Saturday, September 11, 2010

Philadelphia twilight

This is one ham the Philadelphia Phillies wish wasn't tender.

Jimmy Rollins tweaked his right hamstring while legging out a double in Wednesday's game against the Florida Marlins, a scene that has been played out in 2010. He gingerly rounded first base and then painfully limped his way home on a single rather than immediately coming out of the game and saving the fans the agony of witnessing this unpleasantness twice in one inning.

After four days, Rollins is still not in the lineup, which is completely necessary and won't hurt the team in the short run. It's unfortunate because he had just recently begun showing shades of his former speedy self, swiping bags at a frequency he hadn't enjoyed all season. That unfettered speed is a key component of the Philly offense, and it is something the team will need in the postseason.

J-Roll hasn't been the only issue this season as anyone who has paused for a few minutes on just one Phillies game all season can tell you. Of the team's big contributors - excluding Roy Oswalt who's only been with the club since the Trade Deadline - only Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels have avoided serious injury. Given so much adversity, it's astounding the Phillies are tied for first place with 19 games left to play.

They are on the verge of their fourth straight playoff appearance, however, which is what the organization expects of out this talented group. Halladay has certainly been an invaluable addition in 2010, but the anyone associated with the Phillies will say the heart and soul of the team lies with its home crop core of Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The boys up top have invested hundreds of millions to keep these three together to provide an atmosphere of unity, particularly after all this success. But with each passing season, it's seeming more and more like the organization is getting in too deep.

Consider that the mean age of the Phillies starting lineup is presently 31.9, compared to 28.6 in 2007. Many of the players are nearing the point when their numbers start to decline, and their bodies can't handle the strain of a 162-game season.

Rollins is the most glaring example. He's made three trips to the DL since 2008, and his numbers in that time (.258/.321/.417) have suffered, especially for a leadoff hitter. They're a noticeable dip from his output from 2004-07 - .288/.341/.475. As J-Roll has struggled to stay on the field this year, it's hard not to think about past stars of the game who started to fade once they entered their 30s, like Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas and Juan Gonzalez. While Utley's and Howard's injuries were purely accidental, some fans have to be wondering when their bodies will start to fail them.

Such troubling thoughts are not on the players' minds right now, but they've gotten so used to winning. Should they not reach the World Series or lose their grip on the postseason altogether, you can bet they'll be mulling over an uncertain future during the offseason. This run can't last forever and all of these big trades in recent years have made it difficult to build another core of J-Rolls, Utleys and Howards.

Twilight is starting to fall over Philadelphia, but the Phillies hope to hold on to that setting sun as long as possible.

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