The Definitive Phillies Collapse Guide

Amaro_fPhoto from reader Tommy, who sent these Phillies Fan Appreciation Day postcards to Amaro

I’m going to break your heart. Again.

It was poetic justice (written in the stars?) when Ryan Howard stepped to the plate on Friday night for the Phillies’ final at-bat of their historic 102-win 2011 season. He made the final out of 2010 by watching a Brian Wilson slider nip the edge of the strike zone, and now he had a chance to redeem himself.

Freeze.

Sadly, by this point, I was only rooting for Howard to not strike out to end the season. It was a small battle in the lost war. When he hit a grounder to second, I actually felt a sense of relief. At least we wouldn’t have to deal with the painful image of Piece standing at home plate for the next six months. Then my eyes ran down the line, unlike Howard, who was writhing in pain on the ground. Not only did he commando roll his way into the offseason, but he also ripped his fucking Achilles into two separate pieces. If last year’s image was haunting, this year’s was the baseball equivalent of seeing Kathy Bates topless in About Schmidt.

As such, Howard’s final, Achilles blowing at-bat will be seared into our minds like the time our seventh grade teacher showed us The Miracle of Birth without advanced warning of expanded snatch. 

Some things you just can’t take back, man. 

But make no mistake… the Phillies were cooked long before Piece stood before the surprisingly tattooed Chris Carpenter. 

There are many theories on why the Phillies failed to reach their fourth consecutive NLCS.  Some of them are hogwash (first time using that on site- really excited), some are valid. All will be discussed.

 

1)  2008 was a fluke

Oh no he did-en!, that’s my team!

Yes, I did. And you’re just going to deal with it.

I’m 28-years-old, the Phillies’ 2008 World Championship is the only championship I’ve seen in my lifetime (shut up, Phantoms fans). So I get it. Believe me, I get it. But humor me for a second: Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz are all heroes. We (and this includes Charlie) have been incredibly forgiving of their faults. Even when we’re mad, we quickly overlook their mistakes. For instance, Rollins says dumb things and he isn’t a good leadoff hitter– J-Roll!™

Utley has a small frame and loses strength and weight during the season. His slugging percentage has decreased each of the last four years– Blinders, baby!

Howard strikes out too much and only makes contact on roughly 67% of pitches he swings at. That’s 13 points below the league average— Who cares?

Ruiz is a below average hitter– Chooch!

So, really, because we place these guys on a very high pedestal, they’ve become caricatures of themselves and we fail to recognize that they’re part of a very flawed lineup. Let’s face it, their 2008 success was largely based on the fact that they all peaked at the same time, in a way that would make the marketers of K-Y Yours and Mine jealous. Remember, in baseball, 29 is the age at which a player is usually at his best.

Check out the ages of the typical starting lineup in 2008:

29

27

29

28

31

29

33

29

 

Good lord. It’s a simultaneous explosion of performance. No wonder we saw a dripping wet Chase Utley smoke a cigar when it was all said and done.

The ages of this year’s lineup were much different:

32

30

32

31

28 (Pence)

39

36

32

 

That’s an extra 25 man years. If 2008 was a sexy baseball concoction, 2011 was old, married humping. The opportunities for sustained performance were significantly more rare this year. It turns out, the 2008 lineup wasn’t loaded with would-be Hall of Famers, the way some of us thought; rather, it was filled with really good players in their primes, many of whom played together for several seasons.

And even with everything falling into place that season, a number of other factors had to work in the Phillies’ favor. Their rotation was lined up perfectly for every postseason series. Had Rollins not turned the J-Roll™ to Utley to Howard double play on the second to last day of the season, Cole Hamels would have been forced to pitch the next day, rendering him useless until Game 3 against the Brewers. The Phillies also – by no fault of their own – got to play the Rays instead of the powerful Red Sox. That’s not to take anything away from the accomplishment, but everything broke right for them. If they didn’t win it all that year, would we give them such a long leash? Probably not.

But that should only affect fans, not the manager, right? Right?!

