One and done? This query is a worthy one, even at the early stages of the
race, when nary a Phillie game has yet been played in April. Still, it involves
much more than the simple resignation of another lost opening game effort, this
time due to a bullpen that appears to have more holes than even many of the
loudest critics could have imagined.
Instead, it involves such things as the possibility that the Phillies exciting,
though brief run as champions of the National League East may end after but one
season. It involves the continued philosophy of Manager Charlie Manuel to use
his relievers for only one inning a game, regardless of how dominant the
performance. And it involves the eventual legacy of retiring General Manager,
Pat Gillick, a man whose final Phillie report card will likely be graded by the
ultimate finish of the 2008 club he has put together.
In all three cases, the Phillies championship run, Manuel's questionable
philosophy regarding relief pitchers, and Gillick's ultimate grade, it is not
too soon to wonder if this final refrain will resonate true in all of the
instances...one and done? With this in mind, and with the caveat that the team
and its organizational decision makers have a marathon like six months to change
the refrain, let's take a look at all three questions and seek to find logical,
and positive solutions to all of them.
While the opening game loss to the upstart Washington Nationals was not a
complete surprise given the Phillies woebegone record in opening day tiffs,
there still was a distaste to the way the team lost that was both disquieting
and alarming. To wit, Brett Myers who is being counted on as one of the best 1-2
starting punch since the days of Jim Bunning and Chris Short in the mid 60's,
once again showed a disconcerting inability to take an early lead and milk it
until the late inning bullpen crew could finish it off.
Not to be outdone, however, said bullpen crew not only made matters worse for
the Phightins when they entered the fray, but ultimately cost the team the game
once the offense had found their sea legs and begun to hit with authority.
Simply put, the Phillies pitching staff appears unable to stem the tide of a 162
game schedule, and it is far too much to ask the offense to once again shoulder
the load and winning games that the pitching has seemingly lost.
Even more disconcerting is that this is not a new problem in PhillieLand but one
that has been around ever since Gillick took over the general managerial reigns
from departing Ed Wade during the winter of 2005. To his credit, Gillick
immediately identified Phillie Problem 1A as lack of pitching depth back in
2005. To his detriment, he has for the most part been unable to fix what still
appears to be badly broken.
Oh, this is not to say that the effort has not been there. Certainly, Gillick
has attempted to solve the problem, occasionally even with more than just a Rudy Seanez band aid. Since Gillick began spending Monty and the Teflonic's money
back in 2005 he has brought in such luminaries as Antonio Alfonseca, Fabio Castro, Clay Condrey, J.D. Durbin, Adam Eaton, Freddy Garcia, Tom Gordon, Kyle Lohse, Jose Mesa, Jamie Moyer, J.C. Romero, Francisco Rosario, Matt Smith, Ryan Franklin, Arthur Rhodes and Julio Santana, not to mention this season's group of
Brad Lidge, Chad Durbin, Tim Lahey and now, the aforementioned Rudy Seanez.
Admittedly, a few of these plums have turned out to be more ripe than rusted.
Moyer has been a godsend to the team, and few will deny that without the efforts
of Romero and Lohse last season a division won might well have become a division
lost. Tom Gordon, despite his opening day disaster, has been a true professional
and bullpen leader since the day he first put on a Phillie uniform. And there is
ample hope that when Brad Lidge springs into action this weekend, his 95-96 MPH
fastball will accompany him, thus saving Phillies players and phans alike much
late game consternation.
Yet, Gillick promised much more, even offering the hope that a Bobby Abreu or
Pat Burrell might one day provide a top of the rotation starting pitcher, if not
a Johann Santana then at least an Erik Bedard. Unfortunately, it will be these
promises, as yet not kept, that he will ultimately be judged by should he retire
into the sunset this autumn after another unfilled Phillie playoff race.
The irony and frustration of these current events is that in many areas Gillick
has been if not the architect then certainly the gatekeeper of perhaps one of
the deepest and most talented Philadelphia clubs in the past 50 years. Certainly
this talented nucleus of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels
has more skill than the overachieving group led by Manager Gene Mauch in the mid
Today's Phillie roster has a greater chance to withstand the test of time than
did the previous one and done group from 1993. Even their greatest proponents
would acknowledge that the Lenny Dykstra/Darren Daulton led Wild Bunch of '93
was ill-equipped to become more than one season wonders, though incredibly
wondrous they indeed were.
In fact, the current roster from top to bottom most closely resembles what was
undoubtedly the greatest group of Phillie teams in their long if not storied
history as a National League franchise. Yes, this group most reminds long time
Phillie observers of the glorious teams from 1974-83 when such luminaries as
Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, Bob Boone and Gary Maddox routinely
swept through the NL Eastern Division with aplomb, skill and an attitude that
winning came easiest to those with the resources and funds necessary to keep the
Ah, and therein lies the potential rub. Whereas that elite team's ownership
group, led by Ruly Carpenter and Paul Owens, understood the rarity of such a
gifted group of athletes and was determined not to allow the window of
opportunity to pass them by, today's ownership group is seemingly less inclined
to spend what is necessary to provide this team with the resources necessary to
win a pennant that does seem there for the taking.
How much of this falls on the shoulders of Pat Gillick is anyone's guess? But as
previously mentioned, he will ultimately be judged on his ability to provide
this powerful nucleus with the pitching resources necessary to insure that "one
and done" is not the lasting legacy of his three year term.
