Manuel expects Phillies to contend again
Still stinging from an early postseason exit, Charlie Manuel isn't ready to lower his team's expectations.
The Philadelphia Phillies didn't win the World Series title that everyone from management to players to fans expected this season. But their manager doesn't think it's time to settle for less.
''Absolutely not,'' Manuel said Wednesday. ''That's the way I like it. You can put expectations on all you want to, it's the expectations that they put on themselves and how we look at things. Right now, when we go to spring training, what we will be talking about is getting to the World Series and win. That's been our goal ever since we won after 2008.''
The Phillies followed up the best regular season in franchise history - 102 wins was a franchise record - with their worst disappointment in the postseason. They blew a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five first-round series against the St. Louis Cardinals, and were eliminated at home in a 1-0 loss.
Even having all those aces couldn't help the Phillies. The wild-card Cardinals beat Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt.
''Our expectation coming out of spring training, we wanted to go to the World Series and win. That was our ultimate goal. We did not fulfill that goal,'' Manuel said. ''We had a tremendous regular season, we got to the first round of the playoffs and got beat. I look at it that we didn't reach our goal. We got into a 2-2 situation, we lost the third game in a shutout.
''Baseball is a game you're asking a whole lot when you say we have to win a World Series. That's high stakes. With the talent assembled on our team, people and the media put expectations that we had to win the World Series. It didn't happen. I'm sorry for that.''
Manuel made it clear the team needed to improve its hitting, echoing the thoughts of general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. A woeful offense was the biggest reason Philadelphia didn't advance.
The Phillies hit .226 against the Cardinals, and scored just 10 runs in the last four games after an 11-6 victory in the opener. Only three regulars - Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino - hit above .211 in the series.
Manuel and Amaro want players to change their approach at the plate, take more pitches, work the count and be smarter hitters. The current lineup can no longer outslug teams they way they used to when the Phillies won the World Series in 2008.
''It's a matter of keep reminding guys,'' Manuel said. ''We definitely will have meetings and things like that in spring training and carry it out during the season. We have to get better hitting. You have to know what kind of hitter you are. I'm definitely on board with what Ruben says.''
In '08, the Phillies had three guys hit more than 30 homers. They had four players hit more than 30 and five hit more than 20 in 2009, when they lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series. In the last two seasons, only Ryan Howard has reached 30. The big slugger hit 31 in 2010 and 33 this season, down from his average of 50 per year from 2006-09.
The Phillies have to manufacture runs without relying on home runs. But this lineup doesn't play smallball. Howard led the team with 75 walks. No one else even had 60. Rollins was the only player with more than 20 stolen bases. Many of the hitters are too aggressive and lack plate discipline.
''The pitchers make adjustments and the hitters have to make adjustments,'' Manuel said. ''If you don't like to or are afraid to go deep in the count or to hit with two strikes on you, you are going to get anxious, you'll be aggressive and chase bad balls. At times, we'll take a fastball right down the middle, some guy will throw a breaking ball down and we'll roll over it and swing at it and miss. That's not good hitting. We talk about that all the time.''
Six of the eight regulars are under contract. Rollins will be a free agent, but he wants to return. That doesn't leave room for much of an overhaul.
So, can a group of veteran hitters alter their approach at this stage of their careers?
''I take a lot of pride in hitters,'' Manuel said. ''I know how good a hitting coach I am and I don't care whether you want to believe that or not.
''We will get better.''