People have been complaining about the Phillies’ core for several years now…Ryan Howard strikes out too much, Jimmy Rollins pops up too much, Chase Utley should have a better off-season workout program. All of these complains are legit (as ALL players have flaws to their game) and certainly some players (Howard) seem to be unfairly targeted more than others (Utley). But more than any other facet of their game, there’s one aspect that all three of those players have lacked before embarking on the west coast trip. It’s an aspect that is frequently overlooked, yet vital to their worth as mega-million dollar athletes, and is imperative if this core of players is, in fact, going to have one last hurrah before it gets broken apart. What’s needed here…is leadership.
There have been mini-breakdowns all season long that, by itself, is not that big of a deal: Kevin Frandsen making a throw on a near-finished play that goes wide, allowing base runners to further advance; Rollins taking a throw in front of the bag instead of a “drop-tag” which would have erased a baserunner, et al. These small lapses in focus have built up so that it is now accepted in the Phillies clubhouse, and they are the cancer than erodes a playoff-contenting team to the sub-.500 status this team is currently looking at being—and staying for the near-term. The 2008 team did not have these reoccurring lapses…nor did its succeeding teams through 2011. Those mistakes were written off in 2012 because the leaders (Utley, Howard) weren’t around. I would get violently ill every time I heard the “wait ‘til Ultey gets back” and “if we had everyone, we’d be in first place” soundbites that permeated throughout last season, and all it did was put more pressure on the team to do well out of the gate here in 2013. Something it certainly has not done.
Well now everyone’s back. The excuses are now exhausted, and it’s time for those leaders to step to the plate—both figuratively and literally. I don’t expect Howard to mirror his MVP season, nor would I bank on Rollins hitting .280 again. But there is something that one, two…or all three of those players need to do. It makes for boring quotes, but these guys have to be “real leaders” in the clubhouse. Guys need to be focused at ALL TIMES and this team has to have the same intensity it had when guys like Aaron Rowand patrolled center field. What Rollins, Utley, and Howard lack from the prime in power and speed, they need to make up with status in the clubhouse and a desire to push the younger guys to exceed their potential.
We see glimpses of what some of the young players can be, but when Dom Brown, John Mayberry, Ben Revere and the other younger players are going through slumps, there’s no reason why they can play a little beyond their abilities, or show a little fire to help ignite the team. We’ll forever remember Rowand trying to take out the metal wall in centerfield, Pete Rose scampering to first base on a walk, Marty Bystrom firing a pitch at George Brett’s head…those are the moments that can lift a team to greater heights and make a far-larger impact than just doing what’s expected of you.
Whether it is something that Rollins does on the base paths himself (like running full-tilt to the next base), or if it’s Utley going behind closed doors and challenging a player to step-up…it needs to be done—NOW! There’s no more time for “waiting for players,” there’s no Cliff Lee or Roy Oswald trade that will magically solve every problem with this year’s team, and at this point, even if a miracle-trade can be engineered once again by Ruben Amaro Jr. to muster together the remaining prospects to make one major addition to this team, I still don’t think it will be enough to give this team what the fans, the players, and the entire Delaware Valley thought would be a certainty back in the winter of 2008—and that’s a 2nd World Series championship.
Of course, in the winter of 2008, we thought we would have our “leaders” for some time.