Sunday, April 11, 2004

Lose Clues | The Phillies, my friend said yesterday, are playing as if they're trying to get their manager fired.

It's not difficult to see his point. The Phils limped into today's series ender with the Marlins at just 1-4, and they were lucky even to notch the single win. The culprits are familiar: woefully inconsistent hitting and wobbly relief work. The vaunted starting rotation has been decent but hardly dominating, and with the offense struggling to score runs, that hasn't been enough.

Yes, of course, it's way too early to panic. To a man the players insist the Phillies will right the ship, and almost certainly this is true. Jim Thome says what the Phillies need is an offensive explosion to loosen things up; I respectfully disagree. Last year's team scored a lot of runs, but its impressive run total was deceptive, padded by a few games of scoring orgies. What the Phils have to do is hit with runners in scoring position, taking advantage of opportunities that arise. I'm okay with winning 7-4 games; I don't need to see the occasional 12-2 score to convince me that Thome and his mates can swing the bats.

Whether the Phils truly are playing to get Larry Bowa pink-slipped -- or red-tagged, as one film put it -- is anyone's guess, but the early trend isn't promising. I noticed last year that the team seemed to take games off, and one must wonder whether the Phillies simply are tuning Bowa out. They absolutely should not need the external motivation of a fire-breathing manager -- no major leaguer should -- to compete at their best, so if they really are sleepwalking, shame on them.

And maybe, just maybe, it's because Bowa is such a hard-ass, and not in spite of it, that the Phils aren't showing a whole lot of spark here in the early going.


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