Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Proceed With Caution: The Band is Back Together

The following is my opinion. It is all speculation and I do not assert any of it as fact. I do not spend any time in the clubhouse, my hypotheses could be 100% wrong and I may just be an asshole. Proceed with caution.

Fresh off a three-game winning streak, 90 games removed from the start of the season, we finally have what we hoped would be the Opening Day lineup. Doc's on the mound, Chooch is behind the plate, Howard's at first, Chase is at second, and if for one night everything's back to the way it's supposed to be. For one night, things are going to be funner again. Let that sink in for a minute.

Now snap back to the harsh reality that is the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies season.

Can this team continue this little mini-run of success, use the return of Roy Halladay to create even more momentum going forward, and give us something to play for once September starts? Anything's possible, but please don't hold your breath. These are not the same players they once were.

Consider Ryan Howard's performance last night. His fourth inning blast to the opposite field was beautiful, a majestic shot that reminded us of what he used to do regularly and gave us hope that he may be able to do it again.

Then remember when he grounded into a double play in the eighth, as the Dodgers had to hurry to get Chase at second but then probably could have jogged over to first and still got Howard in time, his Achilles injury still painfully obvious.

Consider Chase Utley's first game back, when he went deep off James McDonald in his first at-bat back with the team. Chooch followed it up with another home run, as the Phils surged out to a 2-0 lead and for a moment, it felt like a new season had just begun.

Then remember that we went on to blow that lead, fall way behind, and rally back only to have Chad Qualls give up a massive inning en route to yet another painful loss. Also remember that, since that homer, Chase is hitting .222 and has a dismal OPS of .555.

I hate to be negative and piss all over everybody's optimism, but the harsh reality is this is a team that is a long way off from being a contender. The band is indeed back together tonight, but as is the case with most reunion tours, they're past their prime and running mostly on nostalgia. Can they string together some good performances and make this season interesting again? Sure. But it's unfair and unrealistic to expect Chase, Ryan, and Doc to be the difference between a bad baseball team and a great baseball team.

We also have the matter of catching a Nationals team that is playing some damn good baseball. This past weekend, I was visiting a friend who doesn't get CSN, but does get MASN. Being that he's a Nationals fan, we watched their games vs. the Marlins. What I saw was a team that reminds me a ton of the Phillies a couple years ago. 

Ian Desmond scored on a bloop single into left that he read perfectly, breaking as soon as the batter made contact. It reminded me of the kind of baserunning Chase was capable of.

Bryce Harper stole third when Hanley Ramirez came over to chat with Jose Reyes while the pitcher was off the rubber. It reminded me of Victorino, specifically a game in 2008 in New York when he raced to second base and beat Reyes, who was lazily jogging over to get the forceout.

Jordan Zimmermann tossed six shutout innings in his start Friday, making the Marlins look foolish en route to a 5-1 victory. It reminded me of any of our aces as recent as a year ago who, besides Cole, have been less than impressive this year.

Before this season, I was content to concede that we had one more year as the best team in the NL East, but it was likely our last until the Nationals took us over. Early maturation in DC combined with unfortunate injuries in Philly have hastened that. I hate to say it, it literally pains me to say it, but to think we're going to bounce back and take the East this year or anytime soon is foolish. Barring the unforeseen, the Nationals reign has begun. Here's to hoping I'm just an asshole with an incorrect opinion.

By Justin Diaz

twitter: @justindiaz92

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