they are likely to face twice] and Joel Hanrahan [again twice!]
This will be a difficult assignment in and of itself, but if form holds true through the weekend, the Phillies will also likely face an Atlanta Braves team with playoff designs of its own. This three game series, opening Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, is likely to feature the Braves at their best, with both Tim Hudson and John Smoltz primed and ready to hurl for the Bravos.
In short, the road to the playoffs will not be an easy one for Philadelphia, but in this zany and captivating campaign, nothing ever has been. Perhaps that is what has so intrigued a PhillieLand populace that has taken to this team like few others in recent history.
Certainly, the 1964 Phillie team still holds a very soft spot in the hearts of any phan old enough to remember the rise and fall of that memorable Mauch's men group. And, the era of 1976-78 was an enjoyable group that produced 292 regular season victories but only two playoff triumphs in three seasons.
No Phillie phan will ever forget where they were on the night of October 21, 1980 when Tug McGraw's leap into the air signified the cities first and thus far only World Championship title. And, of course, the 1993 team will always be remembered fondly for their grit, dirt and underrated talent in defeating a seemingly superior Atlanta Braves team before falling unceremoniously to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games in the World Series.
And that, loyal Phillie phan, is the company this team is likely to keep when the dust finally settles on the 2007 campaign. Yes, they are that good and they have provided phanatics with that many positive vibrations. It seems only fitting that such a coronation be celebrated with a playoff berth.
Just what needs to happen for this celebration to take place? It would help if the starting pitching staff found a way to hang around until about the sixth or seventh inning on most nights. Starters Adam Eaton, Kyle Lohse and Jamie Moyer must find a way to keep opposing hitters at bay in order to give bullpen heavyweights like J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon and Brett Myers a chance to operate comfortably.
Rookie Kyle Kendrick must somehow discover the sinew and strength in his weary right arm to hurl at least two more solid games while ace lefty Cole Hamels needs to reestablish himself as a big game pitcher despite being on the disabled list for over one month.
Not so trusted and obscure armed soldiers like J.D. Durbin, Kane Davis, Clay Condrey, Jose Mesa, Francisco Rosario, John Ennis, Antonio Alfonseca and Geoff Geary must find a way to bridge the gap between starter and late inning reliever on the nights that the starters are found wanting.
Admittedly, this is a difficult task but not impossible. In this most improbable of seasons, the team has no less than nine hurlers who have saved at least one game. Again, this is an astounding number and yet one that so fits with the theme of this ball club. In all, Myers, Gordon, Alfonseca, Madson, Ennis, Durbin, Condrey, Mesa and Rosario have all finished games with the outcome firmly in doubt.
This past week alone, Davis, Mesa, Condrey, Durbin and Rosario turned question marks into exclamation marks with clutch pitching on the road in St. Louis and Washington. This will need to continue if the arms of Myers, Gordon and Romero are not fated to fall off before the playoffs even begin.
As for the offense, more of the same will be just what the doctor ordered. Of course, Rollins, Utley, Howard, Rowand and Burrell will need to lead the way but the second tier of Phillie bulwarks are likely to be needed at some point during the siege.
It is worth noting that one of the reasons for the strength of the Phillie team in September is precisely because of the weakness of the club back in August. When key players like Utley, Victorino and Bourn all went down within a one week period the Phils were forced to improvise and make do. They did this so well that now that the team is again reasonably healthy they have perhaps the deepest bench in baseball.
Outfielder Jason Werth and infielder Greg Dobbs were considered almost afterthoughts by most baseball people when they were signed by General Manager Pat Gillick back in the winter. In fact, they have been crucial elements in the Phillie revolution and should be counted on to produce similar results down the stretch.
Werth has been a revelation after two injury marred seasons on the sidelines. Since he became a regular in August after the injuries to both Victorino and Bourn on the same evening, his numbers have been amazingly impressive. In 46 games played, he has hit an astounding .361 [53-for-147] with 4 home runs and 37 RBI. He has also played solidly in the field, particularly in right field and has run the bases effectively and with abandon.
Greg Dobbs has merely been one of the most dependable pinch-hitters in baseball, and this only on the nights that he isn't starting at third base. He has hit at a near .300 pace throughout the year and has shown enough ability defensively to have placed himself squarely in the team's plans for 2008.
When Chase Utley broke his hand back on July 26, many Phillie phans felt the season was suddenly irretrievably lost. Not so Gillick, who immediately acquired pepper pot second baseman Tadahito Iguchi from the Chicago White Sox. Iguchi quickly won over a skeptical public with his outstanding leadership qualities and clutch hitting and when Utley came back a month later the team was still firmly in the playoff hunt.
Of this are pennants often won or lost and for the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies their fate is as yet undecided. It still seems likely that 90 wins will be needed to insure a playoff spot and this calls for ordinary men to do extraordinary things over the next week and a bit.
It seems somehow appropriate that this team emulate a revolution by breaking the chains that have so often bound this team to mediocrity and defeat. History has oft times been quite kind to the warrior who refused to accept the status quo and longed instead for change and respect.
For far too many years, the Philadelphia Phillies and losing have been synonymous. Indeed, in this potentially winningest of winning campaigns this Phillie team is still remembered most for losing its 10,000 game, a number unmatched in the annuals of sport.
How ironic, how utterly poetic would it be for this band of Philadelphia patriots to culminate their season on a playoff winning streak after being a symbol of futility and despair in the National League for over 100 years?
Indeed, how ironic, how poetic, how incredibly...revolutionary?
Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to email@example.com and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast
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