Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Traveling Travails

The Phillies, nine games into a make-or-break, two-week road trip, have become a car accident. Desperately wanting yet unable to avert your eyes, you are compelled to watch as they stagger across North America and find ever new ways to lose games.

In Montreal, the Expos minutes ago completed a three-game sweep to draw to within a game of the Phils and Marlins, who are undergoing their own troubles these days. Also a game back are the Diamondbacks and Cubs; the Cardinals are a half-game behind them. And the light-hitting Dodgers are just two games out of the wild-card lead.

After Monday's night's blowout, the Phillies last night endured what must be the most heartbreaking regular-season loss I've ever witnessed. Leading 8-0 and 10-3, Philadelphia imploded in a flurry of bullpen failures and lost, 14-10. Tonight, the Phils battled back from a 6-1 deficit to tie the game on Marlon Byrd's grand slam, only to see the overworked relievers again fail to hold on. Expos 9, Phillies 6; the home nine are now 1-8 after dreadful series in Milwaukee and St. Louis and nearly at the end of the Montreal trip, which concludes today with a day game. Next stop: Shea Stadium for a weekend set with the Mets.

It is time, finally, to scale back expectations on this group. All season long, the Phillies have struggled to find consistency. Earlier in the season, impressive starting pitching covered up for a puzzling lack of offense; lately, the starters have struggled, negating an improvement at the plate. My mistake was to assume that the off-season additions and the team's reasonably solid start meant an automatic playoff berth. The reality is that the Phils simply have too many holes to warrant such consideration; they will have to thrash and tear their way into the wild-card slot. Expectations are a hell of a thing, and as the Fightin's are vividly illustrating, tamping them down can be easier on the fan base.

Even if they do make the playoffs, it will be just barely; Ed Wade cannot afford to stand pat this winter. Changes will have to be made if the Phillies hope to challenge the Braves as the class of the division.


Post a Comment

<< Home