Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Montreal Mauling

There's no shame in losing two of three to the Cardinals at Busch. But taking into account an inexcusable sweep in Milwaukee and last night's savaging by the Expos, the Phillies have begun the most important stretch of their season in awful fashion. Playing less like a team in the playoff hunt and more like the Phils of old, waiting for golf season to start, they've won one of their last seven. Worse, on the surface, anyway, one senses little urgency from anyone but the manager, and even Larry Bowa's comments have the feel of a guy going through the motions. The home nine have been much more fun to watch than in previous years, and it's wonderful to be debating playoff chances in late August -- but this problem has been going on all season. (See "The Sounds of Silence.")

Amazingly, for as bad as the recent slump has been, the Phillies awoke this morning to find themselves in a first-place wild-card tie with the Marlins.

Looking at a half-full glass, the Inquirer's Bill Lyon points out today that as flawed as the Phils are, they appear less flawed than the teams chasing them. ESPN the Magazine's Tim Kurkjian, writing Friday, agreed, noting the Phillies had begun to hit and that their "starting pitching is pretty good."

In Montreal last night, however, the DN's Rich Hofmann argues for the half-empty glass, accusing the Phillies of spending this season as they have seasons past -- taking the safe, nurturing path instead of making bold moves. Promoting Chase Utley instead of making a play for Aaron Boone, and patching holes with Mike Williams and Amaury Telemaco rather than seeking better arms on the trade market, Hofmann writes, make Florida and Arizona the wild-card favorites.

Each viewpoint has its merits, and the typical Philadelphian in me is inclined to side with Hofmann. But to look at the race dispassionately is to see the Phillies are the best and most balanced team in the hunt. They may not win the wild card, of course, but they've put themselves in the best position to do so. Now it's just up to them. (Cue ominous background music. . . .)


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