GM Ruben Amaro blasted Phillies fans earlier this week, reminding us all who is primarily to blame for the Phillies' current state of affairs. Ryne Sandberg surely deserves to be on a hot seat all his own, but the spotlight is scorching right now in Amaro's direction. I'll borrow a line from JK Simmons' Oscar-winning performance in last year's "Whiplash":
"Now, either you are deliberately playing out of tune and sabotaging my band, or you don't know you're out of tune, which I'm afraid is even worse"
To lash out at the fans in defense of the moves he's made proves he's either ignorant of his own incompetence... Or he's deliberately sabotaging the team . I know, I know-- this isn't a movie, and Amaro is doing his best. As such, real life offers few guarantees for happy endings, and Amaro should probably answer for the mistakes that he's made come season's end. One of those mistakes may have been the hiring of Ryne Sandberg.
The intriguing six-game winning streak that concluded almost two weeks ago seems now to be, at best, an isolated anomaly, rather than a sign that players were taking to Ryno's leadership. In fact, it should be noted that the crummy Milwaukee Brewers (16-33) have had two separate three-game winning streaks, and the lousy Miami Marlins (19-30), at one point, had won 9 of 10-- two things the Phillies (19-32) have yet to accomplish this season.
Here are a few things things that stood out to me the most from Sandberg's performance during the Phils' current 2-9 slide:
1) Ryan Howard has turned things around recently, and that's a boon for Ryno's lineup and Amaro's ability to shop the slugger on the open market. Sandberg deserves credit for sticking with Howard. I had previously been critical of the manager's reluctance to consistently drop Howard in the batting order, or from the lineup completely. My bad. With offense at such a premium in today's game, Howard's tremendous May thus far (.293 BA, 6 HR, .903 OPS) is probably enough to make him an attractive trade chip again (perhaps to St. Louis?)
2) Bullpen: Last week, I lauded Sandberg's role in molding a very talented young bullpen, and for not allowing loyalty to dictate his use of struggling hurlers like Jake Diekman. Again, I may have been quick to judgment. It has been a rough stretch for the Phillies bullpen. Justin De Fratus has given up four earned runs in his last four appearances. Rookie Elvis Araujo hadn't pitched more than one inning in any appearance in the Majors, until he surrendered two runs in his second inning of work against the Rockies last week. Four days later he took the loss against the Mets in his very next trip to the mound.
Sure, Jeanmar Gomez has been a reliable stud, but two names really highlight this bullpen, and they are hard to find in the box scores of a lot of these losses-- Jonathan Papelbon and Ken Giles. I understand the time-honored tradition of saving closers solely for save situations, but this team is not good enough to have a dedicated "8th inning closer", and four innings from Giles in the last 12 games seems like too little for who is arguably their best relief arm. To make matters worse, Papelbon never pitched in Tuesday's extra inning loss to the Mets. He did, however, pitch a meaningless ninth inning in the 7-0 shutout loss to New York the following day... Because he needed the work.
3) Offense The team is averaging a shade over three runs per game since the win streak ended. Without Howard's bat heating up lately, it's arguable whether the win streak would have materialized at all. Howard batted .429 during that stretch, and it speaks to his game-changing ability, but also to how little an impact Sandberg may be having on the rest of the Phillies hitters. Aside from Howard and Freddy Galvis (.296 BA on the season), there may not be a single impactful hitter on this team that has not seen his performance drop from a season ago. We can blame everyone individually, or put it on the skipper.
I think Amaro was wrong. Not just about his perception of the moves he's made and the direction of the franchise, but in his characterizations of the fans. We may be hard on the Phillies, but we want to see them win so badly. That six-game streak might be meaningless in the scope of how this season plays out overall, but wasn't it a fun week? We, as fans, just want good baseball. Amaro and Ryno may very well be doing their best, but they've been doing a poor job. If they don't know it, it's our job to pull a JK Simmons and raise hell until SOMEONE gets it right.