Monday, November 02, 2009

Sackcloth and Ashes

Watching A-Rod's line drive sail down the left field line last night, I was hit with a feeling of resignation so complete, so thorough, that I slept surprisingly soundly. Rather than aggressively searching for solutions to chronic club issues, the Phillies have been "satisfied". All season, the Phillies have been nursemaiding three problems with not a single thought to improving them: Jimmy Rollins miscast as a lead off hitter, Brad Lidge being terrible and Cole Hamels, well, in general. Last night's game was lost in August, when the Phillies refused to use the remaining calendar to look for any options at those three jobs. Consequently, it isn't my fault.

Gosh, baseball does end up exposing your deepest roster problems. Over a seven games series, let alone 162 game regular season, all your key contributors get evaluated. Somehow, the Phillies forgot that.

Last year, I was struck at just how hard it is to win this thing- combining complete health, a power line-up, an MVP style top of the rotation option and a rock solid bullpen (while not managing three intractable problems)- a lot of moving parts coming together. Which is why I am shocked at how absolutely passive the Phillies have been this sason, this past week and in game.

I mean: fine, we got these three roster problems. But the corollary to that is when you are playing someone better than you- and the Yankees clearly are- the status quo is not your friend. You need to change it- try to gamble away the crippling impact of Hamels, Rollins and Lidge.

The Yankees should not be the team taking chances- benching struggling guys, shuffling the line-up, pitching guys again and again on short rest- the Phillies should be. The Yankees have guys struggling this Series too. But Jeter gets on again and again, tuning their fortunate innings into crooked numbers- while the Phillies passively watch Rollins flail about in a role EVERYONE knows is wrong for him.

Utley's many dingers soar into the night- he circles the bases alone, because Rollins is a horrible table setter. Has been all year too- which is why Utley has so few RBIs for his offensive totals.

Philadelphia has passively rolled out the same guys failing at the same stuff for months now, surviving on their outstanding core group- and the Yankees are the first team good enough to call them on it. Again, this game was lost in the dog-days of summer- no sustained attempt to develop a closer or lead-off hitter because we wanted to spare feelings. Somehow the third best left-handed starter gets to fail again and again while exhibiting the worst body language, while the viable alternative (Happ) languishes- chained to a giant rock labeled The Existing Way Things Are.

In a short series, you have to abondon the existing power structure quickly if it is known to be rotten. Howard struggles- well, he stays in because he isn't rotten for the last two months. Hamels and Rollins- way past time to try something else. (ed. note: Rollins is particularly infuriating, because it has been obvious for years he is mis-cast as an OBP generator).

Worse, the Phillies play in game oh so passively. The one "catch lightening move" last night- Howard stealing second- gave the team and building some energy. But otherwise, the team resolutely does nothing to move the Yankee infield around, make them make decisions under durress. For example, rather than passively waiting for Sabathia to humilate another group of left handed hitters, try and get something going. Taking a few in-game chances is necessary when the status quo is certainly going to get you beat.