|Swept out of the playoffs, Philadelphia Phillies look ahead|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 07 October 2007 11:40|
The Colorado Rockies spoiled Philly's postseason party with a three-game sweep, leaving players to ponder their failures over a long winter.
``Having this feeling we're having right now, hopefully that can be a little bit of a motivating factor for next year,'' slugger Ryan Howard said.
Few expected the Phillies to get this far, especially after another poor April put the team in an early hole and injuries started piling up.
But, the Fightin' Phils lived up to their moniker by rallying to capture their first NL East championship since 1993 on the final day of the season. It took an historic collapse by the New York Mets - they became the first team in major league history to blow a seven-game lead with 17 remaining - for the Phillies to finish one game ahead in the standings.
Then they celebrated their first playoff appearance in 14 years like they'd won it all. A wild party on the field at Citizens Bank Park last Sunday was followed by a downtown pep rally the next day.
It was downhill from there, mainly because a potent lineup was awful against the Rockies' inexperienced-but-talented pitching staff. The league's highest-scoring team got eight runs in three games against Colorado and batted just .172 (16-for-93) with 26 strikeouts during the series.
``Whether we were trying too hard or not, I guess that's a question to think about in the offseason,'' All-Star Chase Utley said. ``I'm extremely proud of this team. This team had the most heart and desire to win than any team I've ever been on. It's extremely disappointing. I wish we could have played a little better, but we got a taste of the postseason so I imagine a lot of us will take this in the offseason and think about it a little bit.''
Before they fizzled in the playoffs, Utley, Howard, MVP candidate Jimmy Rollins and the rest of the hitters had outstanding seasons. They made up for many of the team's pitching deficiencies by outslugging opponents.
At one point, the Phillies didn't have projected ace Freddy Garcia or replacement Jon Lieber in the rotation and were without closers Tom Gordon and Brett Myers.
Both Garcia and Lieber went down for the season in June, and Gordon and Myers missed two months each. Howard, Utley, ace Cole Hamels, outfielders Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn and reliever Ryan Madson also missed significant time.
``We're obviously all disappointed that we couldn't make the season a little longer, but we've got to hold our heads high,'' Utley said. ``We battled through so much this year, we overcame a lot. We're disappointed but we've got to put this behind.''
With a young nucleus returning next year, the Phillies should be in contention again. They won't settle for just getting to the playoffs, either.
``I would hope that we have a lot more chances,'' Howard said. ``I would hope that everybody in here would expect to make it to the playoffs and not only have it as a team goal to make the playoffs, but to go on and win a World Series.''
The most immediate question going into the offseason is the status of manager Charlie Manuel. In the final season of his three-year contract, the heavily criticized Manuel earned some votes for NL manager of the year by keeping his team together through all the turmoil. He'll likely seek at least a two-year extension, though general manager Pat Gillick isn't sure to be back after his contract is up following the 2008 season because he may choose to retire.
As for players, center fielder Aaron Rowand heads into free agency with quite a bit of leverage after having his best season. Rowand is a perfect fit in the clubhouse, but the Phillies might not be willing to give him a deal similar to the $30 million, three-year contract extension Arizona's Eric Byrnes signed.
The Phillies will save $17.5 million on salaries for Garcia and Lieber who also will be free agents. But Utley and Myers will make more next year and Howard is due for a big raise.
If Rowand leaves, the Phillies may fill his spot by moving Victorino from right to center or using Bourn in center. There's a chance left fielder Pat Burrell could be traded. He increased his value with a strong second half, but is earning $14 million next year in the final season of his contract and has a no-trade clause.
A more productive third baseman than the trio Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs and Abraham Nunez also is on the offseason wish list. And, of course, the pitching staff needs the most work.