Pat Gillick has always been known for his tinkering ways and true to form, he
has already begun tinkering with this years pitching staff. In the past week
alone he has brought in former Rule 5 draftee Tim Lahey from the Chicago Cubs
and then signed former Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Rudy Seanez to a contract.
These moves are quite reminiscent of his 2007 additions of relievers like J.D.
Durbin and J.C. Romero but probably won't provide the team with enough pitching
firepower to offset the negatives on the staff.
What is needed is a bold move, one that could involve acquiring a top notch
pitcher like Joe Blanton, Ian Snell or Ben Sheets. All three are available,
though the price might appear steep. Yet, boldness is what is needed unless the
organization is prepared for another 85-87 win season, a total that has no
chance of topping the efforts of the improved New York Mets, not to mention the
Of course, acquiring a Blanton, Snell or Sheets would require relinquishing a
few of the clubs better prospects, players like Carlos Carrasco or Adrian Cardenas. Happily, the organization, despite comments to the contrary, appears
to have rebounded from their talent starved system of a few years ago and is
rebounding quite nicely into a much deeper and well rounded minor league pool of
The team not only has had two straight strong June amateur drafts but has no
less than six picks in the top 110 selections this summer. This could provide
the organization with a plethora of new talent, which would allow the club to A]
move some of this talent for a Blanton or Snell or B] possibly discover this
years edition of Kyle Kendrick, the rookie wunderkind whose efforts proved so
invaluable to the Phillie cause last season.
Should these things not take place, then Gillick and Company face an incredible
uphill climb if they hope to repeat last year's championship chase. Not only
does this seasons staff look a few arms short, but even more alarming is the
fact that no less than three of the pitchers being counted on, Moyer, Gordon and
Seanez are either over 40 years of age or a birthday away from it. Plainly
speaking, this is no way to build a pitching staff that is expected to withstand
the rigors of a 162 game schedule.
As if this weren't bad enough, then the continually perplexing ways of Manager
Charlie Manuel and his use of the bullpen appears to have made matters even
worse. Admittedly, there is much to like about Manuel and the theory that he is
probably the best possible manager for this crew of characters is likely a true
enough one. He is certainly a player's manager and knows the art of hitting as
well as any coach in the game.
Yet, he continues to baffle both friend and foe alike with his oft times almost
stubborn refusal to allow a relief pitcher to pitch more than one inning a game
regardless of how effective or dominating he may be. Opening day was but the
latest example of this ill-conceived philosophy.
Southpaw J.C. Romero pitched a spotless and effortless eighth inning, retiring
all three hitters with a minimum of difficulty. The Phillies, buoyed not only by
this strong effort but by their suddenly powerful bats, seemed poised to win
what was then a 6-6 ballgame entering the ninth inning.
Now a case can be made that it is indeed a long season and Romero's arm is a
valuable one, one that should not be abused. Fair enough. However, in this case
it seemed prudent to extend Romero's stay another inning because A] he obviously
had his A game going and B] the team had an off day following the game and would
provide the lefty with a day to rest his trusty arm.
Instead, Manuel followed his well-known and oft times criticized habit of
bringing in another pitcher to begin each inning. In this case it was Tom
Gordon, and five runs later, the Phils were a battered and beaten team. There is
a reason that the Phillies have always needed 12 pitchers on a 25 man roster
since Manuel became the manager.
The reason is that he routinely uses three or four relief pitchers per game, and
almost never for more than one inning per game. There is an adage, and one that
is probably true enough, about the use of relief pitchers. The adage is that if
you use enough of them in a single game, the likelihood is that one of them is
going to be so ineffective as to possibly ruin all the good efforts of all the
others. This seems to often be the case with the Phillies under the Manuel
watch. We will never know if Romero might not have suffered the same fate as did
Gordon on opening day.
What we do know is that Romero appeared to be at the top of his game that day,
and was not allowed to prove it, while Gordon was brought in unnecessarily and
suffered the loss because of it. Thus, the usual refrain from the Phillie
faithful once again when it comes to Manuel's use of his bullpen...one and done.
Certainly, this is not to say that the Phillie cause is yet lost. Far from it.
The team is battle tested, resilient and streaming with talent. Still, the
lesson of the kite is well worth repeating here. There is a saying that an
optimistic wonders how high his kite will fly while a pessimist ponders how
quickly his kite will fall.
Currently, a case can be made that the Phillie kite is neither souring high in
the sky nor ready for a deep and rapid descent from the air but rather is
testing the winds to determine its future flight path. Should Gillick, Manuel
and Company provide the kite with a strong foundation and ample tail wind the
team might soar even higher than it did last season. The potential is there for
just such a flight, one worthy of an optimist's delight.
If, however, the kite is not constructed of strong wood and string and is left
to venture into unfriendly winds, it will quickly fall to earth, thus becoming a
pessimist's worst nightmare.
Make no mistake. Teams like the New York Mets, Arizona D'backs, Chicago Cubs and
San Diego Padres have built strong and sturdy kites, and appear destined to soar
high into the divisional heavens this season. The Phillies fate is as yet
unanswerable. With proper changes the team might well repeat last seasons
success amidst the happy refrain of "twice as nice."
Without those changes, and as presently constructed, it is more than likely that
history will be left to ponder the legacy of Pat Gillick's Phillies from 2006-08
with the cryptic question...one and done?
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