Wednesday, June 02, 2004

A Fine Mets | What's happened to the team that rampaged through the West and returned to Philadelphia looking like confident, swaggering winners? Suddenly we're stuck with the Phillies who opened the season -- the ones that couldn't hit with runners in scoring position, the ones that rolled over and died against even mediocre competition, the ones that told us it was temporary and wouldn't last.

I watched just an inning of last night's game, and it was a doozy of an inning at that. First up was the bottom of the ninth and the Phillies' laughable, and futile, attempt to score a runner from second with one out and Ricky Bottalico -- no, really -- on the mound for the Mets. Then the top of the 10th and Tim Worrell's Mesa-like implosion.

As for Monday's waterlogged loss, I was at the Park for the first rain delay, the first three innings, and much of the second rain delay. The less said, the better. The only good part of the day was that the weather suppressed the crowds which usually throng Ashburn Alley and allowed my brother-in-law and me to stand in line for less than 90 seconds before buying a Schmitter, a mouthwatering combination of steak, cheese, salami, and Russian dressing that rivals Tony Luke's roast pork effort as the stadium's best sandwich. Oh, yeah, the beer was good, too.

Marcus Hayes summed it up nicely in his write-up of Monday's game:

There's lots of ugly coming out of the Phillies since their off day.

For instance, after yesterday's 5-3 loss to the Mets they're 3-4 since resting May 24, having fallen two games behind the world champion Florida Marlins in the National League East. They've got four key players hurt and zero palatable options in the leadoff slot.

Yesterday, sitting on a fat sellout gate -- "I couldn't believe we even started the game," Mets catcher Jason Phillips said -- they had to sit through 3 hours and 40 minutes of rain delays to play the 3-hour, 2-minute game.

But the most telling number, the one that has bitten them worst the past two seasons, deals with hitting with runners in scoring positions. They aren't.

After surging from second-to-last in the league to the middle of the pack 8 days ago, they are since 6-for-57 after yesterday's 1-for-7 performance. That's dropped them right back down to just-better-than-Expos level: .219.

Of their three wins, one came with three unearned runs and another's difference-maker was a hit-by-pitch. Some attack, huh?

We're now into the season's second third, and the Phillies are all of four games over .500. On paper the division's best team, they are trailing the Marlins by two, with the Braves and Mets -- again, no, really -- within striking distance. While the middle of the lineup has hit the ball, the top of the lineup has been a seasonlong disaster, and an increasingly panic-stricken Larry Bowa has tried using everyone except Harry Kalas and Tom McCarthy in the first two slots. Granted, injuries have been numerous, but in only one case have they proven truly significant. Placido Polanco's replacement, Chase Utley, has performed better than his injured predecessor, and Jim Thome, Randy Wolf, and Vicente Padilla have missed relatively minimal amounts of time. Billy Wagner's loss has been felt the most, as Worrell has been a most unreliable substitute closer.

There is a distressing similarity to last season, when the Phillies were less than the sum of their parts, and the Marlins more. Yes, it's only June, but eight weeks ago it was only April, and as they seek their nearest division competitor, the Phils continue to face the wrong direction.


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