Friday, November 28, 2014
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Is the plea for better at-bats a cover-up?

He had to say something. The expectations were not met, so Ruben Amaro Jr. had to issue a decree. The Phillies general manager hardly wasted time.

Is the plea for better at-bats a cover-up?

Ruben Amaro Jr. faces a big test this offseason after the 2011 Phillies failed team expectations. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)
Ruben Amaro Jr. faces a big test this offseason after the 2011 Phillies failed team expectations. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/Staff Photographer)

He had to say something. The expectations were not met, so Ruben Amaro Jr. had to issue a decree. The Phillies general manager hardly wasted time.

Asked first if the lineup is still capable of winning in its current state, he answered:

"Ability-wise, there is no question in my mind this is a championship-caliber lineup and championship-caliber players. We have to go about it in a different way. I have talked to Greg Gross and talked to Charlie. We have to have a different mindset or different approach than we did in '08 or 2010. We don’t have nearly as much power, have to be better with two strikes, better situational at-bats. Those are frankly things we have to change."

The reaction was such:

More coverage
 
High Cheese: Manuel is on board
 
Phillies Zone: Is the plea for better at-bats a cover-up?
 
Rollins, Phillies at crossroads
 
Phil Sheridan: If Phillies let Rollins walk, then what?
 
Bob Brookover: Amaro wants new approach

Oh my, he threw down the gauntlet on the coaching staff!

Wait, is he crazy? How can he expect veteran hitters to just change?

And those were two acceptable responses; exactly what Amaro may have wanted. Now you're distracted.

You know, the Phillies did win 102 games in 2011. They won the regular season, the largest sample size possible. And in the last two seasons, they have posted the best record in baseball despite the regular lineup playing 33 times in a possible 324 games.

The Phillies' goal every season should be to find a way into the postseason tournament. From there, no true formula exists to guarantee a championship. Great teams win championships. Good teams win championships. Teams with offense win championships. Teams with pitching win championships. Hot teams win championships. Cold teams win championships. Young teams win championships. Old teams win championships.

Consider this: Since realignment in 1995, when Major League Baseball moved to six divisions and added the Wild Card, 13 teams have qualified for the postseason at least five times each. The Phillies are tied for the third-highest World Series-winning percentage.

TEAM WS TITLES POST. APP
Yankees 5 16
Red Sox 2 9
Phillies 1 5
Diamondbacks 1 5
Giants 1 5
Angels 1 6
Cardinals 1 9*
Braves 1 12
Athletics 0 6
Astros 0 6
Dodgers 0 6
Twins 0 6
Indians 0 7

Twenty percent of the time the Phillies made the tournament, they won a title. Only the Yankees and Red Sox have a better clip.

Adam Kilgore, now beat writer for the Nationals at The Washington Post, was reminded of a conversation he had two years ago with Theo Epstein while writing for The Boston Globe. Epstein is about to bolt home and success for the Chicago Cubs because the idea of being the man to finally win there is so appealing.

But Epstein built a perennial contender in Boston, where long-term success had eluded a franchise for decades. This was his theory on how to do it:

"That’s why we have clearly defined objectives," Epstein said in 2009. "In our mission statement, part of it is we want to operate with a long-term view to put ourselves in a position to win 95 games and get in the playoffs as often as we possibly. Now we’ve done it six out of seven years. Part of the thinking is that if you make the postseason multiple times, you improve your chances of making the World Series. Theoretically, if you’re in eight times, you’ll win one World Series. Well, we’ve been in five times. This is our sixth time in. The first five times in, we won two World Series. I’m not going to [complain] about that.

"I don’t believe in building a team with the season goal of winning the World Series, and the next year you look up, you’re old all of a sudden, you don’t have any options. 'Now we’re a 75-win team. Hey, we won the World Series two years ago.' It doesn’t work that way. We want to try to always operate with the broadest possible lens, so we have a solid foundation so that every year, or just about every year, we’ll be in a position to win 95 games and get in, and then trust our players, trust our manager, trust our coaching staff, trust our advanced scouting, trust our ability to perform under pressure to go win a World Series."

Of course, for every Yankees and Boston team, there are the Cardinals and Braves. The Phillies could go to the postseason for the next seven years while coming up empty and still be no worse than those Atlanta teams. That's the ultimate fear. 

But is it? So long as the Phillies annually have a team that is good enough to qualify for the postseason, good things can happen. No one (yet) is doubting the Phillies chances at making the playoffs in 2012. They are just wondering whether this roster is good enough to win a championship.

For sure, the Phillies could have used better at-bats in the National League division series, as colleague Bob Brookover explains. Their aging roster is of concern and an infusion of youth is required. (Easier said than done.)

"Change is good," Amaro said. "I don’t think we need a whole lot of changes. We’re going to have to change because we have a lot of free agents. The changes may happen organically."

That's why Amaro issued the edict about a better approach. Publicly, something had to "change" after five October games ended the Phillies' season weeks before it was supposed to finish.

Still, in the end, the lineup could look quite similar to 2011. And is that a bad thing? 


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Matt Gelb Inquirer Staff Writer
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The place for up-to-the-minute Phillies coverage from The Inquirer beat writer Matt Gelb and columnist Bob Brookover.

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