Sunday, July 06, 2003

Can We Push the Panic Button Now?

Ballplayers can afford to see the 162-game season as the lengthy marathon that it is. We fans don't have that luxury. Supporting the team with our dollars -- either directly, through ticket and concession purchases, or indirectly, through the patronization of the team's sponsors -- gives us, in a certain bizarrely capitalistic way, a more vested interest in its outcome than that possessed by those who actually play the game.

And so it is that I shake my head sadly at this weekend's Marlins' sweep of the Phillies and Atlanta's of the Expos. The two series' results mean that the Phils have now given back fully half of the six games they made up on the Braves over the last couple of weeks. The Fightin's now limp into Montreal having squandered all of the momentum garnered during their impressive surge into divisional contention. They now seem in desperate need of more than a few wins before heading into next week's All-Star break.

Strangely, the sagging performance has come in spite of my not seeing a whole of action lately. An inning here and there, but mostly I've followed the Phils in the papers and on the radio since seeing them at the Vet last week. And what I've read indicates that the troubles from the season's first half -- an inability to get the big hit and a frustrating failure to grasp the fundamentals -- have returned with a vengeance.

So forgive me if my prior enthusiasm -- which I never really wrote about in depth, due to time constraints -- has dissipated. Now I'm worried again. The Braves, who were finally supposed to crash to earth in the wake of their cost-cutting off-season, instead have placed nearly their entire lineup on the starting All-Star roster. The Phillies, meanwhile, boast only two truly deserving players, and they're not from among the collection of studs whom Ed Wade spent his winter landing. Not Jim Thome or David Bell or Kevin Millwood. No, we're kicking it old school -- Mike Lieberthal and Randy Wolf. Which may say it all when it comes to discussing why it's early July and the Phils are 7.5 games out.


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