Jayson Stark takes a look at the 2005 Phils and sums up the raisin d'etre thusly:
Basically, it's win now or find themselves in a pit even darker and deeper than this one.
And you thought Vets Stadium was the pit of despair?
Stark reminds us of the halcyon days prior to the 2004 season, a time when many believed that the Phils were the team to beat in the NL East. They were about to christen a new stadium. They had the world apparently at their feet.
Then the season started.
The team worried the season away as manager Larry Bowa's status became an idée fixe. As Stark points out they had the division in their seemingly in their grasp, "They [took] a three-game lead in the division a week before the All-Star break and then kicked the season away by losing 25 of their next 40 capped by a suicidal 1-9 homestand."
This year will be could be different, though it as yet has not been, as GM Ed Wade wisely prophesizes, "I thought we had a great opportunity last year, and we didn't take advantage of it. But that doesn't mean the door is closed and locked now. ... Like I've said all winter, there's only one way to prove this team is capable of winning a championship go do it."
That's great. The man who brought us the Summer of Paul Abbott last season, the man who has indiscriminately yo-yoed Marlon Byrd up and down since the start of last season, the man who brought you the dueling second base tandem of Utley and Polanco, the man who couldn't move Ryan Howard, a player who hit 48 homers last year but does not figure in the Phils' short or long-range plans, for anything useful at the major-league level, the man who wasted a roster spot on no-defense, all pinch-hit Jose Offerman while carrying 12 pitchers and just one backup outfielder: Wade has the cajones to offer up the rah-rah "let's give it the old college try, guys." Wade's successful moves (signing Thome and, marginally, Bell) basically fell in his lap after the well-healed Phils finally opened their coffers.
The Phils problems though previously pegged on the sub-par management of Bowa are clearly endemic in the team's off-field management. As Stark points out, Bowa's anointed replacement was already on the payroll and yet Wade waited the whole 2004 season to pull the trigger. The only reason, I can think of for this, given the team's performance was that releasing Bowa would expose Wade to the fans' and the media's animus. Without his readymade scapegoat, Wade would actually be held accountable for his actions.
The Phils problem this year mirrors their problems last year. This is a team that has a great deal of talent, but that has an inexcusably poorly constructed roster, too much talent in one area and not enough in others. When the they can exploit the high-end talent for a series or two straight, possibly with favorable matchups, they look like world beaters. When their flaws are exposed, they look horrific. That's why they've been so streaky this season.
The problems last year stemmed from the gaslighting of Marlon Byrd (i.e., leadoff hitter until Rollins filled that role and center field) on the offensive side, and the collapse of the rotation on the pitching end of the spectrum.
Indeed, the Phils best pitcher was rookie middle reliever Ryan Madson, who lost substantial time to injury but recorded a team-high nine pitching Win Shares. Actually, under 29% of the Phils team Win Shares were recorded by pitchers. That's a pretty low figure.
If you graph historically team's winning percentage against their ratio of pitching Win Shares to Total Win Shares, something I don't recommend doing without a net, the result will be something like the exploding tomato on the infamously forgotten Yes "Tormato" album. The average pitching WS ratio falls around 34.5%, with a cluster of a little over five percent in either direction.
A team at 29% is at the cusp of the cluster. There are some teams with high winning percentages at around 29% but right after that it gets much more difficult to compete at a high level, if the data are any indication.
Apparently, teams with a good balance between pitching and offense have a better possibility of competing. Though the pitching WS ratio runs from zero to over 70%one outlier, there is only one team with a winning percentage over .600 below the 25% ratio and two above 59%. Given the splattered tomato graph, winning percentage and pitching Win Share ratio hardly correlate at all (coefficient of .106), but it seems that a range of ratios allow for team successful overall.
So back to the Phils. I would say that their deficiencies on the mound helped do them in last season as the analysis above indicates. However, their problems this year are much more complex. The recondite nature of their sucking calls for creative roster management. Can the surplus at second base and the extraneous Ryan Howard be used to bring a decent starter and a viable extra outfielder? Can Marlon Byrd be of any use to this team ever again? What happens to Gavin Floyd and Cole Hammels? AND WILL SOMEONE EUTHANIZE JOSE OFFERMAN?!?
What it doesn't call for is more of the same from Mr. Ed. This Is a make or break season for the Phils. As the allure of the new stadium fades, this team will have to perform well on the field to draw fans. And by perform well, I do not mean that they continually win their usual 86 wins, many of which seem to come after they have all but been eliminated from pennant contention.
The Phils have built a tradition in recent years of providing a glimmer of hope from a pall of mediocrity, enough to keep the locals coming back for at least a little bit more. However, that hope starts to fade as the reality of another lost season sinks in and the promise of future success diminishes.
As Stark points out, the Phils have leveraged their future (second highest payroll committed to the current players in the future) for the mediocrity of today. With the nucleus of high-priced talent starting to reach the age at which players start to fade (Lieberthal's hit that wall already), the future aint pretty. As opposed to last year's waiting for Godot routine with Bowa, this season will find Ed Wade at some point becoming the man on the hot seat or at least he should.
The shame may be that apathy may catch up with this team before Wade's ouster meaning that he may be given free reign to ply his trade as this team unravels. The result may make the Phils' 59-win 1972 season look pretty.