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Don't get too carried away with Phillies' late season "surge"

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By no means am I going to discredit the job Ryne Sandberg has done over the course of the last few weeks after taking over for beloved ousted Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel. Sandberg is making Jimmy Rollins his pet project while dropping him out of the leadoff spot (a move that Manuel truthfully should have done a while back), he's attempted to provide more structure to a predominantly veteran club, and is already voicing his opinions regarding several Phillies and their possible roles for 2014 (Keep in mind that Sandberg is still the “interim” manager).

 

But if one more person tells me how the Phillies are playing tremendously inspired baseball since the departure of Manuel, spare me.

 

Seriously.Photo: nj.com

 

While the Phillies aren’t the team that lost 19 of their last 23 games prior to Manuel’s firing, nobody is going to mistake them for the 1927 Yankees, either. Sure, maybe a change was needed at the helm of this Phillies squad and the team is 7-5 after Tuesday night's loss to the Mets, but as you recall, the team went on a tear last August and September after digging themselves a 15 and a half game hole in the NL East standings.

 

It’s now one year later, and the Phightins are currently 19 and a half games out of first place. In other words, there’s really not a lot of pressure here, and it’s easier to play loose when there’s nothing at stake. Trust me, those late 80s-early 90s Phillies squads had a knack for offering some thrilling moments late in the season where everybody would get excited for the following April, and then it was more of the same (although this Phillies team is superior in talent to those teams).

 

But as much as the next month could be a trial run for Sandberg, it comes down to whether his teams performs in a manner than they are expected. To a man, the players in that Phillies clubhouse know they’re the reason Manuel was shown the door. Some of them are fighting for roster spots next season or any kind of job in the majors leagues for that matter. Unless the Phillies completely tank the rest of the season and the players don’t respond to Sandberg in any capacity, chances are he will be back in 2014 managing several of these players. The Phillies are an aging and declining baseball team. This isn’t anything you don’t know.  Important changes need to made to this team if they even want to sniff a Wild Card berth next year.

 

This is where Ruben Amaro comes into play.

 

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I wrote a piece a few weeks back not completely blaming Amaro for the Phillies’ collapse. Although I got a little heat for it, I stand by that. The long-term deals Amaro signed players to were deals that needed to be made at that time to keep the nucleus of the team together. The biggest knock I had on Amaro is his failure to solidify his team with consistent role players as opposed to a roster loaded with big-time contracts.  

 

As for the last two years, it’s not Amaro’s fault Ben Revere, Mike Adams, John Lannan and Jeremy Horst are all out for the season. And before everybody knocks him for trading Shane Victorino, that would have been another aging player with a long-term contract. As for Hunter Pence, it was what the Phillies needed at the time. It’s not Amaro’s fault that Pence failed to step up in the wake of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard’s absence last year and then became a spiritual leader the minute he got shipped out to San Francisco.

 

On the other hand, the Laynce Nix, Chad Durbin (take 2), Chad Qualls and Ty Wigginton signings were a disaster, and players who were traded or released were not adequately replaced. At the same time, the team would most likely have been forced to give up Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, or Darin Ruf in exchange for those possible missing pieces. After dealing numerous prospects (with basically none of them who have made a significant impact on the major league clubs they were traded to), the well is (for the most part) dry. We all knew this was a consequence of trying to win in the present, which is now the past.

 

Either way, there’s going to be some freed up money this winter, but the free agent crop isn’t a particularly solid one. That means Amaro better get pretty creative during the upcoming offseason. Sandberg’s Tuesday night lineup against the Mets featured right-handed batters Kevin Frandsen, John Mayberry Jr., Erik Kratz, Michael Young, and Ruf. Ruf has the only realistic chance of starting for this team next year, and the rest aren’t exactly a bunch that’s going to strike fear into the hearts of the opposing team’s starter.

 

Moreover, this Phillies team has more to lose than just games. If the Phillies struggle again in 2014, the potential amount of money for a new television contract will decrease. They have no choice but to keep some of these players and there’s no way this team can just rebuild- they have to rebuild and retool simultaneously.

 

So despite the Phillies recent 7-5 post-Manuel record, there’s lots of work that needs to be done with this team before it returns to the postseason. Let’s not get too carried away just yet.

 

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Photo: nj.com