It’s early in the season yet, but it’s fair to say that the Philadelphia Phillies are not going to be the toast of the town in the City of Brotherly Love or anywhere that their transplanted fans reside. They’re simply going to be toast. Unlike C.C. Sabathia, who has learned to pitch with decreased velocity, the Phillies former ace Roy Halladay went into early labor this season and his arm is in distress. This team was built on pitching, and its pitching is sorely lacking.
They say that hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and Ryan Howard can certainly attest to that. He’s a sinkhole smack in the middle of the lineup, and with the only legitimate right-handed power bat on the club sitting out the first month suspended for amphetamine use, Howard is off to the slow start that the Phils couldn’t afford. Domonic Brown showed signs of figuring things out in the Spring, but that hasn’t come North either. So both of these power bats have been deafeningly silent. Sure, it’s early. That’s always the default line for getting off to a slow start. But at some point early will drift in to too late.
I realize that professional athletes are harder on themselves than fans could ever be. The pained expression has become all too familiar on Howard’s face as he waves helplessly at balls in the dirt, or flails at pitches that tantalizing break low and outside. The problem as has been pointed out by many is that he seems to have failed to make adjustments to the adjustments that the rest of the league have made to him.
The most overt adjustment the league has made to Howard is the Howard Shift pictured above. The first baseman hugs the line, the second baseman plays short right field, the shortstop plays second base, and the third baseman plays shortstop. Howard simply cannot hit to the opposite field well enough to challenge the shift. There’s even a T-Shirt that acknowledges this.
Hey look, I’m no orthopod, but I can tell you in observing Ryan Howard during spring training that the man still walks with a visible limp. You can see that when he ruptured his Achiles tendon on his last ignominious at bat of 2011, his left foot is dangling inward. He now has a more obvious in-toeing than ever before, and weakness in planting his left foot in the batter’s box has left him with an altered pivot on his swing. Howard’s out of whack mechanics compounds his inability to adapt.
All this has gotten the Phillies off to a painfully slow start this first week of the season. To make the playoffs this year the Phillies had to have either their pitching restored to some level of consistency or their hitting restored to some level of consistency, but there is not a hint that either will be forthcoming. Of most concern, I may have to concede to Ezra Baron that his Mets will finish ahead of my Phillies this year. All I can say is that it’s a good thing that when I pulled out my wallet to wager a bet, he spared me the grief and declined.