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Season going just how Phils wanted

Open wide. Here it comes. Almost…got it! There, my foot is officially in my mouth. A few weeks back, I predicted that the Philadelphia Phillies would go 90-72, win the National League East and have a shot at the World Series.

This team doesn’t look like it could make the Little League World Series.

I feel like I’m in Bizarro World. At press time, Jimmy Rollins leads the league in homers (6), and Pat Burrell is hitting .333. “Ace” Brett Myers tops the league in earned runs (16), ERA (9.39) and home runs allowed (5). Ryan Howard only has one home run. Most importantly, the team is 3-8.

It’s been a horrendous first couple weeks, but luckily I’m here to tell everyone exactly what’s going on, and why it’s going to be OK. I’ve figured out what this team has on its mind. They are intentionally playing poorly enough to get Manager Charlie Manuel fired. Maybe Ryan Howard and Chase Utley called a team meeting and told everyone to take it easy for the first month so that they can get a real coach. I’m prepared to accept a situation in which Rollins refused to take the dive and that Burrell overslept for the meeting. Maybe they didn’t bother to invite Pat because they figured he’d suck it up anyway. That explains their hot starts.

Seriously, though, watch these games. Whenever someone makes a good play or hits a home run, Utley and Howard flash fake smiles. They may look real, but don’t be fooled. Whenever they know someone is working against them, like Rollins or Cole Hamels (whose first two starts were brilliant), the two young stars just grimace. Myers has been the most unselfish teammate in this entire ordeal, intentionally tossing up meatballs on 0-2 counts in order to give the other team a cushion. Bravo, Brett. Bravo.

As advertised, the bullpen has been awful. I like the fact that some veterans are stepping up and tanking especially hard. Jon Lieber is in a perfect situation, because he can increase his chances of being traded while simultaneously being a team player and intentionally blowing games. This is especially believable because Lieber has a grudge against Manuel for not giving him a spot in the rotation. His team-high ERA of 11.57 is exactly what the doctor ordered. Great job, Jon, and good luck to you. Ryan Madson has also been terrible, but hey, he’s doing his best, and that’s all that Utley and Howard want him to do.

Sometimes, though, this team is a little too conspicuous with its efforts to fail. Through 11 games, they lead the league in walks (69). Come on, fellas. They are blatantly just staring at the ball. They are trying to strike out and ending up getting walked. To their credit, they’ve recognized that the pitching in the National League is so poor that they have to evolve their strategy and stare at strikes while swinging at balls. The new tactic has allowed them to climb to second in the league in strikeouts (89). The whole squad deserves acknowledgement on this one. We’re proud of you, guys.

Shane Victorino is also doing his part. Victorino has lightning speed and is a great competitor. However, he knows the importance of the larger scheme and has arguably cost the Phillies two games with huge baserunning mistakes. Victorino has taken a lot of heat for these two “mishaps,” but he’s gained both the respect and the praise of his teammates.

The guy I feel most sorry for in this entire ordeal is Freddy Garcia. First, he has to leave a great manager in Ozzie Guillen to come to a dud like Uncle Charlie. He’s definitely on board to get a new skipper. Then, he hasn’t even had an opportunity to help his team get rid of their coach. He did a great job with the phantom injury to make sure that Zack Segovia got a start, but when he could no longer fake it and had his opportunity to go out and tank, back-to-back games were rained out. Darn it! Maybe he’ll get tight over the two days and have an excuse to feed Segovia to the dogs again.

There are still a few more stragglers, though. Like Rollins, Aaron Rowand is too fierce a competitor to throw games, and he’s proven his determination by batting a team-high .342. Aaron, I love the intensity, but you don’t need to catch everything from right center to Burrell. Let Pat shag a couple of those gappers; it’s the right thing to do. Carlos Ruiz is ecstatic that Manuel chose him over Chris Coste, who was much more offensively reliable last year. Ruiz’s loyalty has resulted in his .310 average and above-average defense behind the plate.

This is going perfectly, and I especially like it because it shows maturity on the part of Utley and Howard. There is no doubt in my mind that Bobby Abreu had a similar plan last season, but Utley and Howard thwarted it. I’m sure Abreu calls them nightly to make sure they know that they have his full support, and I’m sure that he also rubs in the “I-told-you-so” angle a little bit too much. Too bad Abreu’s not here to take part in this process; he almost got Manuel booted by himself last year.

Fear not, though, Phillies Phans. Manuel won’t make it to May, and the team will begin rectifying its horrid start. Fortunately, the National League is weak enough for them to get away with this charade for a month and still give them a playoff hope. They’re doing this on purpose, and they can still make the playoffs. Yeah, they’re doing this on purpose, and they can still make the playoffs. Come on, everyone together. They’re doing this on purpose, and they can still make the playoffs. Let’s keep telling ourselves that until August.


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