Last September Marlon Byrd batted .330, scored 25 runs, and got on base 41% of the time. After early-season failures including a .204 batting average, .216 on-base percentage, a .501 OPS, and only three runs scored in May (49 ABs). He registered .364/.449/.470/.918 June with 12 runs scored in 66 at-bats. He was supposed to build on the successes in the last two-thirds of last season to lead off competently and play a decent center field.
However, the Phils first went out and acquired Doug Glanville, their old center fielder—who had already played his way out of the job two years earlier mind you—as some sort of insurance policy-slash-security blanket. I was shocked at the end of spring training when Glanville, helped by a fabulous spring including 3 homers, made the team as a sixth outfielder. Now, the Phils used to carry six outfielders when I was a kid and they had a 10-man pitching staff. Now that most teams carry 12 pitchers for the majority of the season, the sixth outfielder had gone the way of the third catcher and the dodo.
But Glanville made his first start April 10 against the Marlins' lefty, Darren Oliver. The perhaps the worst positive thing that could have happened to the team occurred on April 18 when Glanville replaced Byrd in a double-switch and ended up hitting a walk-off home run to win the game. That same day Byrd had been dropped from first to eighth in the order because of his supposed poor performance (.229 BA and .325 OBP) in all of 35 at-bats.
The next day, guess who Larry Bowa had in center? From that point on Byrd's every move was scrutinized. A bad day and Byrd was dropped to eighth supposedly to help him out of his rut. Off course, how many good pitches does a number eight hitter get to see in the National League with the pitcher due up next? Byrd showed some signs of shaking off the slump that had been made a reality for him. But after a slight improvement in May, the wheels came off in June (.244/.279/.293/.572).
So now Byrd is in the minors working on his stroke with Charlie Manuel, the man that many point to as Larry Bowa's replacement should Bowa get the axe. Manuel is a special assistant to GM Ed Wade. Wade seems to love surrounding himself with former managers since ex-Phil manager Dallas Green is also one of his special assistants.
I saw Green interviewed in the pregame show last Friday and his reaction to the Bowa situation was to poke fun at the situation. When asked if Bowa had difficulty dealing with anyone, Green laughingly asked if there was someone with whom he didn’t have a problem.
Now the Phils are left with three options in center: Glanville, Ricky Ledee, and Jason Michaels. Michaels is a nice extra outfielder, but clearly not a viable starter for a team with playoff aspirations. Glanville shouldn't be on the team. Ledee has been great as a supporting player for the last two-plus years in Philly and has been fabulous so far this year, but if the Phils think that at 30 his numbers (.312/.384/.584/.968) can hold up during for a whole season when it far exceeds his career numbers (.247/.330/.423/.753), they're crazier than their manager.
The Phils sent down Byrd with the appropriate approbations about his still being their center fielder, but one has to wonder. Meanwhile, the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes are fully underway, and one has to think that the Phils will be players (they could also use a starting pitcher). I've been suggesting a trade with the Yankees for the still useful Kenny Lofton.
One thing is for sure, the Phils can't expect to back into the playoffs just because a .529 winning percentage has been good enough to stay in the race so far. There are enough teams within striking distance (four within 5.5 games) for one Tampa Bay-like hot streak to put on top. This team started the season with one major hole, the manager, but now the list of their issues is growing. For the want of a manager, the war may be lost.