 

2) Charlie Manuel is too loyal

Screen Shot 2011-10-11 at 11.30.00 AM

Manuel’s greatest strength – and what endears him most to his players – is his loyalty. Sometimes it pays huge dividends, like when he stuck with Halladay, who was up around 120 pitches, in the eighth inning of Game 5 against the Cardinals. Many managers would have turned to a loose Madson (or perhaps even Lee or Bastardo) to face Lance Berkman with the bases loaded in a one-run game. Manuel, in effect, said to the Cardinals that if they were going to go for the kill shot, they were going to do it against Halladay.

Doc got out of the jam.

It’s those sorts of guts first, brains second moves that have often worked in the Phillies’ favor. Even though Brad Lidge hocked up Game 4 of the 2009 World Series (thanks in part to Johnny Damon briefly descending from the cross), Manuel’s decision to stick with his struggling closer is what helped the Phillies get there in the first place. Lidge came up big in both the NLDS and NLCS that year, cementing two victories for the Phils.

Manuel’s loyalty often comes back to haunt him, however. There is no reason why Polanco, Ruiz, and even Ibanez shouldn’t have been pinch hit for in Game 5 against the Cardinals. Polanco was very obviously dealing with injury and cornering the market on softly hit ground balls to shortstop. And, if you believe StatSheet’s ranking methods, John Mayberry Jr. was the Phillies’ second most valuable hitter this season– he deserved more opportunity than he was given.

Other examples of Manuel being too loyal include the much more publicized decisions to start Joe Blanton in Game 4 of the 2009 World Series and 2010 NLCS– both losses.

We love Charlie for managing with his heart, but it may have cost the Phillies this time. Cliff Lee should not have pitched the seventh inning of Game 2 last Sunday– he gave up the game-winning hit to Albert Pujols.

Had Manuel shown more urgency in any one of those situations, the Phillies may have won the game… or the 2009 World Series or 2010 NLCS or 2011 NLDS. Hindsight is perfection, but the moves were questionable at the time, too.

 

3) I’m Hunter Pence, I offer you my protection

This one falls on Charlie, as well. It’s this simple: I didn’t like Pence hitting ahead of Howard.

When Pence came to the Phillies, fans (and presumably Charlie) were thrilled to have an all-star hit behind our slugging first baseman, and rightfully so. In Pence’s first four games with the Phillies – all batting fifth, behind Howard – The Big Piece was 9-for-17 with 9 RBI. While those numbers came back down to earth, it was apparent that Pence’s presence had some effect on Howard, even if it was psychological (Howard actually saw fewer fastballs).

There were 31 total games in which Pence batted fifth, behind Howard. In those games, Howard was 33-for-119 (.276) with 30 RBI. But with Pence batting third, in front of Howard, like he did in all five playoff games, The Big Piece was 11-for-55 (.200) with 12 RBI. Ouch.

Another tidbit: When you line up the 31 games in which Pence hit behind Howard, only once (the final two occasions) was Howard held hitless in consecutive games with that lineup. In the 15 games Pence was in front of Howard, Piece strung together four and three-game hitless streaks, respectively, including the final three games of the postseason.

There are other factors at play here, though: Pence batting third was a practice not seen until early September, when Howard started suffering more from his heel problem. And Pence, while consistent, actually fared better hitting third than he did fifth.

From a practical standpoint, batting Pence third forced Victorino down in the lineup, to the fifth spot. Shane Victorino should not be batting fifth. He’s the fastest player on the team and – by far – the best get on base and make goofy shit happen happen guy. Having Rollins and a withered away Utley hitting ahead of Pence and Howard strings together too many predictable players and allows opposing pitchers to get to the “back half” of the lineup one batter sooner. Batting Victorino fifth basically forces him to hit home runs, because Ibanez is all-or-nothing and Polanco and Ruiz sure as hell aren’t driving him in (more on Polly in a second). As such, Victo only scored two runs in five games against the Cardinals, despite leading the team in runs scored (95) during the regular season. 

Moving Pence not only impacted Howard, but it also affected the whole fucking lineup, forcing every player to swing for the fences. 

