That's right. I am down with this team. With the trade-deadline outbound shipments of Shane Victorino and (more-than-probably) Joe Blanton, the last vestiges of the 2008 World Champion squad are: Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels, and Kyle Kendrick. Yup. Kyle Kendrick.
Gone are position guys Burrell, Feliz, Jenkins, Stairs, and Werth; elsewhere went Lidge, Madson, Moyer, and Myers. The 2012 club hardly resembles '08, in more ways than faces, names on the backs of the jerseys.
Yet I'm hearing a lot of bellyaching about the "end of an era" and "fire Ruben and Charlie." First off, the Phillies haven't won a world title under Amaro. '08 wasn't his team. He inherited a bunch of guys with rings, got rid of a few and added some other guys. The exits of Victorino and Fat Joe signal the end of something, for sure. But an era of excellence? I can't get on board with that notion. Change is unavoidable and necessary. Firing Charlie only serves to castoff the only manager since Dallas Green in 1980 to bring a baseball parade to Broad Street. Let's not forget...
Prior to 2012, the Phils have had a sub-.500 record in 15 of the 30 seasons since 1980. Maybe I'm going back a little too far. Since '93, 8 of 18 seasons ended under .500. I hear folks say "I was a fan when this team sucked." Were you? Do you remember Mike Mimbs, Bobby Estalella, Rob Ducey, Ken Howell? The Phillies used to march crap onto the turf at Veterans Stadium and we phans were phorced to accept it. In 2000, the Phils batted .251, bad enough to better only the Brewers' .246 clip. That team won 65 games and finished 30 games out.
If you're a fan--er, phan, then be a phan. Don't bail on an organization that built perhaps the best stadium in the MLB. Don't be so quick to disown the phirst Philadelphia club in 25 years to have a parade down Broad. Don't ask Luzinski to put Charlie's head on a spit and make over-priced sandwiches with it. Sit back, relax, play baggo in the parking lot, buy Herr's chips and watch the Phillies play baseball. Without the tension. Without the pressure. Without the sadness. For God's sake, it's the Phillies, man!
Yeah, Ruben is selling. He has to. Victorino makes $9.5 million this year. A prorated portion will come off the Phillies' books. In '08, Shane was a 28-year-old player with tools and upside. A two-time All Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, Shane showed us his very best; he never quite reached the up-side of his game. He never really improved. What you saw is what you got. Sure, we all loved the "Flyin' Hawaiian" and his "personality," but what matters is leadership on the field and he never quite matured in that sense. Good luck, kid. Aloha means hello and goodbye...
Blanton goes because he has value to a team in the hunt and because the Phils have to pay him all or part of $8.5 million. As of 3:14, the deal with Baltimore still hasn't gone down. Should it not, I'm ok with Joe. He's a guy. He became the first pitcher to hit a grand slam in a World Series game since Oakland's Ken Holtzman in 1974. That was a great moment in history, not just Phillies history. Joe goes deep into most games, keeping the bullpen fresh. He fools batters regularly with stuff that shouldn't be as good as it is. In little more than four seasons, Blanton has won 34 games and averaged 6.1 innings per start. Reliable Joe...
*The trade with Baltimore is being held up. Should it not go down, I'm ok with keeping Blanton. Chances are, they'll end up moving him in a waiver-wire deal later in the year...
This team has been held together with duct tape for the past four seasons. The '09 loss to the Yankees stings because it's the Yankees. A-Rod is a scum bag cheater and Big Stein is a strapper. But honestly, that team won ten more regular season games than the Phils (103 to 93) and was stacked. Heartbreaking, yes. But not bridgejumpingly so.
In 2010, the Phils rode 43 road wins to win the NL East, six ahead of the Braves. Expectations were high after the deadline acquisition of Roy friggin' Halladay. Granted, they had to dump the '09 postseason hero Cliff Lee to do it, but Halladay's arrival gave them a formidable short-series staff of Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt. They fell to the Giants because the bats went utterly silent--an omen of things to come.
Four Aces (and a guy named Joe)! Five Division titles! 102 wins! 2011's dream season came to a screaching, skidding halt at home against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS. It was Cliff Lee's fault for blowing Game 2. No, it was Charlie's fault, he left Lee in too long. No, wait, Howard's fault--he batted .105 in the series... Fact is, the Cards bested the Phils. 102 meant nothing. Nothing.
Enter 2012. Howard's Achilles, Utley's knees, Hamels' contract, Jimmy's pop-ups... Despite injuries, we phans expected the Phillies to "hold on" until our 2008 heroes returned. Then they would make a move. Then Citizens Bank Park would rock rather than roil with unease. Then never came, yet now we are faced with a team making oodles of money (I'm not sure of their noodle production) but little else.
Today, Ruben let go of an '08 hanger-on in Victorino and a good-but-not-great player in Hunter Pence. Two-thirds of yesterday's starting outfield today calls California home. Blanton, as the deadline passes, remains a Phillie, as does Lee. Amaro may have some 'splaining to do... And some ass-chewing too. Lee needs to get told. Blanton, just keep showing up.
It's time to see what Dom Brown can do. Yes, we've seen him before and he stinks. We think. We're not sure. Because we haven't really seen enough. A .286 average in Triple-A scares few major league pitchers; though his .322 against lefties sounds nice. Maybe Samuel can get him to stop trying to steal bases, since he's been gunned down in 6 of 10 attempts this season. He strikes out once every five-or-so at bats. Look, the kid ain't the bluechipper he once was thought to be. But he won't even turn 25 until September and he's what we have. Let's sit back and see what he can be. That's the only way to find out what he really is.
Let's watch this young bullpen can become. Most of these guys are 26, 27. Diekman is 25. They will get plenty of opportunity to mature over the final two-plus months of the season. Baseball fans can enjoy that.
Let's see if Carlos Ruiz can become the first catcher to win the NL MVP since Johnny Bench in 1970. He would join Bench, Joe Mauer (AL-2009), Ivan Rodriguez (AL-1999) and Thurman Munson (AL-1976) as the only catchers in the past fifty years to win the honors. Regardless, Chooch should continue to give reason to root, to cheer, to follow.
Roy, Cole, Cliff. Howard and Utley. Charlie...
These are your 2012 Philadelphia Phillies. Come Friday night, I will be in good company at CBP as the Phils host the Diamondbacks. I fully expect to catch a foul ball, which I will promptly hand to a child--making me an instant hero. If not, I'm ok just watching Phillies baseball.
*Of course, what choice do I really have? The Eagles, you say? What have they done for me lately?