The often incoherent, grammatically challenged ramblings of a man who has watched too much sports, listened to too much music and devoured too many club sandwiches.
I have a few thoughts after returning from watching the Phillies in Clearwater for a few days, only to find Philadelphia still trying to shake off the remaining snow like bad dandruff.
First, the Phillies are going to have to find some magic dust in order to compete for a World Series title this autumn. Not that it can’t happen -- there are legions of baseball stories featuring teams that have defied odds -- but the odds facing Ryne Sandberg’s squad are becoming truly daunting.
And that doesn’t factor in their bad karma.
The situation with Cole Hamels is likely nothing more than Tendonitis, but even that has become more than a small matter. Even worse is the dark karma it places on spring training, which eventually carries over to public perception. This is a club that has a track record of bad karma, mostly in the form of injuries to key players.
Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay, just to name a few.
There’s just a bad vibe whenever a team starts the season with injury concerns, and this Phillies team is again dealing with that problem. Making matters worse, at least in the eyes of the public, is the team’s insistence that Hamels does not need an MRI.
Clinically, that is probably true. You could probably get 15 doctors to tell you that Hamel’s situation does not mandate an MRI.
However, if you made each one of those 15 doctors a part owner of the team paying Hamels all of that money, they would likely change their opinion. And if you made all 15 doctors season ticket holders, there is also a good chance they would want to peek into Hamel’s shoulder – just to make triple-sure of the situation.
That said, the likely scenario here is that the organization’s medical staff is correct, Hamels comes back by the end of April, and the ace goes on to have the success we’ve come to expect from him.
Even if all goes well with Hamels, that alone is not likely to make up for what has become a very peculiar combination of players assembled by general manager Ruben Amaro. The entirety of the lineup revolves around cleanup hitter Ryan Howard, and it doesn’t even sound like the Phillies are certain he’ll return to his former monster-hitting self.
Over two years removed from a severe injury to his Achilles, there’s still an enormous worry that Howard cannot hit lefties. He was totally exposed by the New York Yankees in the 2009 World Series, and has not been the same since that pitching staff gave Major League baseball a blueprint on how to essentially take the bat out of his hands.
If you can believe it, just four years after signing a five-year, $125 million contract extension, there may actually be a scenario here where Amaro is suggesting that Howard be part of a platoon in which he sits against lefties. That is no way to create any sort of confidence within the fan base that Howard will be back and as good as ever.
Even worse, the Phillies still have not provided the sort of batting order protection that would allow Howard to see better pitches – especially from lefties. The ideal model would be for Darin Ruf, a power right-handed bat, to hit behind Howard, but the Phillies don’t appear to have a regular spot for Ruf on the field.
His best position? First base.
Well, that’s not happening, so why not the outfield? Why not left field? Why not have Domonic Brown in right? Why is Mayberry still around? Why do they think Ben Revere can be a weapon in center field with such a popgun arm?
The Phillies are one of the last Major League clubs to dabble in the analytics of baseball. It is the sort of computer voodoo that suggests infield shifts, and success rates in various situations. You would also think that any sort of analytics would suggest Ruf needs to get a chance to play every day.
The hope here is that Sandberg discovers his own set of variables, and his attention to details help shake the team’s mindset out of the recent blueprint for success, and into the next blueprint for success.
The outfield mish mash is one of the club’s biggest problems, and it has also become a problem in terms of plate protection for Howard. It does not appear that the Phillies have master plan for the outfield, and it is going to cost them in terms of offense.
Granted, Ruf might cost them a few runs in the outfield with his suspect defense, but balance that against what you add at the plate, and the equation should dictate that he at least starts the season by playing every day.
And if the Phillies don’t think he can play every day, what is he still doing in the organization?
On the bright side, you can expect the best from the middle of the infield. Third base is now younger, as Amaro has figured out the way to get younger is not to obtain Delmon Young and Michael Young, but insert players such as Cody Asche or Maikel Franco. Carlos Ruiz has his prescription for ADD medicine, which should make us all less jumpy, and the pitching staff, with the addition of AJ Burnett, is solid – as soon as they get healthy.
It was a foregone conclusion that young starter Jesse Biddle would be sent down to minor league camp, which he was in Saturday’s first round of cuts.
In the long run it should serve him well, but you have to wonder if that doesn’t just re-enforce the notion that the organization is hardheaded in its belief that players need a whole lot of time to develop, and there is little chance of a young phenom hitting the diamond.
Fact is, the Phillies are much too long of tooth to realize that some kids could re-open the window of opportunity.
Al Morganti is a member of the WIP Morning Show (94.1 FM) weekday mornings from 5:30 til 10 and a hockey analyst for Comcast SportsNet. His twitter handle is @nufced.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/Any_idea_what_Ruben_and_the_Phillies_are_doing.html#B4VfJkx1WH9OlAId.99