Need more evidence (you don’t, really) of the prolonged bouts of shit? In the five-game NLDS, the Phillies had separate streaks of 13 and 10 consecutive scoreless innings. Not to mention scoring only one run in the – brace yourselves here – final 17 innings of the best season in team history. Pure pain.

The team’s struggles are not all to blame on the batting order, however. Perhaps the SABR nerds were onto something with Howard. While I’m never going to discount the value of having a guy who can (and does) change a game with one swing of the bat, advanced metrics provide a way to apply some certainty to a very uncertain game. When so many random moments – like Ben Francisco’s three-run home run – occur, having even a modicum of guaranteed performance can go a long way. This is what advanced metrics aim to do. They can’t predict what will happen, but they can give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. Unfortunately, with Howard, that expectation is either a game-changing home run (Game 1) or a pile of shit in the bed (Games 3-5). Surrounding him with reliable, on-base type players would be a wise decision. 

 

 4) Blame Cliff Lee

Cliff_lee_blamePhotoshop by reader Jesse

Lee wasn’t brought here to bridge the Madison Bumgarner gap, he was brought here to bridge the Joe Blanton gap. Having Lee assured the Phillies – if healthy – the luxury of four frontline starters in a playoff series. Given his stellar postseason record until last year’s World Series (he’s given up 14 earned runs in 17.2 innings since), Lee was expected to perform in October. This year, he was given and 4-0 lead in Game 2… and blew it.

He said after the series that the Phillies could have swept the Cardinals if he upheld the lead. While Game 3 may have played out differently if the Phillies held a 2-0 advantage, it’s safe to assume that if Lee didn’t give up five runs in six plus innings last Sunday, the Phillies would probably be playing a game tomorrow night. And Thursday. And Friday.

It wasn’t all Lee’s fault.

Roy Oswalt was handed a 2-0 lead in a clinching game. He blew it, giving up five earned runs in six innings.

Even Roy Halladay, who pitched brilliantly for much of his two starts, wasn’t his usual, near-perfect self. Both in Games 1 and 5, he put the Phillies in a hole before they ever got a chance to bat. They dug themselves out (and then some) in Game 1, but went into swing for the fences mode early in Game 5, thanks to an insurmountable one-run deficit. Had Halladay not allowed the CBP balloon to pop so early in Game 5, perhaps things would have turned out differently. There should be no blame assigned to Doc, but twice our true Ace put the team behind before he could work up a sweat.

The Phillies were built to go only as far as pitching took them, and despite their massive hitting woes, the Phillies had a leads of 6, 4, 3, and 2, respectively, in four of the five games. They lost half of them.

 

5) Ruben Amaro is only good for the "big move"

One of the main reasons the Phillies won in 2008 – besides having a lineup full of players in their prime – was the contributions of low-to-mid-level players acquired by Pat Gillick: Blanton, Pedro Feliz, Matt Stairs, Jayson Werth (at the time), Eric Bruntlett (scored the winning run in two World Series games), Scott Eyre, and, oh yeah, Jamie Moyer. None of those acquisitions caused widespread euphoria, like Amaro’s Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, and Pence moves… but they proved every bit as important. Ruben hasn’t shown us that he can make those team-shaping moves.

The Phillies’ best role players this season were, for the most part, from the minors: Antonio Bastardo, Vance Worley, Mike Stutes, and Mayberry. Outsiders like Michael Martinez, Wilson Valdez, Ross Gload, and Brian Schneider have proven to not be adequate postseason options. Only Ben Francisco – out of nowhere – made a significant contribution, and he was a throw-in with Lee in 2009.

Part of the reason Manuel was forced to stick with Polanco and Ruiz is because he didn’t really have viable replacement hitters besides Mayberry, who plays first base and left field. Basically, for a 102-win team, the Phillies lacked depth at many positions. That, or Manuel didn't trust many cards he was dealt.

 

6) They killed themselves

For the second year in a row, the Phillies allowed their eventual foe to make the playoffs. Last year, they swept the Padres late in the season, allowing the Giants to squeak into the postseason. This year, they swept the Braves – twice – in September, a noble action that allowed the Cardinals to clinch the Wild Card on the last day of the season. 

