So this past weekend I sat around and watched some movies. On Saturday, I came across Murder at 1600. I used to watch this movie a quadrillion times with my dad growing up. It was one of those that, if it was on TBS or TNT or USA, we watched it. Like moths to a flame, we couldn’t get away. That’s beside the point, though.
While watching Wesley Snipes outwit the Secret Service, I contemplated the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies. By the time Snipes solved the murder, I realized two things.
First, I’m getting old. Within a two minute span of the film, Wesley Snipes used a portable typewriter – at a bar nonetheless – and took the defining ”1600 What?” phone call on the bar’s house phone. That’s right, when an urgent need for police arose; they were chased down at bars, not on cell phones. Not only were cell phones missing in 1997, but a Washington D.C. homicide detective was using a portable typewriter instead of a computer. Sometimes I forget cell phones and computers didn’t always exist. In fact, I can’t believe I actually lived before either was prevalent.
Second, the career arc of Wesley Snipes makes me nervous about the Phillies. In his day, Snipes was a guaranteed box office draw. A top actor like Matt Damon, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Denzel are today. Murder at 1600, Passenger 57, White Men Can’t Jump, Blade, Demolition Man, U.S. Marshalls, the list goes on and on. Snipes was perched atop the film game. And then, just like that, he wasn’t. The penthouse to the outhouse. Are my beloved Phillies destined for a similar fate?
After adding Cliff Lee, the Phillies unquestionably boast the best rotation in Major League Baseball. Any of Philadelphia’s top four starting pitchers could legitimately be the ace on 80% of the other teams in baseball. Furthermore, even with the departure of Jayson Werth, the starting lineup is again full of stars like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino. On paper, the Phillies are a shoe-in for their 3rd National League Pennant in four years. Unfortunately, paper isn’t always reflected by play.
Recall the past few years. My research assistant is away, but based on my count, only the Yankees, Lakers, Celtics and Red Wings have gone wire to wire as favorites. How’d Tom Brady and the heavily favored Patriots fare in 2007 and 2011? Not well. The Yankees have been the favorite almost every year over the past decade and have only one title. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers? Zero. Apparently, being anointed the prohibitive favorite is a curse.
I’m terrified of what could wrong this season. I’ve been a Philadelphia sports fan my entire life and nothing, and I mean nothing, ever goes according to plan here. If the over/under on Tommy John surgeries for the Phillies’ staff in 2011 were 1.5, I would seriously consider the over. Chase Utley will probably break another bone in his hand. Jimmy Rollins will act like he’s still a great player even though his stats scream, “.258 lead-off hitter who pops-up and strikes out waayyy too much.” Heck, I half expect Jayson Werth to transform into Albert Pujols and lead the Nationals to an NL East crown. I’m that scared.
Let’s pretend for a minute the Phillies avoid any devastating injuries and succeed in keeping their rotation and starting lineup intact for most of the season. That puts the Phillies in the postseason and probably in the NLCS. Once there, the Phillies have four outstanding pitchers to trot out to the mound as opposed to three in 2010. That’s an amazing advantage over any opponent, but here’s my problem: The Phillies didn’t collapse in the 2010 NLCS because of their pitching. Sure, the rotation wasn’t at the top of its game but I’d chalk up the Phillies’ collapse to hitting, more specifically, hitting with runners on in game-defining situations. Last I checked, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels don’t hit for average or power. If the Phillies find themselves squaring off against the San Francisco Giants again in October, what am I supposed to believe gives the Phillies an advantage? The Giants rotation, while lacking big names throughout, is also scary good. They confused/flustered/embarrassed/owned the Phillies last fall. In the offseason, Philadelphia responded by letting its best right-handed bat walk (albeit the right call), leaving right field empty and a gaping hole in the middle of the batting order. As of now, there’s no definitive solution to fill that hole and protect Ryan Howard. Obviously, Werth’s production won’t be replaced. The best hope for an improved offense? Jimmy Rollins is in a contract year. Uhh, yeah. Feel free to punch yourself in the stomach.
I’m always behind the Phillies. I’ll follow intently as they pursue another NL East crown and a postseason run into November. Will I be watching with my hands over my face waiting/expecting something awful to happen as if I’m watching a horror flick? Absolutely.
I love this team, almost as much as the ’93 version, but I refuse to jump on the “we’re going wire-to-wire and winning a 2nd World Series title” bandwagon. It’s never that easy. The road is never that smooth.
Just ask Wesley Snipes.