Phillies ponder future after falling way short
All those aces meant nothing at the plate.
The Philadelphia Phillies found out that pitching doesn't win championships. It takes clutch hitting, too.
An all-or-nothing season in which only a World Series title would be considered a success turned out to be an abysmal failure. The Phillies didn't even make it out of the first round of the NL playoffs.
A 1-0 loss in a do-or-die game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night sent the Futile Phils off to an early vacation. There won't be a championship parade down Broad Street this October. No celebration in the streets. No ceremony at the ballpark.
And the news got even worse Saturday: Ryan Howard might miss the start of spring training and possibly part of the regular season after tearing his Achilles tendon while making the final out for the second consecutive year.
The power-hitting first baseman was injured on the last play of Game 5 when he fell as he ran out of the batter's box on a groundout. The team said Saturday night an MRI revealed a rupture of Howard's left Achilles tendon.
The Phillies cruised to their fifth straight NL East title and won a franchise-record 102 games along the way. None of that mattered against the pesky Cardinals, who wouldn't even have qualified as the wild card had the Phillies not swept the Braves to end the regular season.
Albert Pujols and crew beat three of Philadelphia's heralded starters: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. The Cardinals couldn't touch Cole Hamels, the only ace who has a championship ring.
Halladay was outstanding in Game 5. But his best buddy, Chris Carpenter, was even better. So the Cardinals advanced and the Phillies are left to ponder what went wrong.
''I don't care where you go, there's no team that you're guaranteed to win anything,'' Halladay said. ''We have an unbelievable team here. Winning the World Series is always going to be the goal. When I came over here, I didn't think it was going to be easy. I knew it would be hard. I knew it's not something you do every year.
''I really enjoy the process of going after it and playing these games and getting to this point in the season,'' he said. ''Hopefully we get to a point where things go our way. We'll get back here and do it again.''
Since winning their second World Series title in 2008, the Phillies have taken one step backward each season. They lost to the New York Yankees in six games in the 2009 World Series, lost to the San Francisco Giants in six games in the 2010 NLCS, and didn't even get past the NL division series this time.
The Phillies had the best record in the majors two straight years, but couldn't get the most important 11 wins when they needed them.
''It's disappointing because we had higher expectations,'' said Lee, who blew a 4-0 lead in a 5-4 loss in Game 2. ''I don't think management is going to give up on everything. We're still going to have good pitching. We're still going to have a good team. I expect to come in here next year and make another run at it.''
The Phillies had the second-highest payroll behind the Yankees, and they were built to win now with a roster filled with aging stars. The addition of Lee to an already superior staff pushed expectations to boom-or-bust levels. Everyone from management down to the coaching staff and players stressed from the first day of spring training that winning the World Series was the only goal.
Perhaps the pressure was too much.
''We've got a lot of talent on our team,'' manager Charlie Manuel said. ''We won the most games in baseball. That just goes to show you, especially in a long run, how we can do. But when you hit against teams that are playing better baseball than you and things like that and especially in the playoffs or series, then you get beat. And I kind of think that's what's happened to us in the last couple years. But at the same time, I think we're every bit as good or better than the teams we've been playing overall if you look at it.''
A lineup that features seven regulars who've been All-Stars was downright awful against the Cardinals. Five players hit below .211. Howard and Placido Polanco each went 2 for 19. Hunter Pence was 4 for 19. Raul Ibanez was 3 for 15. Carlos Ruiz had one hit in 17 at-bats.
Only Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino did anything offensively. The overall hitting woes shouldn't be a surprise, however.
Several players have been on the decline for the past few seasons. That's why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. put together the best starting rotation money could buy. But Lee and Oswalt let them down in big games.
It'll be an interesting offseason in Philadelphia. There could be some big changes, and a couple of familiar faces may not be back in red pinstripes next season.
Rollins, Ibanez and closer Ryan Madson will be free agents.
Oswalt has a $16 million mutual option. Brad Lidge, the bullpen star in 2008, almost certainly will get a $1.5 million buyout instead of having his $12.5 million option picked up.
The Phillies have about $113 million committed to nine players, and Hamels and Pence are due raises in arbitration.
Whatever moves are made, the Phillies still should be a championship-caliber club. They'll win plenty of regular-season games with Halladay, Lee and Hamels anchoring a rotation that probably will include Vance Worley, who had a standout rookie season.
But like the Braves of the 1990s learned, strong pitching doesn't guarantee postseason success. The Phillies need to find a way to get their offense going next year.
''It's very disappointing to be going home right now. It's tough,'' Ibanez said. ''Obviously, we know we're capable of doing more. But we didn't. And they beat us. It's a hard pill to swallow. We didn't do enough, and they did. We didn't do what we were supposed to do. And they did.''
That's becoming a common theme around here.
NOTES: The team said Hamels will have loose bodies removed from his left elbow on Friday and another surgery a week later to repair a hernia. ... Pence and Polanco will both have MRIs to evaluate their hernias. Polanco probably will have surgery and the scan will help determine what Pence needs. ... 1B Ross Gload probably will have arthroscopic surgery on his right hip after it is re-examined by Dr. Bryan Kelly.