COMMENTARY | Yes, we know quite well that the baseball season is very long, sometimes interminably so. Intellectually, we know to take intervals of winning or losing in stride because this race is a marathon, not a sprint.
And while winning every game possible is important, recent history tells us that the team catching fire at the end can make up for a lot of early struggles.
That said, the Philadelphia Phillies need to win some games, and soon. Call it a psyche thing, call it whatever you want. They should be playing better than the 9-14 team that starts a three-game series in New York on Friday, April 26.
Maybe they won't win the World Series or the National League pennant or the NL East. Maybe they won't make the playoffs. But this team should at least be good enough to be in the maybe-they-will conversation. If you're a member of the Phillies faithful, you want to believe they eventually will.
Then why does it seem so hard to do that?
Offensively, the Phillies are hitting .249 in 23 games, which doesn't sound impressive. But, as of Friday, there were only two teams in the National League, Colorado and San Francisco, hitting above .252. The Phils have scored 80 runs; the league average thus far is 89. They have 16 team homers; the league average is 20.
As bad as this recent 3-5 homestand was, the Phillies did see encouraging signs from some key figures, namely Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Domonic Brown. They will get Carlos Ruiz back on Sunday and Delmon Young back soon after, along with both of their much-needed right-handed bats.
The starting pitching has been pretty darn good for the most part. The Phillies haven't scored for Cole Hamels, and it seems like every bad pitch he throws travels 400 feet somewhere. Roy Halladay has had two horrendous outings and three superb ones. Cliff Lee can still go out and just stifle opponents for about 100 pitches. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan have had mostly good moments.
The bad side has been Ben Revere's struggles with the bat and as wonderful as he has been making impossible catches, base runners have no qualms running on his weak arm. Michael Young has been great with the bat but has struggled at third base.
And then there's the bullpen.
I'm not sure what was expected of Chad Durbin, Phillippe Aumont, Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdez in middle relief, which was a big question mark entering the season. They've provided very little in the way of an answer as of yet. Setup man Mike Adams has been either very good or very bad. Closer Jonathan Papelbon and setup man Antonio Bastardo have been solid.
So what's the problem here? Is this team in trouble or is it just working itself into shape? We've heard since spring training about a reliance on aging stars who may have already seen their best days, about high expectations of key players returning from injuries. Are they over the hill or not? Is this a matter of just being patient until the mix begins to jell, or is what we're seeing now what we'll be getting all year?
These are questions we'll have to answer as we go. But let's get back to that psyche thing.
The Phillies are 9-14 and have lost eight of 11 games. If they get swept in New York this weekend, they would end the month at 9-17, which would mark their worst April since going 9-18 in 2002. So what's needed is winning some games, and winning them now.
Or keeping the faith will become a major challenge.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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