By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
For the last couple of months, I’ve been saying to fans and fellow reporters alike that it’s too early in the season to start counting the Phillies out of the race to win their sixth straight National League East title.
And even on June 7 with the All-Star Break a little over a month a way, I still say the Phillies have a shot to straighten things out with a small caveat—that window of time for that to happen is beginning to gradually shrink and they can ill afford to fall any further behind.
“We’re a better team and I think we all need a gut check including myself,” said centerfielder Shane Victorino. “When we go out there and pick each other up. When one guy doesn’t do it, the next guy go out there and do it. … Our backs are to the wall as far as it gets.”
After winning just one game on this current homestand, they need to turn it back on now, starting with their nine-game road trip through Baltimore, Minnesota and Toronto.
“We had a rough homestand here and we need to win some games,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “We don’t want to get way behind stuff, but at the sametime, I’ve seen us get behind and comeback. Every team has a spell like this, but we’ve got to play much better and we’ve got to play more consistent better.”
Manuel has been visibly frustrated with his team during this homestand and is not shy about expressing it during postgame press confernces.
“I never put it up to a level, I just feel how hot my face gets,” Manuel said. “It’s pretty damn hot.”
The Phillies lost their sixth straight game and were swept in their four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Thursday’s 8-3 loss to the Dodgers was bit of a micrcosm of the season. Inconsistent hitting and the inability of the bullpen to keep the game close, coupled with a few bad plays in the field.
When the Phillies come into the late innings and they are behind, it is almost a foregone conclusion they will not come back. They are 0-23 when trailing after the seventh inning.
Meanwhile, we still don’t know when Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are coming back to the team. We don’t know if they’re going to be 100 percent when they do come back or if they’re going be effective enough to help the team.
But this team has won before in the face of some devastating injuries and they’ve managed to keep winning. Remember Utley missed the first month of last season and the Phillies found a way win.The Phillies lost starting pitcher Roy Oswalt, but Vance Worley came through. They had a ton of injuries during the 2010 season—Howard missed 16 games, Jimmy Rollins missed 74 games and Utley missed 43 games.
“If we’re using the injuries, that’s just an excuse in my mind,” said Phillies infielder Ty Wigginton. “The Dodgers don’t have Matt Kemp and that’s one of the best players in the game. Injuries are an excuse and I can’t even comment on that anymore.”
Manuel said the team has lost little bit of their “swag,” especially at home at Citizen’s Bank where the Phillies are just 12-19 at home.
“We don’t scare nobody,” Manuel said. “We used to have the swagger, we used to be kinda cocky in a reall good way and teams used to fear us. I definitely don’t see that here no more. I don’t see where we scare nobody. Nobody backs down from us.”
The only way you regain that swagger, that mystique or whatever you want to call it is to start winning more consistently.
I’ve watched enough baseball over the years to know that is not impossible for the Phillies to go on a hot streak and put themselves back into the race. They need to do it now and not let this snowball into July and August.
At this point of the season, you could say that they’re fortunate for as badly as they’ve played to be at the point where they are still hanging in there.
“We know the severity of it as we get deeper in the season,” said Phils outfielder Juan Pierre. “Before this we were three games over .500 and we’ve dropped back under. To be where we’re at with the way we’ve played, I’m not going to say it’s good, but it could be a lot worse.”
If they don’t start winning quick, it will be a lot worse.