Reshuffled Phillies hardly resemble '80 champs so far
Philadelphia — The 1982 Philadelphia Phillies no longer bear very much resemblance to the team that dominated the National League East through most of the late 1970s and won the World Series just two years ago. Indeed, the club has undergone a housecleaning more typical of a perennial loser than a world champion - as shown by the fact that of the 10 players who saw more or less regular action in the 1980 Series, only four are still around. A quick look at the standings, though, makes one wonder if general manager Paul Owens may have engineered a few trades he'd like to have back.
Of course it's still early, and neither Owens nor new manager Pat Corrales is ready to push the panic button yet - at least publicly - but it goes without saying that a 4-11 start is not the recommended strategy for prospective contenders in a division as tough and competitive as the NL East. Compounding the problem is the fact that St. Louis has jumped out to a big early lead while defending champion Montreal is also off to a good start.
The biggest problem so far has been a feeble attack by a team which has regularly been among the best in this category. The 1982 Phillies are dead last in team batting at .231 and in runs scored at 42 - departments in which they led the league a year ago.
A rib injury which has sidelined two-time MVP Mike Schmidt since April 13 hasn't helped, but the Phillies were only 1-4 in the games he played before getting hurt. And it's not a one-man thing; it's a team-wide slump that has already led to some lineup changes in hopes of finding a winning combination.
The pitching was supposed to be much improved this year, with Mike Krukow acquired from the Chicago Cubs to fill out the starting rotation and Ed Farmer picked up as a free agent to bolster the bullpen. But so far the mound corps, too, has failed to deliver.
The biggest disappointment has been the man this team always counts on most, three-time Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton, who got off to the worst start of his career at 0-4. The 37-year-old left-hander finally got untracked Sunday, however, beating the Cardinals 8-4 to break their 12-game winning streak as well as his own losing skein. And although he weakened in the ninth, he looked like the old Steve Carlton for eight innings - giving the whole club a big boost as it heads out on its first West Coast trip of the season.
The team's record is still the worst in either league, however, and Corrales, brought in to replace Dallas Green this year when the latter became general manager of the Cubs, is naturally disappointed. The former Texas Ranger pilot certainly had reason to expect more from a club that still looks as good on paper as this one does, although he did anticipate that it might take the new-look Phillies a little time to get used to playing together.
''I think we've got as much talent here as the 1980 team did, but it's a matter of jelling,'' he told me a few games into the season. ''We've got a new catcher (Bo Diaz) and a new shortstop (Ivan DeJesus), and you know those are key positions. It may take us two or three weeks to get it together. We just want to keep our heads above water until then.''
The tide seems to be up around their chins now, though, so unless something positive happens quickly he'll have to start looking around for a swimming instructor. And while he's at it, given the notorious lack of patience of this city's fans coupled with baseball's standard practice of making the manager the scapegoat when a team goes bad, he'd be well advised to scout out a lifeboat for himself too.
The metamorphosis of this team since its greatest moment of triumph 18 months ago is amazing, as a look at the World Series lineup shows. Bob Boone was the catcher, with Pete Rose at first base, Manny Trillo at second, Schmidt at third, Larry Bowa at shortstop, an outfield that usually had Lonnie Smith in left, Garry Maddox in center, and Bake McBride in right, with Greg Luzinski and Keith Moreland sharing the designated hitter spot used in that year's classic. Of this group, only Rose, Trillo, Schmidt, and Maddox remain, with the rest dealt away last year or this.
Joining those four in this year's starting lineup were Diaz (acquired from Cleveland) at catcher, DeJesus (obtained from the Cubs) at shortstop, Gary Matthews (who came from Atlanta a year ago) in left, and a right field platoon tandem of Dick Davis (acquired from Milwaukee last year) and homegrown product George Vukovich. That still seems a fairly solid array - especially with the apparently strong pitching and defense that go along with it - but things haven't clicked so far. And now the combination of Schmidt's injury (he's eligible to play again Thursday, but it's uncertain when he'll be ready) and the poor start has already provoked some changes.
Dissatisfied with the first experiments at filling in for Schmidt, the club has called up shortstop Julio Franco from the minors and shifted DeJesus to third temporarily. And in a move Corrales hopes will put more spark into the attack, rookie Bob Dernier, who has stolen more than 70 bases in three straight minor league seasons, has lately been leading off and playing either center or right field.
That some of the team's wheeling and dealing hasn't set well with the fans is putting it mildly. One Philadelphia paper has taken to running a daily box showing the batting averages of ex-Phillies. And it doesn't help matters that Moreland is hitting .381 and among the league leaders in both home runs and RBIs , while Smith, who was a big crowd favorite here, is batting .333 and sparking the Cardinals' early success.
A few wins and a climb in the standings would silence the critics quickly enough, of course, but even before the poor start some observers here thought the team was in trouble. Smith is a leadoff man who makes an offense go; Bowa is also a fine offensive player; and Moreland, though he never played regularly here, had indicated he could be the big RBI man he has become so far in Chicago.
That's a lot of offense to give up in one year, especially after unloading half of the team's old 1-2 home run punch (Luzinski) the previous season. The result, even when Schmidt returns, could be a constant tableau of Mike either walking or being forced to swing at bad pitches, since he is the kind of hitter opposing hurlers are always going to pitch around unless there are enough other threats in the lineup to inhibit such strategy.
After dividing their first 15 games pretty evenly between home and the road, the Phils now embark on an eight-game trip followed by a 14-game home stand through May 19. By then we should have a better idea whether this team which has been one of the game's most consistent top powers since the mid-'70s is still a leading contender that just got a fluke bad start or is in for a long summer.