Mind Over Matter: The Phillies, 23 Games In…

Chase Utley has shown flashes of brilliance this season but has also made some mental mistakes.This off-season was rife with panic among the Phillies fan base and reporters that this 2013 team would be riddled with injuries and ineffectiveness based on their advanced age. While some of their problems may be related to the fact that they are a relatively older team, their main issue this season has been between their ears, not in the X-Ray room. The result has been a team that is already 7 games back in the NL East, floundering at 9-14, and coming off of a dismal series against the perennially brutal Pittsburgh Pirates where they dropped three of four.

Ironies are abound in this Phillies season so far, as most of their starting players seem in much better physical shape than we ever could have imagined going into this season. Consider Chase Utley, who by far leads the team with 16 RBI this season along with 4 homers and a .309 average. Any concerns about his physical condition have been virtually eliminated as he has shown flashes of the player that just a few years back was considered far and away the top second baseman in the game. Ryan Howard, despite an obvious power glut, is still batting an impressive .284, and has played virtually every game this season. The pitchers have also been physically healthy save for John Lannan, who has landed on the DL.

The overriding issue this season has been a complete and utter lack of baseball intelligence being displayed on the field. Baseball above all other sports is a thinking man’s game, and the Phillies have done little of that this season. The physical problems have been few and far between. Consider the first example, Roy Halladay. Luckily he has seemed to revert to his old (and more effective) form his last few starts after being hammered since the middle of last season, and into Spring Training. Given his velocity, which has not significantly dropped off, and the lack of any other chronic physical ailments, is there any doubt that his issues have been completely mental? On the opposite side of the spectrum is Cole Hamels, whose 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA is obviously not attributed to any physical problems, but again can be explained by his tendency to overthink his pitching scheme. Hamels is the direct opposite of Cliff Lee, who basically throws the ball up to the batter and dares them to hit it, which they usually fail to do.

The more glaring mental weaknesses have been exhibited on the offensive side, however. Consider the horrific baserunning blunders in the Pirates series alone by Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and even Cliff Lee. All three players, seasoned veterans who are otherwise completely healthy, ran themselves out of key innings. Defensively, Utley and Rollins, usually beyond reliable with the glove, have 6 errors between them in just over 20 games. But the most horrendous performances from this veteran club have come at the plate. Despite a head coach in Charlie Manuel who is a professed hitting “guru”, and TWO hitting coaches, the plate discipline on this team has been pathetic at best, and embarrassing at worst. Consider a recent Laynce Nix (possibly our most effective hitter) at-bat, where he fought off ten pitches before singling to keep an inning afloat. The next batter, Jimmy Rollins, promptly swung at the first pitch and popped out to end the inning. Ryan Howard, who I believe may be the only player still ailing physically, has regardless not exhibited any of the patience he showed during Spring Training, or his effective handling of left-handed starters. Instead, he has become a singles machine, exhibiting rare extra-base power. Despite a .284 batting average, he has slogged his way to 21 strikeouts and just 3 walks. Only so much ineffectiveness can be blamed on Howard’s recovery from his Achilles injury of 2011. Once again, his main issue has been in his head, not his legs. Even Chase Utley had a recent game where he went 0 for 3 in consecutive at-bats while taking THREE total pitches.

The Phillies went into this season with their greatest liability being their patchwork outfield, and that has certainly been a major problem. Ben Revere has disappointed thus far with a meager .207 average and one extra base hit. John Mayberry, Jr. and Domonic Brown have 3 homers and 12 RBI between them, hardly Upton-brother material. The bullpen has been equally undependable, with Chad Durbin as the centerpiece of a middle relief tandem that has struggled to a plus 4.00 ERA collectively, and has torpedoed some excellent starting pitching performances.

Despite the outfield and bullpen issues, however, I still believe that this team is good enough to contend for the post- season once Carlos Ruiz and Delmon Young return to help stabilize the offense. However, any fortification of that lineup will be irrelevant if the team continues to make flat-out dumb baseball mistakes on the bases, in the field and at the plate. Ruben Amaro would be wise to take notice of the sea of blue seats that have been increasingly noticeable at Citizens Bank Park for homes thus far this season. If his memory serves him right, he should be able to recall a similar sea of blue during the 1990s at Veterans Stadium while he was patrolling the outfield himself. The difference is that the teams he was on as a player were devoid of any talent at all. This 2013 squad does have the talent as well as proven veteran experience, but is playing like a student whose teacher will write a note home to their parents that “your child has the ability, but does not apply himself”. One thing this town will not accept is mindless, undisciplined baseball, and all of the empty seats are a shot across the bow that this team’s honeymoon has not only come to an abrupt end, but that a messy divorce could follow.

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Joe Corrado

Joseph Corrado is a lifelong Philly sports fan, and South Philly native. Grew up half a mile away from the sports complex. Huge baseball/Phillies fan, but follows all local and national sports. Has a Bachelor and Masters Degree from Villanova University, is in the banking business, but writing and humor are his real passions. You can get a taste of both by following him on Twitter at @Corrado_19.