A fast start was followed by a fast fizzle, as the Phillies split their four-game series with the Marlins in disappointing fashion.
The Phillies are showing no signs of becoming the charmed team that’s going to rise up claim the final spot in the National League. There have been tough struggles and justifiable losses along the way, but this latest effort was truly second-rate, with countless opportunities squandered, runs left on the table and entire games wasted. Aside from the Roger Clemens game, they’re not winning the tough ones, let alone contests where they have the upper hand. Playoff-caliber teams get the job done; the Phillies do not.
If there was any urgency to pull it together over the final stretch, it didn’t show. The best example is the way they handled the officiating. The umpiring crew botched calls all weekend long. Yesterday, Jeff Conine beat out a throw to first by half a step, but was called out. Manager Charlie Manuel sat on his hands. First base coach Mark Bombard looked on. This was a game everyone knew would be tight, so a blown call could be the difference. Dontrelle Willis made fools of Phillies hitters the rest of the way, and by the end, the Marlins literally won it in a 3-0 laugher.
A little more urgency might alleviate the glaring fact they’re short on horses. Everyone is aware of Pat Burrell’s on-going futility, none more than Ryan Howard. Howard no longer gets more than one or two at bats per game. But Burrell wasn’t close to the worst offender this series. Nope. That honor goes to the two-headed catcher of Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz, who combined to strand 18 base runners. As a team, they stranded 17 just in Saturday night’s game. A pair of Howard homers is all that separated them from a 1-3 series loss.
They’re thinnest in bullpen. Pat Gillick added Arthur Rhodes and Tom Gordon for just this kind of series. Rhodes is officially cooked. We knew this months ago; Charlie Manuel did not. Now that the tendon is officially strained, maybe Manuel can bump him down the pecking order to work three-run leads in the seventh instead of tie games in the 10th. Gordon is only a shadow of the closer who made the All-Star team. There’s no snap on his breaking ball, crystal clear to the naked eye. Rhodes and Gordon represent Pat Gillick’s primary pitching acquisitions. One is now inactive, the other is barely getting by.
Tough times call for tough decisions, but even the easy choices are being missed. Abraham Nunez sees his batting average drop to .191 after an embarrassing night on Thursday, yet he starts two of the next three games. Then comes Saturday’s bullpen debacle. Not one clue.