Time to Panic Phillies Fans?

As the Major League Baseball season winds down, it seems that the Philadelphia Phillies might be a little worn down.

Losing six games in a row for the first time since June 16-21, 2009 has the fanbase questioning the team for the first time all year. There are some extenuating circumstances with this losing streak, but that doesn’t make it any less worrisome.

Last week, the Phillies clinched a playoff birth, then the NL East Division title and finally homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Since that time, they haven’t been the same team. Some nights they literally weren’t the same team, as the lineup looked more like a spring training lineup than what we’ve come to expect during the regular season.

That kind of thing is to be expected as manager Charlie Manuel tries to rest his veteran players, now that they have everything wrapped up. Rest is a necessity for an older team like the Phillies , where all of their core players are over 30 years old.

Besides the players Manuel chose to rest, there have been a few instances where he didn’t have a choice. Hunter Pence has been out with a knee injury and Ryan Howard has been out with an ankle injury. Neither injury is considered serious and both players have been cleared to play. As a matter of fact, both participated in batting practice before Thursday’s game.

Manuel’s plan is to put his regular lineup back in place starting on Saturday in New York and let them play together for the last five games of the season to get back in a groove. The only question is, can they find their missing mojo in five games ?

“Usually the hottest team going in wins it,” Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt said. “You look at years past, some of the teams that had the best record got beat out in the first round. It’s whoever is the hottest group going in. Hopefully the next six games we’ll start playing better.” Oswalt isn’t the only one who is hopeful. If the Phillies don’t win the World Series this entire season will be considered a failure, no matter how many games they win.

Part of the problem may also be the schedule. On Aug. 29, they started a string of 33 games in 31 days and have gone 15-12 thus far, with six games remaining. A few day-night double headers thrown in there also necessitated a few less than ideal lineups, but that still doesn’t explain what’s been going wrong lately.

The Phillies have scored three runs or fewer in 13 of their last 15 games. And in the four game sweep at the hands of the lowly Washington Nationals, the Phillies 1-3 hitters in the lineup (Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley ) went a combined 1-for-34. That will not get it done.

Sure a lineup without Howard and Pence is a lot less scary for opposing pitchers, but the other veterans need to step up their game or else the Phillies will have a repeat of last year, when the San Francisco Giants unceremoniously bounced them from the playoffs.

All teams go through hot streaks and cold streaks. That’s typical in the marathon that is a 162-game baseball season. But just a week ago, the fans were expecting this Phillies team to shatter the club record of 101 wins in a season. Now the team would have to go 4-2 in their last six games to set a new mark with 102 wins. With the way they’re hitting, that’s far from certain.

“Right now we’re not playing too well,” Oswalt said. “The last six games, hopefully we’ll start swinging the bats a bit. Right now we’ve got six games left before the playoffs and hopefully we won’t take them lightly.”

I don’t think this Phillies team will take the remaining games lightly though. This is a veteran team that knows exactly what it takes to get ready for and win in the playoffs. Howard and Pence were able to get the rest they needed in order to recover from their injuries because the team clinched early. That’s a good thing. While stumbling at the end of the season is never a good thing, the Phillies have something that should prevent that. That would be their starting rotation.

Pitching is the key to winning a series in the playoffs and the Phillies have by far the best staff in baseball. Roy Halladay (18-6, 2.41 ERA, 1.05 WHIP), Cliff Lee (16-8, 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP), Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.80 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) and Roy Oswalt (8-10, 3.86 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) give the Phillies a decided advantage against any other team in the playoffs. Much has been made of the faltering bullpen, but if those four aces do what they’re supposed to do, then the Phils won’t need that much from their bullpen anyway.

Halladay is the only one for the four who hasn’t pitched in the World Series, but after throwing a no-hitter in his first ever playoff start last season, I don’t think there should be any questions about his ability to dominate any lineup in baseball.

Some Phillie fans can run around like Chicken Little and panic all they want. Me? I’ll wait and see what they can do in these last six games with their normal lineup in there. I’m confident that this veteran roster knows exactly what they need to do get back on track. And even if the offense doesn’t get all the way back, all they need to do is score a run or two to get a win in the postseason. That pitching staff was assembled to win a World Series and since they are all healthy right now (knock on wood), there is no reason they shouldn’t dominate.

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