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Phillies and Red Sox were World Series favorites, but now face uncertain futures

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According to most baseball experts, the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox should have been wrapping up their respective LCS’ this week on their way to a World Series matchup for the ages.

That’s why you don’t play the games on paper.

As you know by now, neither team will represent their cities in the 2011 Fall Classic. Moreover, both teams right now run the risk of not making it back there for quite some time.

Funny how things can change over the span of a few weeks.Four Aces photo: Levon Biss, New York Times

Let’s start with the Phillies and their ‘pitching staff for the ages.’ Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels delivered as advertised. The Phillies won more regular season games than any in the history of the franchise.

They were going to run away with this thing. Lee had two months during the season that put him in the exclusive company of Water Johnson and Bob Gibson. The team solidified their everyday lineup when they acquired Hunter Pence in July.

The script was in: Good luck beating the Phillies in October. It’s going to be really tough beating Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and a rejuvenated Roy Oswalt in a five or seven game series, and there’s no way the bats go silent again like they did in the 2010 playoffs........

Not so fast.

After an offensive outburst of 11 runs in a Game 1 win in the NLDS against the Cardinals, the Phillies scored only 10 runs the rest of the series. Lee, who historically was almost unbeatable after being spotted a 4-0 lead, let one slip away, Oswalt tanked in the potential clincher, and Halladay lost a heartbreaker in the deciding Game 5, 1-0.  Season over.Dont' blame Ryan Howard for all the Phillies' offensive impotency.

There is absolutely no way this season should be considered a success. After being upset in the NLCS by the Giants last year, the goal was to get back to the World Series and win it. They failed at their quest miserably. This is 95% percent because of their bats.

And no, Ryan Howard isn’t squarely to blame, but his injury on the last play of the series is a microcosm for this team. The post season, which had been so kind to the Phillies just three years ago, has now become their achilles heal. They have regressed in every round of the playoffs since they raised that championship banner in Ashburn Alley on that Halloween day in 2008.

Whether the Phillies won the World Series or not this year, major changes were going to take place nonetheless. Brad Lidge (ironically one of the only effective bullpen pieces in the playoffs), Raul Ibanez, Oswalt, Ryan Madson, and Jimmy Rollins might not be in pinstripes next season. Placido Polanco isn't even a shell of his former self, Chase Utley is another injury away from practically being crippled, and Howard (with his new 5-year, $125 million dollar albatross of a contract) may never be the same player he once was after his injury.

On the bright side, you still have Halladay, Lee, and Hamels, but two out of the three are approaching their mid-thirties, and Hamels could leave via free agency after 2012. If the team is on a decline, chances are he will test the free agent market. Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, and Vance Worley inject young blood into this team, but the jury is still out as to whether they can maintain their early to mid-season 2011 form for an extended period of time.

Suddenly, a season that once seemed destined for a parade has now left this franchise with a lot of questions. Only in Philadelphia.

Stay tuned.

As dismal as the Phillies season ended, that’s kid’s stuff compared to the demise of the Boston Red Sox, whose 7-20 September ranks among one of the worst collapses in the history of the game. On September 2nd, the Red Sox had a 9-game lead over the Rays.

Then reports surfaced that Red Sox’ starting pitchers Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Jon Lester drank beer, ate food, and played video games during games on their off days while the team collapsed around them.  When Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a two-out lead to the Baltimore Orioles for a loss in the season’s final game, Evan Longoria’s walk-off homer against the Yankees put the Rays in the playoffs just a few minutes later and it was all over. The Sox had officialy folded. (Photo by Joe Petruccio).

This awesome photo sums it up. Kudos to Joe Petruccio

Shortly after the debacle, the team and long time manager Terry Francona mutually parted company, and GM Theo Epstein skipped town as well.

Rumor has it that Francona had lost his clubhouse. There are also rumblings that Francona’s marital issues and his reported addiction to pain pills were another reason for the Sox folding, accusations that Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia finds apalling.The Red Sox should have cut Terry Francona some slack. Photo: Bizuayehu Tesfaye / Associated Press

Funny. Nobody was complaining about any of this when Boston had an almost double digit lead over the Rays. Moreover, nobody was complaining about beer and food in the clubhouse in 2004 and 2007 when the Red Sox were winning championships. According to Sox DH David Ortiz, it existed back then as well.

Ortiz, a free agent to be, also insinuated he might have played his final game in a Red Sox uniform, citing drama surrounding the team as the main reason for his possible departure.  

Just when you think he story couldn’t get any crazier, Theo Epstein, the GM who overlooked two Red Sox championships, signed a 5-year $20 million dollar deal with the Chicago Cubs.

Yeah keep laughing. This isn’t the first curse he’s tried to reverse.

It’s kind of comical when you think about it. The city of Boston doesn’t know who to blame for the Sox collapse. Was it Beckett? Lackey? Their fraternity brother Lester? (who should be thanking his lucky stars he’s even alive to pitch in the big leagues if these rumors are true), Francona?

I’ll be the first to admit, Francona layed a massive egg with a shoddy Phillies team back in the day, but his departure in Boston was handled in a very classless manner. After all, the man did win two titles for a city that was ‘cursed’ for so long. Francona is not the first member of the Red Sox to leave town with a tattered reputation. Ted Williams and Nomar Garciaparra were just two of many to exit on bad terms. And you thought Philly was bad?......

In closing, the Red Sox have their share of issues. Some are similar to the Phillies, but it’s not just free agency, you’re talking about a pretty big cleanup here. Papelbon and Ortiz are both free agents, the team needs a new manager, and the overall clubhouse atmosphere stinks. They will still be competitive, but changes must be made.

One thing is for sure: the off seasons for both the Phillies and Red Sox will be vastly different than the ones from 2010. There will be more questions than answers for both teams, and not in a good way.

What a difference a year makes.

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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