By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADEPHIA—Aftergoing 3-7 on a 10-game road trip against a trio of bad to mediocre teams, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is still trying to figure which team is going to show up on a nightly basis.
Will it be the team that won five in a row and went above .500 for a hot minute or the team that lost all three series on their last road trip? Manuel said he’s been waiting to see how good team can be all season.
“The big question that I always get from you guys (reporters) is, are we capable?” Manuel said. “I’ve yet to see that because we’ve got to play better baseball. We won five in a row and then we lost four, five games in a row. We’ve been playing the same baseball since the season started. That’s what I’ve seen.”
The Phillies (34-37) started their series against the Washington Nationals Monday night with a win, but the trick for them is to be more consistent and win series on a regular basis, something they’ve struggled with throughout this season.
To further illustrate the Phillies up and down season, Manuel talked about the series split the Phillies had against the Boston Red Sox last month in which they got outstanding efforts on the mound with Kyle Kendrick and Cliff Lee along with the hitting of Domonic Brown. But struggled to pitch and hit in the two losses.
“We had two pitchers who pitched two good games, we didn’t make any mistakes on defense and we got hits at the right time when we needed them. We didn’t blow nobody out, but we played sound baseball,” Manuel said. “In the other two games, if you go back and look, they put up more offense than we did and so therefore our pitching wasn’t as good as theirs and so they beat us. It goes back to consistency.”
The injuries to players like pitcher Roy Halladay, second baseman Chase Utley and catcher Carlos Ruiz, who came off the disabled list today, have certainly hindered the Phillies. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he wants to get the injured players back on the field to see if the team is good enough to be a contender for the playoffs.
“I think we have some time yet because it’s not early by any means, but we still have to get these guys on the field and playing, so we’ll have a better idea of whether or not, with all the guys back, they’ll produce the way we think they would before they got hurt,” Amaro said.
With the July 31st trade line about month and a half way, Amaro said he hasn’t received many phone calls from teams because at this point in the season teams—including the Phillies—are still trying to figure out whether or not they will be contenders by the time the trade deadline rolls around.
“Certainly, there’s more opportunities to be in the playoffs than there were before and the fact that there’s no great teams out there,” Amaro said. “St. Louis is great and playing really well…Atlanta has played well, but no team has been all that extraordinary to run away so that leaves everybody in it.”
If the Phillies are going to be in it for the long haul they have to shore up a bullpen that has been quite frankly awful, especially the middle of the bullpen. They’ve allowed small leads to become bigger and they’ve let teams come from behind.
Manuel attributed the team’s middle relief struggles to the youth of his pitchers. Players like 28-year-old Jeremy Horst, who is currently on the disabled list, Justin Da Fratus, Phillipe Aumont and Jake Diekman have limited major league experience.
Manuel believes that at some point one of those pitchers is going to take ownership of that middle relief position that does well.
“I feel like they’re inexperienced,” Manuel said. “That tells the story. I think how they’ve pitched tells the story. You guys are watching the same game I’m watching. Every one of our pitchers have gotten to pitch. We’re definitely trying to match them up to the right time in the game.”
Against the Nationals Monday night, the back of the Phillies bullpen allowed two runs in the final two innings including a ninth-inning solo home run off closer Jonathan Papelbon by Washington pinch-hitter Chad Tracy.
Luckily, Brown’s RBI single in the ninth saved the day for the Phillies.
Teams have a .271 batting average against a Phillies bullpen that has a 4.49 earned run average. Manuel said it’s due to a lack of experience and is waiting for someone outside of Mike Adams or Jonathan Papelbon to be someone he can count on to keep the team in the game and stop teams from moving into the lead.