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The Train Wreck known as the Philadelphia Phillies

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When the season began, I knew things would be challenging for the Philadelphia Phillies.

However, I must admit I NEVER saw this coming.

For all you fans out there (and there are plenty of them) who hopped on this Phillies bandwagon in 2007, welcome to our previous world for the better part of 20 years.

It’s not too much fun, is it?

Yep that’s right. I know it’s hard to believe, but it used to be like this all the time in these parts in regards to our baseball team. Players would get injured whom we were expecting solid contributions from (Jose DeJesus, Tommy Greene, Lenny Dykstra) and they would usually miss extended periods of time. After a while, it was evident their replacements never came close to duplicating the success of their predecessors (sorry Ruben).

Now don’t get me wrong, none of those previously mentioned players (with the occasional exception of Dykstra) came even close to matching the current talent on this injury-riddled Phillies roster. There is currently $55 million of the Phillies $175 (ish) million dollar payroll on the disabled list. YPhoto: phoulballz.comou already knew Ryan Howard would start the year on the shelf, but Chase Utley’s second straight year of chronic knee issues was a surprise. So was the injury to Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay, who hasn’t looked right all season. Moreover, Cliff Lee made a trip to the DL earlier this year as did Vance Worley.

Utley’s replacement Freddy Galvis was emerging as a leading Rookie of the Year candidate, until one of the freakiest back injuries I have ever seen landed him on the DL. Yes, the Phillies are currently on their third-string second baseman, and as bad as the Phillies used to be (and they were awful), I can’t ever recall this happening (maybe 2006, with Mike Lieberthal, Sal Fasano, Carlos Ruiz, and Chris Coste?).

When you lose vital cogs of this machine (no matter how past his prime Utley is), there is no way you can expect this team to maintain its form of dominance in a vastly improved National League East. It’s just not possible. The Phillies have a winning record during Utley’s absence the last few seasons, but not with Howard out of the lineup. Combine the losses of your third and fourth hitter for any extended period of time and even the 1927 Yankees would have suffered.  

Also keep in mind that the core nucleus of this team has aged before our very eyes. Utley is 33 and playing on borrowed time when he returns, Howard will be 33 in November, Jimmy Rollins has looked every bit of his 33 years, and all the wear and tear on Halladay’s 35-year old arm is showing. Lee will be 34 in August and still doesn’t have a win despite showing signs of pitching well. However, that doesn’t mean Lee’s not completely exempt from blame here. The Phillies spotted Lee a 4-1 lead Sunday against Baltimore, and he surrenders a game-tying three-run blast off the bat of.....Steve Tolleson?  

You can blame Charlie Manuel for some of his in-game decisions, you can blame Ruben Amaro for failing to improve the offense and bullpen, or seemingly waiting for Howard and Utley to make their “triumphant” returns. The bottom line is that the injuries the Phillies have sustained combined with their increasing age, the ineffectiveness of the team’s replacements, and the shoddy play of most of their regulars equates to an overall recipe for disaster. It’s almost as if this is finally the payoff in exchange for five straight years of luck and glory.

As for position players, Juan Pierre, Ty Wigginton, and Mike Fontenot are serviceable, and although (for better or for worse) they’ve have had their moments in 2012, none of them come close to matching the numbers of Raul Ibanez from 2011. As great of a feel-good story as it is to bring Jim Thome back, have you seen his career numbers pinch hitting? Yeah he had a great series in Baltimore, but unless the Phillies are going to the World Series, you only have the DH for another week of Interleague Play. Were the Wilson Valdez’s, Tadahito Iguchi’s, and Greg Dobbs’ (at least his first two years) that much more valuable? Or is the current group just the wrong cast of characters for this team?

Back to Ibanez. Despite driving in 84 runs last year, everyone thought he was finished. I would gladly take Ibanez for a one-year deal in the range of $1.1 million if he could hit 10 home runs like he’s doing now for the Yankees. Why didn’t the Phillies do this? Because they thought John Mayberry would be able to replicate his 2011 success and that Domonic Brown stood a great chance of making the Phillies Opening Day roster.

No and No.

As far as the bullpen goes, Amaro didn’t know Michael Stutes and Jose Contreras were going to bite the dust and that Chad Qualls would be a massive bust. In saying that, this group of relievers is beyond horrid (with the exceptions of Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon). The fact that this team was reduced to using B.J. Rosenberg last weekend in Baltimore for two innings pretty much sums it up.Ryan Howard photo: SI

Going into Tuesday’s game against the woeful Twins, the Phillies have lost eight of their last nine games. They can’t get a runner home from third base if they were getting paid billions instead of millions. In fact, the Phillies are attempting to make history for their offensive futility in these situations.

As bad as this team is, Utley has started a rehab assignment in Clearwater, and Howard and Halladay could be back before or around August. But questions remain as to how effective the three of them will even be upon their return.

Until then, Amaro has some decisions to make come July 31st. Just the fact that the Phillies expressed some interest in Cuban prospect Jorge Soler tells you how they feel (or how they don’t feel) about their outfield. Do they move free-agent-to-be Shane Victorino (are you comfortable with Mayberry as your centerfielder?) What about Hunter Pence? Or dare I say it....Cole Hamels?  Halladay and Lee came to Philadelphia to win a World Series. What kind of message will this send to them? Or does Amaro contemplate trading Lee even after the controversy surrounding his Christmas departure in 2009? Or do you even consider dealing Halladay to a contender?

These scenarios are all not out of the realm of possibility. Although the Giants and Cardinals both had late season runs the last two years culminating in World Series titles, their divisions were considerably weaker. However, there is now two Wild Card teams, furthermore making Amaro’s job tougher as the trade deadline approaches. The Phillies did storm back from an eight game deficit in 2007 to win the NL East, so anything is possible.

In saying that, let’s not kid ourselves here: Simply put, the Phillies deserve to be looking up at their competition in the NL East. They aren’t better than any of those teams as they are currently constructed. Did they bury themselves in Baltimore last weekend? Can Manuel rally the troops one last time for another deep post-season run? Or does this team just not have what it takes?

I don’t know if I really want the answer to that.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Galvis photo: Photo: phoulballz.com

Howard Injury: AP