Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Wild, Wild East

Having graciously returned to the Braves four of the six games they had made up in the National League East race, the Phillies have all but played themselves out of any chance to win the division. The Inky's Jim Salisbury agrees and points out that the Phils "are still contenders for that safety net of modern baseball, the wild card."

That may sound as if I'm giving up on the season, but let's be realistic here. This is Atlanta we're talking about -- the word choke hasn't been mentioned on Peachtree Street in a couple of decades now. And the Phillies, though they're pummeling the Expos as I write this, don't look capable of putting together the kind of sustained, consistent run in the second half that would propel them back into contention. So we appear resigned to a couple of months of scoreboard watching not in our own division but elsewhere, and hoping that the Angels' unlikely World Series title last season was not the exception to the rule when it comes to wild card teams and playoff success.

A more interesting angle to Salisbury's column is what to do about Pat Burrell. The destroyer of my fantasy-league team hasn't simply regressed from last year -- despite the presence of much better hitters surrounding him in the lineup, Burrell looks like a Little Leaguer in the batter's box. I mean, he has absolutely no clue what he's doing there -- none. That's not said in the Philadelphia "He sucks!" style; it's more of a sad expression of fact. Burrell doesn't even need to be a superstar. If he were hitting .250 instead of .194, the Phillies would have at least a few more wins, and the entire complexity of the lineup would be different. As it stands now, teams can pitch around Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal because Burrell does nothing to make them pay for it.

Salisbury says the Phils have to explore sending Burrell to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but in the next breath worries about destroying his confidence if he can't right the ship while with the Red Barons. It would take some cojones to send a $50 million man down to the minors, but the fact is that Pat Burrell is useless to the Phillies right now. I'd get more hits swinging a wiffle bat.


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