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2011 Phillies had the chance to be this generation’s 1982-83 Sixers

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There are champions in sports every year. But once in a blue moon, there’s that special team that has a little something extra whose sheer dominance moses malone SI coverover the course of a single season makes them more memorable than your standard champion. These teams leave an indelible mark not only in their respective cities, but in the history of their sport.

Although the Philadelphia 76ers are clearly the least popular of Philadelphia’s major sports teams, their two championships teams were two of the best to ever play the game of basketball. Their first title in 1967 was a bit before my time, as well as most of the people probably reading this.

However, some of you might recall that 1982-83 squad- the last Philly sports team before the 2008 Phillies to bring a professional sports championship back to this town.

Just to give a quick recap, the Sixers, led by another Doc (Julius Erving), had failed to take home the NBA championship after losing three times in the finals over a six year span. It was obvious after their finals loss to the Lakers in 1982 that something had to be done that would put the Sixers over the top. That ‘something’ came in the form of Moses Malone, the reigning NBA MVP whom the Sixers acquired from the Houston Rockets just prior to the start of the season. Doc welcomed Malone with open arms, and the two (while assisted by Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, and sixth man Bobby Jones), steamrolled over everything anything that came into their path on the way to a regular-season record of 65-17.

In the playoffs, where Malone originated his now famous “Fo-Fo-Fo” quote (in reference to the 12 wins needed for a title), the Sixers got pretty close, going 12-1 against the Knicks and Bucks before sweeping the Lakers in four games. In a town not known for its championships, there has yet to be another team in Philadelphia sports who has been able to match the 76ers dominance that season.

 

The 2011 Phillies were supposed to have been THAT team. With the arrival of another Doc (Roy Halladay) in 2010 who was also looking for a ring,Phillies Sports Illustrated Photo: allthingsphillysports.blogspot.com/2011/03/ph... the Phillies did not return to the World Series last year, as they were upset by the eventual World Champion Giants.

In the aftermath of the playoff loss, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro obviosuly took notice of baseball’s transition to a more pitching oriented game, so he snuck in (what seemed out of nowhere) to reacquire Cliff Lee this past December.

With Lee serving as Halladay’s Malone, a rejuvenated Cole Hamels  and a full season of Roy Oswalt, Amaro (on paper) assembled one of baseball’s most heralded pitching staffs in the last fifty plus years. Once the season started, these four (along with fifth starter Joe Blanton), were going to strike fear into the hearts of every team they faced, win 108 games without batting an eye, and blitz through the playoffs and walk home with the Phillies’ second title in four years.

But a funny thing has happened on the road to October. And as far as pre-season predictions go, they almost NEVER come true (unless of course, you’re the Yankees or Red Sox), and the 2011 Phillies are unfortunately no exception.

Take out that last part about blitzing through the playoffs, and things haven’t been as rosy as many Phillies fans may have thought. And despite still having the second best record in Major League Baseball to a team (Cardinals) whose twenty game winner (Adam Wainwright) is shelved for the season, there shouldn’t be a team in the majors that is even holding a candle to the Phillies. Here are the main reasons why the team has fallen short of some expectations:

The offense, or lack thereof:  I have been saying this since January, and everyone tells me I’m overreacting and that I’m about to jump off a ledge. First off, I’m not overreacting. And second, this is baseball, not life. Anyways, you knew the team would take a little of a hit when they lost Jayson Werth to the Nationals, but then Chase Utley missed the first two months of the year and he is still trying to get his groove back. If this Phillies team had the 1993 Phillies’ offense to go with their pitching, they would win 125 games easily (and that’s not an exaggeration). Ryan Howard

The Phillies' bats have not been electric since the end of 2009. I would actually take the 1991 Phillies’ offense over these guys right now. In June alone, the Phillies have the fewest extra base hits in baseball, and 241 plate appearances without a home run. The team’s record when they manage just one extra base hit or less is 9-16. When someone hits a double on this team, it’s the highlight of their night offensively.