While you obviously can’t play for matchups, it is ironic that in each of the last two seasons, the teams fans feared most turned out to be the Phillies’ Achilles’ heel (I… I’m sorry).

The Phillies also clinched too early. After sewing up the division, they lost their next eight games and 11 of their final 17, including the playoffs. Whether you make light of that situation or not, you can’t ignore the fact that the Phillies were shutout in three of their final 17 games and held to one run on two other occasions. Once the switch was turned off, it was never turned back on.

 

7) Injuries

Howard struggled with a sore ankle for much of the last two months of the season, it is what most likely led to him blasting apart his Achilles on the final play. It’s hard to say how much it affected his hitting, though, because he did have some productive games while hurt.

Utley dealt with a knee issue early on and a concussion in September. While he was supposedly healthy in the playoffs, he’s a guy that always loses his strength and power as the season carries on. His injury had to put a damper on his workout routine, especially his legs and core, which are the foundation for his quick swing. It was fairly obvious that Utley was nothing more than a singles hitter by the end of the year. That ball he lined to center to leadoff the ninth inning of Game 5 would have been a home run in years past or earlier in the season. His strength was simply gone.

Further, Pence had a sports hernia. Ruiz took a beating behind the plate. And even Hamels needs surgery to clear out loose bodies in his elbow. 

Perhaps the guy most impacted by injuries was Polanco, who, since June 28th, had only three doubles and one home run in 181 at-bats, including the playoffs. Production!

 

8) It was a slopfest

Utley getting thrown out at third by Pujols (still a dumb play, don’t defend it), Rollins getting picked off trying to steal second, Ruiz’s decision to throw to second on a bunt in Game 5, failure to run out obviously fair ground balls, rallies killed by caught stealing, Victorino’s dropped catch in Game 2, falling near the track in Game 4, swinging at 3-0 pitches, failure to hit the cutoff man… the list goes on. Just not the types of things winning teams do. Not what we’ve come to expect from the Phillies.

 

The fact is, every one of these theories has merit. The Phillies’ core of stars were significantly less productive in 2011 than they were in 2008 and 2009. Charlie Manuel – while lovable – made critical mistakes. Cliff Lee let the team down. Amaro probably got too caught up in making the front page of the paper. And clinching early impacted the team’s performance down the stretch and going into the playoffs. To make matters worse, every major offensive player dealt with injuries… But none of that should be an excuse for poor, often dumb play during the most important part of the season. 

Whatever the issues may have been, all that matters is the end result. And in the last four seasons, the Phillies have seen an inverse correlation between regular season wins (green) and postseason success (red).

Screen Shot 2011-10-11 at 12.24.08 AM

You know what that looks like, folks? A big. fat. X

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies.

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42 Responses

  1. I’m gonna let you all in on the simple short form on the answer to the question that you seek;
    Inability to adapt.
    There is your reason. Now, the reason for THAT is a great many things up and including Cholly’s managerial style…discuss.

  2. Oh yes, 2008 was most certainly, NOT a fluke.
    What people forgot so much about was the influence of a cagey Jamie Moyer on that squad. He was a founding figure. That and the fact that teams hadn’t dared to pitch around the three hole hitter (who was then an Utley who could actually hit) to get to Howard.
    Certainly, youth was on their side. But they also had that all elusively determined, “scrap factor.” This veteran team has very little of that to match their what little vitality they also have left.

  3. I just listened to the press conference and RAJ said all the same things he said @ the end of last season. However, he did agree this team needs to get younger, well DUH!

  4. While you point out, and we all admit, that 2008’s success was a whole lot falling into place simultaneously, 2011 was equally a whole lot falling apart simultaneously. Same deal, just in reverse this year. The only team to win multiple World Series in the last 12 years is Boston. It’s hard to do. None of your points are wrong, but similar arguments can be made for 6 other teams when all is said and done. Lots of things have to come together to make a World Series Champion…sitting here on 10-11-11, I like the Phils chances of that happening in 2012 just as much as any other team.

