With the exception of some young arms in the bullpen such as Alexandria native Michael Schwimer and slick-fielding infielder Freddy Galvis (suspended 50 games in June for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug), those reinforcements haven’t been there.
And this group didn’t need a slow build to capturing a championship. Long sustained regular-season success and playoff appearances since seemed to eliminate any signs of complacency. But Bowa, who was on the Phillies' 1980 World Series-winning team, knows what can change, even subconsciously.
“I think you take things for granted. You think it’s going to happen automatically,” he said. “When you get there and the expectations are high, sometimes your intensity level isn’t what it should be early in the year. Before you look up, you’re chasing, you’re chasing, you’re chasing. It’s an uphill climb. You take two steps forward and one back.”
‘Who saw this coming?’
It’s difficult to figure out one moment when things went awry in Philadelphia. The beginning of the end for 2012 may have come the night of Oct. 7, 2011, when Howard tore his left Achilles tendon running out a grounder on the final out of an NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Howard suffered a setback that caused him to miss all of April, May and June. Combine that with Utley’s bad knees, Halladay’s sore shoulder and Lee’s strained oblique, and the Phillies spent the first half of the season a shell of a team that won 102 games last season.
“To see it go wrong to this extent, who wasn’t surprised? Who saw this coming?” ESPN analyst, author and Philadelphia native Jayson Stark said. “There have only been two teams in the history of baseball that won 102 games one year and then had a losing record the next year. It doesn’t happen, what they’re going through.”
Even with a stronger bench than years past, the Phillies couldn’t compensate.
“Every team has those one or two guys that if they go down, you can’t replace them, and unfortunate for the Phillies, it was Utley, it was Howard and it was Roy Halladay,” Plesac said. “You can’t buy the kind of insurance you need to make up for those kind of players because they’re special players.”
The supporting cast of Rollins, Pence, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco withered in the absence of Utley and Howard, and pitching from the starting rotation through the bullpen simply wasn’t good enough. Hamels showed he’s still an ace and Ruiz has enjoyed a career season, but Lee needed until July 4 to pick up his first victory and the kind of walk-off magic the Phillies used to inflict on opponents haunted them.
“I think you look at it sometimes, and I don’t think anybody in this clubhouse expected to be where we’re at,” closer Jonathan Papelbon said. “It’s pretty frustrating. But this game will test every ounce of you and every bit of this team.”
By the time Utley made his season debut June 27, the Phillies had disappointed but were just five games under .500 and nine games back of first place in the division. That night, the Phillies opted to make it a bullpen game, with Raul Valdes starting. Even though Utley went 3-for-5, with a home run in his first at-bat, the Phillies lost 11-7 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“You have this moment that they’ve waited for all season long: the return of Chase Utley, and it even features a Chase Utley homer and then that still becomes the linchpin for this cliff dive where they lose 11 out of 12,” Stark said. “That summed up all their issues, I think, is that even the return of Utley couldn’t save them because all of a sudden their greatest strength, pitching, they just didn’t have enough pitching depth to cover that.”
The three aces, Halladay, Lee and Hamels, have combined to go 16-17 with a 3.79 earned-run average. The bullpen has an ERA of 4.53, which was fourth-worst in the majors going into Monday night’s games. Bowa said the bullpen is the one area of the roster Amaro should want a re-do on this season.
But as Papelbon pointed out, this is a season that has tested the Phillies in every aspect of the game. Bowa doesn’t like the injury excuse, and manager Charlie Manuel brushed off trade talk over recent weeks as a contributing factor to his team’s slide.