Saturday, October 4, 2014

The High & Low Moments of 2014

We begin our review of the 2014 Phillies with the highest and lowest moments of the season.

We begin on Opening Day, which was mostly a nice affair: Rollins' 14th consecutive O.D. start for the same team tied him with Cal Ripken, Jr. and he celebrated that feat with a 2nd-inning Grand Slam for his 200th career HR. The rest of the game was a slugfest between the Phillies and Rangers. The Phillies won 14-11 with Lee getting the W despite giving up eight (8) runs (a rare feat in MLB). It's long been said that Opening Day symbolizes the season. In the Phils' case, it symbolized what would have happened had the offense been more consistent.

We continue the story with a contributing factor to the 2014 performance: injuries. The Phils started the year without their best bench bat (Darin Ruf), best bench glove (Freddy Galvis), and homegrown ace (Cole Hamels). The injuries to Ruf & Galvis, then hastily activating them, gave Sandberg little confidence in his bench, even for one game per week, so he used the veterans excessively. Except for Byrd & Rollins, they didn't perform consistently enough, resulting in consecutive 73-win seasons.

As for Rollins, he certainly bounced back from a career low offensive season in 2013. Another top moment this year surrounds Rollins: passing Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt for the franchise hits record. It's likely that Rollins will eventually end up in Cooperstown with his credentials: he has a 3rd-place ROY finish, MVP, World Series Ring, 15 (going on 16) years in the majors w/ few down years, four Gold Gloves playing an elite position, lots of speed, and 200 HRs (nearly 50 of which are lead-off homers). A strained hamstring & mediocre team ended his season early, but he certainly had a great year and will be ready for O.D. - April 6th, 2015 vs. the Red Sox.

There was another veteran who looked well on his way to a .295 batting average: Chase Utley. For the first two months, he tore it up, hitting .320/.384/.527 for a .901 OPS with an RBI every other game, four HRs, and on pace for the NL lead in 2B. He earned his first All-Star nod since 2010. In that game, it was vintage Chase: an RBI 2B in his first PA, scored a run, and then was hit by a pitch in his 2nd PA (he averages ~17/year). After that, it was bad news for the star second-baseman: from July 1 on, he hit .243/.323/.350 for a .593 OPS, with an RBI every 2-3 games. Sandberg & his predecessor, Charlie Manuel, both admit wanting to limit Utley to ~130 games but never have. Utley is still productive because he takes pitches: do move him up in the order, Ryne.

We fast forward from the All-Star game to Alumni Weekend to celebrate the legacy of the winningest manager in Franchise History: Charlie Manuel at his Wall of Fame Induction Ceremony. His legacy is awesome, overseeing a storied time for the Phillies: five consecutive NL East Titles, two NL Pennants, a World Championship, a franchise-record 102-win season in 2011, a perfect game, playoff no-hitter, 1000 career wins (780 for the Phillies), and managing the first NL team to win the All-Star game (2010) in 14 years. It doesn't get much better than that, except a second world title. Yes, his tenure ended with mismanagement of veterans, leading to an undeservedly early firing, but his tenure is still awesome! Thank you for the memories, Chuck! You were Philadelphia!

We go from celebration back to disappointment with a game that symbolized everything that went wrong with the Phillies last year: the first Phillies offense in ~40 years to be no-hit. You always have to give the opposing pitcher credit. In this case, it was the Dodgers' Josh Beckett on 5/25. However, it's no secret to anyone that the Phillies' steady decline since 2008 is due to a declining offense. It still takes a lot to no hit any team, even one with mediocre offense. The stage was set for a terrible year, but the Phillies were not down yet.

The stretch of games between June 20th & July 6th put the Phillies out of contention. This 3-win, 16-game stretch dropped them 8.5 games in the standings, a hole too deep to climb out. Not much more went right after the All-Star break for the team. Besides Buchannan emerging as a solid no. 4 (6-7 rec., 3.40 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 5.26 K/9, 2.17 K/BB, 0.81 HR/9 in 19 of his 20 starts), the only Phillies to have success were Hamels, Byrd, Ruiz, and the Phillies bullpen.

There is one game that symbolized almost everything that went right in 2014. It was the last game the Phillies played with a 25-man roster. On Sept. 1st, four Phillies pitchers that had successful 2014 campaigns - Hamels, Diekman, Giles, & Papelbon - combined for a no-hitter. Byrd, brought in to stabilize right field this year, saved an eventual 7-0 victory with a diving catch in right field in the 3rd with two runners on. Ruiz caught the entire game for his third career no-no behind the dish (Varitek caught four in his career). It was an awesome moment in a down year, and the top moment in 2014.

Let's end it on a high note. My next entry will be the "Stay or Go?" game in which I grade individuals on the 2014 season (either A thru F or Pass/Fail). See you then.

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