With the exception of Carlos Ruiz and rookie Domonic Brown (and what does that tell you when a rookie is having some of your best at bats on the team?), I’ve seen someone playing MLB 2K11 have more plate discipline than this team. They still hack for the fastball when it’s obvious that pitchers have figured out this lineup. And for the first time in a long time, this team offensively is exceptionally painful and boring to watch. Jimmy Rollins is not the Jimmy Rollins of 2007, Utley can’t play more than five games in a row, Ryan Howard no longer has Werth (or even Pat Burrell) hitting behind him, Ben Francisco is not an everyday player, Raul Ibanez is on or off, and Ruiz has failed to put together a solid offensive season. I have no idea why the Phillies are in love with Michael Martinez, but nonetheless there are pretty much four automatic outs by the time the sixth hole hitter comes around for this team.

If the Phils make the playoffs, their pitching can keep them in any series, but their offense can easily prevent them from winning a series. Make no mistake, the Phillies are still a really good team because of their pitching, but their offense has held them back from being a great team.

Back end of the rotation: While Halladay and Hamels have been dominating so far this season, the same cannot be said for Lee and Oswalt.Cliff Lee photo: AP/Gay

Although he leads the major leagues in strikeouts, Lee’s control has been very un-Cliff Lee like this season, already eclipsing his walk total for all of 2010.  Lee is a guy who relies more on craftsmanship than pure gas. When he misses with his pitches, batters are teeing off.

As far as regular season pitching goes, Lee hasn’t really regained his Cy Young form of 2008, averaging only 13 wins per season since. Moreover, Lee posted average numbers with the Phillies in the 2009 regular season. In fact, there was even a debate whether Lee should start Game One of the NLDS against Colorado  due to his ineffectiveness towards the end of that season. It was really his post season pitching that made him a cult hero in this town.  

Something that has flown under the radar is the injury Lee suffered this off-season. He didn't make a big deal out of it, but could it have hampered his off-season workouts?

Now Lee could once again revert back to the dominant post season pitcher he was in 2009 and the first two rounds of the 2010 post season this year. But nonetheless, a 5-5 record at this point of the season for the $125 million dollar man has been a bit underwhelming.

Oswalt has turned into the dominant pitcher who went 7-1 for the Phillies last year into a complete enigma. The book on Oswalt last year in Houston was that his injured back (in addition to the Astros’ shoddy play) had taken its toll on him.  Ever since Oswalt tweaked his back against the Marlins legging out a bunt, he has not been the same pitcher, his velocity has dipped on his fastball, and he has no changeup. Then there was the leave of absence that he took from the team to be with his family in Mississippi after the tornados ravaged his hometown. Rumor has it that Oswalt possibly retweaked his back while down there, but it’s never actually been confirmed.

There also seems to be some underlying tension between Oswalt and Phillies management in regards to how he handled that overall situation. Charlie Manuel made no bones about his feelings towards Oswalt’s prolonged absence or recent performance against the Dodgers. Is Oswalt distracted? Is he injured? Who knows? But it’s worth keeping track of. Either way, something tells me at this stage of the game, the Phillies might buy out Oswalt’s $2 million dollar option at the end of the season and put that money they would have signed him with for Cole Hamels. With two other middle aged starters tied up in long term deals, something’s got to give.

And while we’re on the subject of starters, Joe Blanton has been a non-factor for most of the season. The projected fifth starter has pitched in just six games in 2011, as his elbow issues have become a major concern. At one point, it was thought that Blanton possibly needed Tommy John surgery. Although that talk has died down as of late, there seems to be no timetable on his return.

I’m not here to remind you of the Phillies’ rather checkered history. After all, they led the majors in victories last year for the very first time in their 128 year-old existence. So you could only imagine what an enchanted season would do for this city as well as the history of this franchise. One more title would secure the Phillies place in National League history as one of the better teams in the senior circuit over the last 30 years. Not only that, it would officially put a stamp on the greatest era in Phillies history, because that is still up in the air as well.

We will be be talking Three-Fo-Fo come October?

Most likely not, but you can dare to dream.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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