I thought we’d come to the end of the tunnel. I think we all did. The tunnel of injury and slumping, I thought we were through it. Taking 2 of 3 games from the Yankees, the Indians, and the Blue Jays in a convincing fashion, and remembering how to score runs in several others, it looked like the team was out of the woods. Jimmy was back. Lidge was solid. The offense was producing. The defense was snappy.
But in the middle of this renaissance, trouble was brewing. Carlos got smacked in the head with a bat and went on the 15 day DL with concussion-like symptoms. Chad Durbin strained his hamstring and also went on the 15 day DL. Polanco re-aggravated his tricky left elbow during Friday’s game and has been held out of the lineup ever since. And last night, Utley the Invincible took himself out of the game in the 9th due to a right thumb injury. Quotes from his teammates weren’t very encouraging. Both Howard and Victorino said that while they hope it’s not serious, Chase taking himself out of the game speaks volumes. (As I was writing this, news came down that both Utley and Polanco would be placed on the DL later today.)
So where does that leave the 2010 Phillies? Considering all that’s transpired so far this season, they’re not doing too badly. Their record stands at 40-34, and at this time last year it was 39-34, so that should provide a little comfort. There are still 88 games to go this season, and it’s still anyone’s game. Anything could happen. The Braves could remember that they actually suck. The Mets and the Yankees could fall into the ocean. The possibilities are endless!
The multitude of injuries, though, has me contemplating something that causes me great pain. Are the 2010 Phillies the 2009 Mets?
I hate to think about that. I hate even more to actualize it on my computer screen and put it out into the world. But…are they? The 2009 Mets were a reasonably competitive team until nearly their entire starting lineup landed on the DL. Granted, the Mets haven’t managed their bench players and farm system very well over the past several years, so that certainly counted against them. But the Phillies bench players haven’t exactly been all star replacements. Castro provided decent defense, but uninspired offense. Valdez has a fucking cannon for an arm, but rarely walks and hit into so many double plays that for awhile, I was positive that he was trying for some kind of record – a sad, sad record. Silver fox Ross Gload hasn’t been consistent as a pinch hitter, though his two starts at 1B did at least show me that he has some value. Ben Francisco has so little playing time that I barely remember what he looks like. And Greg Dobbs has been so awful that they actually sent him down to Lehigh.
Last year, 20 different Mets spent time on the DL. The team finished the season 23 games out of first place. Many Mets fans, including Matt my MetsFriend, were sure that this signaled the beginning of an extended period of sucking for their team. Looking at how the Mets have played this season, I think that reports of their continued sucking were rather premature. They have their lineup back, and even somewhat improved with the additions of Ike Davis and Angel Pagan. One year of injury does not signal the start of a suck period. It might set a team back a bit, but it doesn’t remove talent. Though if there were a way to remove talent, the Mets would have accidentally done so while trying to rush some poor prospect up to the majors to replace Oliver Perez.
Right now, as the news about Utley and Polly’s DL stints reaches the masses, the Phillies clearly have some obstacles to overcome. Chooch has been injured quite a lot this year. The absence of Utley will certainly be felt, both offensively and defensively. Polanco’s time on the DL probably won’t completely heal his elbow – he’ll be dealing with it for the rest of the season. Kendrick can’t seem to find consistency. The injury to Durbin leaves a gaping hole in the bullpen. (That hole might soon be filled by Kyle Kendrick, who could be sent to the bullpen with the return of JA Happ.) And all this just as Utley and Howard were starting to get hot.
The news about Utley, for better or worse, will probably shape the rest of the season for the Phillies, and for the fans. No matter the news, the world will keep spinning. The Phillies will keep playing, and trying to close that gap between them and the Fucking Braves. As fans, we can bemoan the fate of our team this year, make endless excuses, and proclaim that the period of Phillies dominance is over. Or, we can strap in and make the best of this. We can watch our team do their best and show grit and determination in the face of unexpected problems. We can support them and show them that we love them even when things suck. The injuries of Jimmy, Chase, Polly, Chooch, and others hasn’t meant that the team has stopped doing incredible things. Several weeks ago, 47 Year Old Jamie Moyer (that’s his official name) threw a two hour, two minute complete game. He’s gone at least seven innings in three of his last four starts. Roy Halladay (who pitches for the Phillies, a fact that will never stop making me smile) threw a perfect game last month, the 20th in baseball history. Jose Contreras adapted to the closer’s role so well that he took over during Lidge’s second stint on the DL and shows no signs of cooling off. Jayson Werth has played unbelievably great defense in right field. And no matter how bad things get, no matter how many starters hit the DL, I can take comfort in the fact that they won’t give up. They won’t stop caring. That in and of itself differentiates them from the 2009 Mets, who by all accounts had completely given up by mid-July.
And if this team goes all the way again, in this year of injury and slump, then I think we can all say that we witnessed something phenomenal.