By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—When a team has a string of bad losses, it can either be the springboard for something great or the catalyst that sends the team into the abyss.
Earlier this week, the Phillies had two devastating losses that have fans thinking they may have hit rock bottom.
Let’s face it. When you get your rear-end handed to you in an 8-0 shutout loss to a New York Mets team that’s real close to a Triple ‘’A” club, you know there’s something wrong.
But while that loss was bad, it was nothing compared to Monday’s loss to the San Diego Padres in extra innings.
The Phils carried a 3-0 lead into the ninth inning. Starting pitcher Cliff Lee had pitched eight shutout innings. But after throwing 109 pitches, Lee allowed hits including a double to the first two men faced.
Manager Charlie Manuel decided he had seen enough and brought in a struggling Jonathan Papelbon into the game to close it out. Papelbon gave up three in the ninth to allow the Padres to tie the game.
In the bottom of the 10th inning, Justin De Fratus retired the first guy he faced, but then walked two and hit another to load the bases. San Diego’s Kyle Blanks, the guy who drove the two runs to put the Padres on the board in the ninth, got the game-winning walk-off RBI single.
It was one of those horrific losses that leave fans and the players themselves saying, “WTF.”
The Phillies are 38-41 and are struggling to get out of the way of themselves. With the July 31st trade deadline a month way, you get the sinking feeling that the Phillies are about as good as they’re going to get.
That’s means (in my Jim Mora voice): Playoffs? You kidding me, Playoffs? The Phillies need to win a game, any game, another game.
If that’s the case, you might be saying good-bye to guys like Lee or perhaps Jimmy Rollins, who has a year left on his current contract, if the Phillies keep floundering where they are right now.
With the way the Phillies are playing right now, there is no reason to think they’re going to get any better. The offense has been erratic, the starting pitching has been inconsistent and the bullpen is just plain awful.
But then again, we’ve seen stranger things happen. (The optimistic portion of this column.)
The Phillies beat San Diego 6-2 the next day and they beat the Padres 7-5 in extra innings. The Phils are a two-game winning streak coming into this weekend’s four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Could this be the start of the turnaround?
They’ve got enough veterans and decent young players that the offense could suddenly get hot. If somehow Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Rollins and Domonic Brown all got hot at the same time, the Phillies might run off a few wins.
What if Cole Hamels (2-12) somehow found his groove? Could Carlos Zambrano, who is going through an extended-spring training in Florida, be the answer if Roy Halladay doesn’t make it back?
A couple of the young arms in the bullpen might figure this big league thing out and start pitching well enough to hang on to leads in games. Papelbon will probably recover from his current funk.
Before you go writing them off, just remember back on July 28, 2006 the day the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu to the Yankees. They were 49-56.
Then general manager Pat Gillick said it would be a long time before the Phillies would be contenders and pretty much wrote off 2007. The Phillies finished the year with a 39-23 and missed the playoffs by three games, but that late run created the foundation for their run of five NL East titles, two National League pennants and a World Series crown.
However you want to look at it, the Phillies are at the crossroads of a season that could see them be good enough for the postseason or bad enough for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to tear the whole thing down and start over.
Personally, I don’t think this team is good enough over the long haul to be as consistent as they should be. At the same time, they are capable enough to make liars out of us all.