  5. Excellent analysis, but I spotted one error: Mayberry didn’t come up through the farm system; the Phils acquired him in November 2008 from Texas for Greg Golson.

  6. I got through the opening and point #1, then I had to stop. You said “There are many theories on why the Phillies failed to reach their fourth consecutive NLCS”. HUH? They reached the NLCS in ’08 and ’09. Unless I missed something, this is the 2nd consecutive year they didn’t reach the NLCS. Then, you call the ’08 WS win a fluke, and say “That’s not to take anything away from the accomplishment”. When you call a championship winning team a “fluke”, you take EVERYTHING away from the accomplishment. Championship winning teams, in any sport, are NEVER flukes.

  7. Thanks, Joe. The point was he came up from minors, but I’ll clear that up. I also incorrectly wrote that Victorino batted sixth. He, obviously, batted fifth in the playoffs.

  8. I feel that the entire team needs a wake up call, what that is idk… but its times like this that i wish that i didnt love the phillies so much(just like the eagles), so it wouldnt hurt so bad. Sometimes i wish we werent the new evil empire with a “endless bank account”, with the ability to make any deal happen. I ALMOST wish we didnt have the pieces to acquire Roy Halladay, so I wouldnt have to feel sorry for our bats deprivig him another world series appearance… something about sustained success(using that word loosely) makes a team lose its edge, mix that with Large division leads and early clinching, it makes for a false sense of entitlement. Almost like they started believing their own hype. Maybe they dont, maybe they are just old. but one thing is painfully obvious, the “just dont give a fuck, do what it takes, never say die” attitude is all but gone from these players. Numerous times you hear different experts saying that these guys dont kick it in gear until they have their backs to the wall. Which is a blessing and a curse. Being able to turn it on when you need it the most AWESOME, being a step slower, one second late swinging on that fastball, or one inch lost on that slider for a DP, that is not good. I just think these guys have their same 27-30 year old mentality but dont have the 27-30 year old bodies to back it up. They have gotten old(and injured) quickly. We also, like kyle said, dont have those gritty players like (pre starter) Werth, or matt stairs to hit a historic shot when need be. it appears that the phillies have gone from “lets get it” to “we got this”, when the only problem is they dont.

  9. My bad, this entire article has me all fugged up. Was thinking about NLCS wins in ’08 and’09. Still can’t figure what the author is talking about with his statement, though

  10. @MikeBiff youre a retard. 2010 NLCS against the giants. remember?? they played the reds in the NLDS?? halladay no hitter? fuckin dolt

  11. Mikebiff, learn your terminology BEFORE you speak, homie. They reached the NLCS last year… the NLCS is that middle round of the playoffs, of which the winning team advances to the World Series. Obviously, in ’08 and ’09, they reached the NLCS because they won it both years and went on to the Series. Last year, they reached it as well(even though they lost to the Giants). Thats three consecutive years. Had they beaten the Cardinals and gone on to play the Brewers in this year’s NLCS, it would have been the 4th consecutive year… Education, my friend.
    On a side note, I still toss Lee’s getting shafted in game 2 to just that. He was shafted with the strike zone, and had to change how he was pitching. While I will agree that he was shelled in last year’s Series, and I was a tad worried about him in this year’s post season, I do very much believe that had the zone not changed in game 2, he’d have handled that lovely 4-run lead he had just fine.

  12. Just to stir up the pot, Ryan Howard’s Achilles injury means he probably wont be back until September of next year at the soonest. That is a tough injury to come back from. So who starts first? Well, I think you put John Mayberry, Jr. at 1B, try and get Ibanez to a one year deal to play LF, platooning with Dom Brown. Long term though, Howard will never be the same from this injury. Maybe the Phillies should start looking at infield replacements to begin grooming…

  13. Everyone is over reacting.
    I think there has only been 2-3 teams in the last 20 years that have won the World Series with the best record in MLB.
    They just ran into a team that had more timely hitting in a short 5 game series.
    Lee in Game 4, Victorino 2 plays in CF, Cooch & Polly not hitting, etc. All things that arent broke, it just didnt work out this year.

