By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
The last home series of the season was a bittersweet for Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. For the last five years, this part of September was a time for the Phils to get ready for postseason play.
Not this year.
But this has been a season where the Phillies have had the share of ups, down, twists and turns. Settling the for that hated moral victory, i.e. finishing the season at .500, is the only thing that the Phillies can shoot for as their playoffs chances recede into the evening shadows. They finished a game below .500 at Citizen’s Bank Park with Thursday’s 7-3 loss to the Washington Nationals. It was the first time since 2000 that the team has finished below .500 at home.
“When you look up we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do,” Manuel said. “Anytime you don’t reach your goal and everything like that, it’s kind of disappointing. I’m not a second-place guy. We come to win and that’s what we talk about. When we don’t do it, it’s a disappointment.”
The difference between the first half and the second half of the season was almost like night and day. With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on the disabled list for most of the first half of the season, the Phillies struggled to a 37-50 record by the All-Star break.
With Howard and Utley back in the lineup, the Phillies have been playing .600 baseball since the All-Star Break coming into Thursday’s home finale. The Phils are 41-28 and are at .500, something no one thought would happen and are still mathematically alive for the playoffs in the last week of the season.
“The positive thing is just that we competed,” Howard said. “We were 14 games under .500 and we’re right one .500. I don’t think a lot of people thought we’d get back to that. We never gave up. I don’t think a lot of people thought we would be even mentioned to be in the playoff hunt.”
The Phillies came to within three games of the second National League Wildcard spot back on Sept. 12, but the lost three out of four in Houston. Manuel said the team ran out of gas after coming back from as many as 16 games below .500.
“It might have taken something out of us, but at the same, the experience part and the inconsistent part that I’ve been talking about all year long when you see us in a series like the one that happened in Houston,” Manuel said. “Between our pitchers walking guys and hitting guys and making mistakes defensively we put ourselves in a position to get beat like that in losing three out of four games there.”
They were also three games out of the wild card spot on Sept. 21, but the Phillies have lost four of their last six and have fallen to six games out of the second wildcard spot with six games left.
No matter what the Phillies record is at the end of the season, the Phillies are going to have to get better for next season. Whether they do that with the players they have now or if they go outside the organization, Manuel said the team has to get better.
“If people that we have can do that, that’s fine, if not, we’re going to have to get a better offense and we’ve definitely got to catch the ball better next year,” Manuel said. “This is the worst we’ve played defense and as far as mental mistakes, we’ve had a lot of them and errors. We’ve more errors this year than we’ve had in the last five or six years.”
The Phillies will no doubt have a lot of holes to fix next year. They’re going to have to decide if they’re going to go outside the organization to fill some holes in the outfield, most notably in center field. Do they trust players like Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. to be good enough and consistent enough both in the field and at the plate?
Another position they’re going to have to fill is at third base. Did Kevin Frandsen play well enough to convince the team that he can replace Placido Polanco, who has an option for next year, but more than likely will not be back next season.
Whatever personnel moves the Phillies make for next year, Howard believes the Phillies will still be a contender in 2013. He said guys like himself pitcher, Roy Halladay, and Chase Utley will be healthier next year. The Phillies will also have shortstop Jimmy Rollins next season as well.
“What it is guys are going home this offseason and getting healthy,” Howard said. “Doc (Halladay) wasn’t healthy, I wasn’t healthy, Chase wasn’t healthy. We’ve had a rash of injuries. I think what people have seen these couple of months with us making this run, I think it shows what we’re capable of.”