Out of Left Field: Who is to Blame?

<center>Is it his fault?</center>

The Phillies fell out of playoff contention Monday night. The fact that it was only for one night didn't matter. What matters is that the Phillies, who were supposed to run away with the NL East division this season, have barely played over .500 ball. This has Phillies nation understandably upset, and calling for someone's head. The problem is, there seems to be too much blame to go around.

It's the Pitching staff's fault! This is a little like soft-toss almost. Our starting rotation was thought to be one of the best ever assembled by this organization, even if there wasn't a true ace among them. More than halfway through the season, the evidence is there for everyone to see:
Millwood (7-5, 4.92 ERA)
Wolf (4-5, 3.45 ERA)
Padilla (On disabled list, but was 4-5, 4.07 ERA)
Milton (11-2, 4.58 ERA)
Myers (5-7, 5.74 ERA)

Those are some brutal statistics, and the low hum around town is that everyone overrated the Phillies pitchers. I'm not so sure about that. My question is not "has the Phillies rotation been bad?" but "Why has the Phillies rotation been bad?"

Wolf and Padilla have both been hurt, but Wolf has actually pitched pretty well all season. His 3.45 ERA is the second lowest of his career, and nearly a run better than his ERA from last season when he won a career high 16 games. Milton has been criticized for his high ERA, which caused him to receive an All-Star snub, but I'll take a pitcher with 11 wins in July any day.

So the two lefties have been pretty much as advertised--but what about the righties? They are all having seasons that could easily count as their worst statistical years. Millwood has been inconsistent at best, Padilla has been hurt (and before that was ineffective), and Myers seems to have gone into a sophomore slump.

All three of these guys have had their differences with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan in the past, and Millwood is rumored to be Myers' mentor. Is Kerrigan to blame for the woes of this starting rotation? I know one thing: Kerrigan visits the mound so much you'd think they were giving away free money out there. That's got to grate on a pitcher's nerves. And the whole "no slide step" rule was so dumb that even he realized it cost the team games last year.

Kerrigan supporters will tell you that he's a widely respected pitching coach and analytical mind, besides it's not the pitching…

It's the hitter's fault! Let's get a few things out on the table: The Phillies are among baseball's leaders in runs scored, OPS percentage, homeruns, and total bases. They are in the top half of all major league teams in almost every offensive category, yet there is no shortage of criticism of their offense: "Too many strikeouts, not enough contact hitters, too streaky, terrible with runners in scoring position." That last one has some merit, actually.

Despite having three players among the top ten in the National League in RBI (Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, and Pat Burrell,) the Phillies also have three regulars (Jim Thome, Mike Lieberthal, and Placido Polanco) hitting under .200 with RISP. They are also in the top ten in all of major league baseball in strikeouts. Of course, these poor offensive stats are directly related to the hitting coach, Greg Gross.

So, so far, we have two coaches to blame. Those coaches work for one man, so that means…

It's Larry Bowa's fault! Larry Bowa was brought in after the laissez-faire Terry Francona regime to instill a little discipline and bring a "sense of urgency" to the dugout. So far, both of those things seem to be AWOL. There are two camps on this issue. On one hand, the team has terribly underachieved so far this season. Last season there was much disharmony in the clubhouse, leading to rumors of Bowa's immediate demise. This year, under more scrutiny, the buzz seems to be that Larry misses opportunities to help his team win.

In the past week, Bowa has been criticized for: not using Billy Wagner in the Thursday night loss to the Mets; not pinch running for Mike Lieberthal in the ninth inning of that same game; and not pinch-hitting Chase Utley for Placido Polanco with the bases loaded during Monday night's loss to the Braves.

Of course, the other camp will tell you that the team was poorly constructed from the beginning and that is only because of Bowa's leadership that the Phillies have remained in first place despite injuries to Thome, Wagner, Wolf, and Padilla. This camp knows what's wrong with the team…

It's Ed Wade's Fault! Wade has been his own worst enemy. He made only minor, ineffective trades at the deadline last season, only to see the Florida Marlins trades help lead them to the World Series. Then, Wade went out and put a legitimate five-man rotation together, and brought in Billy Wagner and Tim Worrell to shorten games to seven innings. Everyone handed the NL East title to the Phillies in January. Unfortunately, the vaunted five-man rotation ended up needing a bullpen that could shorten games to five innings. Now, the buzz is that Ed Wade needs to make a blockbuster deal to salvage the Phillies season. That's the great thing about revisionist history, only what faces you today is the truth.

If I remember correctly, the buzz around town was that Wade had finally gotten ownership to loosen the purse strings and he had pulled off some incredible moves. Talk was how Wade had outsmarted Boras on the Millwood deal; how he'd called his bluff and Boras blinked. Remember that if Millwood walked without the Phillies offering arbitration, the Phils got nothing in return. But, if the Phillies offered him arbitration and Millwood walked, then the Phillies would get draft picks from whichever team signed him. Wade has a good record in arbitration cases, so this seemed like a good gamble at the time, otherwise we'd be watching Johnny Estrada light up the NL knowing that we got all of 14 wins in return for him.

Things haven's exactly worked out the way they were drawn up, but that's the great thing about baseball. There are still a lot of games left to be played, and a lot of blame to be strewn. Frankly, I think it's all the media's fault.

DN Curry comes to you Out of Left Field every Thursday at PhillyBaseballNews.com. You can email him at dncurry@comcast.net.

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