Last memory of the 2011 Phillies?
That's easy. It's
hitting a grounder to
, heading disgustedly toward first base and then collapsing halfway down the first-base line as the Cardinals mobbed
to celebrate the 1-0 victory that finished off a
Division Series upset.
In clubhouse parlance, a sniper got him.
That's what players say when someone trips or collapses in mid-stride, seemingly without cause. There was a reason for this, however, and it was a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Unfortunately for baseball's best starting rotation, the Howard tumble and collapse provides a perfect analogy for the Phillies.
They have been the most successful NL franchise for five years now, not only winning consecutive East titles but increasing their total of regular-season victories every season since 2006. It's an impressive progression — 85, 89, 92, 93, 97 and 102.
For that to continue in 2012, that number has to climb to 103, with 108 in the picture. The presence of
, along with the addition of $50 million-closer
, suggests it could happen. But it won't.
The Phillies have a fatal flaw, and there is no cure in sight. Their lineup has become one of the oldest in the majors, and it no longer is the huge advantage against contenders that it once was. And did I mention — it's old.
When the Phillies traded for
last July, they gave themselves one position secured by a player in his 20s. He will turn 29 in April. The core guys in the lineup: Howard,
are 33, 33 and 32, respectively.
, a fresh face not long ago, is 31, catcher
is 33 and
When the Phillies were playing in back-to-back
in 2008-09, they were billed as an NL team with an
lineup. But that's not true anymore, not with Utley (decreasing OPS each of last four years), Howard (OPS down three of four years) and Rollins (OPS down three of four years) profiling as post-prime players, and no young hitters stepping in to balance the equation.
Run production became a front-and-center issue for manager
last season when the Phillies averaged 4.4 runs to rank seventh in the NL. But this was the likely result of a trend that really started in the second half of 2009 when the Phillies were headed for a World Series loss to the Yankees.
The Phillies led the NL in scoring in 2009, but they scored more than half a run less in the second half of that season than early on, when they had the hammer down. But the swagger isn't gone from Philadelphia fans, who still think they're watching a team full of bullies.
failing to claim the
vacancy, the Phillies haven't successfully integrated a player under 25 into their lineup since Utley replaced Polanco as the second baseman in August 2004. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made a philosophy-revealing decision earlier this winter, declining to let Rollins leave via free agency, which would have opened a spot for 22-year-old
, arguably the best defensive shortstop in the minors.
Rollins is a middle-of-the-pack defender, and he isn't likely to improve over the course of his three-year, $33-million deal. But Amaro wasn't ready to face the future without his leadoff man, so he blocked Galvis. Brown appears headed back to Triple-A for another season, with John Mayberry Jr. and newcomers