Coming into the 2012 season I, like many others, predicted the Phillies to be the frontrunner in the NL east. I laughed at articles about the Nationals pitching staff being better than the Phillies. I shrugged off the comments that age would be a factor for the Phillies. Looking back now, it seems as though the writing was on the wall for this season’s start. One of the most loved Phillies right now is Jim Thome. He is getting standing ovations every at bat since his hot stretch. As he should, since he is now the all time leader in walk-off home-runs. Needless to say I have been more than just a little disappointed and as any sports “writer” would be I also want my prediction to come true more than anything. That being said I have decided there are two things the Phillies need, and one of them is they need to send down Mike Fontenot IMMEDIATELY. The other is they need a spark.
I know it is absolutely obscure and ridiculous to say that all a team needs is a spark, but in this case I really do think it is true. The Phillies aren’t just losing games they are constantly face to face with wins, and they are unable to take them. They cannot close games out, they cannot hold leads, they cannot pile on runs. Every person on the team is constantly feeling all of the pressure on them, and they are collapsing. This is what happens to winning teams when they no longer feel like things are going their way. What this team needs more than anything is some confidence, a swagger. I recently watched as the Phillies had their first comeback win of the season in the late innings. It was a walkoff ground ball error up the middle hit by Placido Polanco. Clearly an error is not the way you want to win the game, but it was a sign of life to me. Last year Polanco was arguably one of the most clutch players for the Phillies. He started off strong and tapered off a bit because of a bad back, but still finished with solid numbers. Polanco is a winner and having him back in the lineup will be invaluable to the team.
I am not subscribing to the theory that Utley and Howard are going to come back and turn the team around. I think they are great players but it is something more that they bring to the table. They are names. Which means a lot to a club full of players who haven’t been in the major leagues long. If you are John Mayberry Jr. (who was a tremendous player last season and we all thought would have a breakout year) you will be swinging differently with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Hunter Pence, Polanco, Victorino and Ruiz in the lineup. If you are out there with Mike Fontenot, Ty Wiggington, Michael Martinez, and Brian Schneider, you may feel an enormous amount of pressure on yourself. That is the story of this season. Guys who are not capable of carrying a team, feeling like they have to. The team needs leaders. Plain and simple. They need a spark that will make the young players feel like they don’t need to do this thing alone. I feel like Chase and Ryan can do that, but more so with their presence than with their bats.