  14. Point #1 was absolutely on the money. I didn’t even need the other ones. Fact is, this team needs a 3B, LF, SS (I am done with J-Roll), and now a 1B till the All Star break. Not to mention, we assume Utley can play 145-150 games next year. And given all the other offseason surgeries (Hamels, Pence, etc.) this could be a major problem.
    We HAVE made excuses because we were so OVERLY excited about winning a World Series. This team is good, when healthy. Which they are not.
    If you thought we had to rely on pitching this year, just wait…
    FYI – Holmgren is a genius and it will come to be known within the next 3 years.

  15. 2008 a fluke? No, absolutely not. Your argument for everybody just being in thier prime at the same time is the reason why it wasn’t a fluke, thier’s no merit in winning a championship in your prime???? The 08′ phils had the best closer in baseball, a very good bullpen and a solid bench. The 69 mets were a fluke, the 90′ reds. The postseason is all about matchups and the Phillies drew great matchups that year as far as playoff and world series opponents. It made no sense to continuously pitch your starters in meaningless games well over 100 pitches giving you no shot at even developing the bullpen pieces you need in the playoffs. It made no sense to sweep the braves out and force yourself into a series with the hottest team in baseball. It made no sense to move pence in the lineup. it made no sense to not sit polanco. Its obvious from RAJ’s comments the manager is shouldering alot of the blame for the early exit and rightfully so. Charlie Manuel continued to manage the 08′ Phils in 2011.

  16. My 23rd birthday was last Sunday, the game in which Cliff Lee decided to give a big sloppy BJ to the Cards.
    It was like the Phillies gave me a puppy on my special day, let me fall in love with it, then kicked it to death.
    I’ll never forget that.

  17. In baseball, pick a year, that team that won it all, will absolutely say things fell into place, luck has a big part in this game. So to say the 08 phils were a fluke is a little ridiculous in my eyes. Although, I found your article interesting , I just think you could “almost” plug in any championship team in any year and have a similiar article. GO PHILS 2012

  18. I agree with you that Charlie is too loyal. Once of those cases where his loyalty is displaced the most is with Dubee. You now Charlie is deferring all pitching decisions too him. Dubee can’t manage a bullpen and we’ve seen this for MOST of his 7 year tenure as the pitching coach. I’ve been saying this for years and I’ll say it again, either get rid of Dubee or “Dilbert Principle”* him somewhere else into the organization where he can’t do any harm.
    *: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dilbert_Principle

  19. I think a lot of the logic above is accurate:
    **Phils weren’t lucky in 08, but lady luck helped them out. The Rays were definitely a less powerful team than the Sox, but they managed the momentum.
    **Charlie is far too loyal and, at times, incredibly stupid. All season he had and he waited until the end to alter a lineup with people in all sorts of positions they weren’t comfortable hitting.
    **Lee should be held accountable. $25M and you blew chunks in the playoffs? That’s what we brought you here for. Howard…I’m looking at you, too.
    This team needs some change. From J-Roll batting 260 to Ibanez collecting social security in left field. We all love these guys but we need to move on. And Charlie might need to be on that list as well. For a coach that has a track record of being a great hitting instructor, he sure didn’t show that in the playoffs with a team that had the most wins in baseball. 3 hits was disgraceful.

  20. It bothers me that people keep putting everything on Lee and nothing on Halladay … I agree that game 2 was HORRIBLE to watch, and yes, Lee blew it … but hello? As well as Halladay pitched the rest of the game he still let a run in the first inning. Game starts in the first inning. Not the second.

  21. I don’t think Lee “blew it”. He was pretty much thrown under the bus. After La Rusta’s bitching dramattically changed the Strike Zone (and St. Louis’ was widened beuond belief-ask Utley), it really fucked up his mojo. And Charlie (really Dubee, who needs to go) left him in there too long when it became clear that he wasn’t going to find Jerry Meals’ StrikeZone 2.0. The Phillies only lost the game by one goddamned run. The same deafasit for Halladay’s Game 5.

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