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Do you think Jack McKeon gives Larry Bowa his ass back after the Marlins play
the Phillies, or do you think he just keeps it all the time?

After yesterday’s 11-3 beatdown, the Marlins are 11-1 against the Phillies
this year, and 24-7 against them since the start of 2003. The Marlins’
superiority in head-to-head play was the entire reason why they beat out the
Phillies for the Wild Card last year, and why they’ve tied them in the NL East
this year. Unlike their previous success, in which the aggregate runs really
didn’t reflect the dominance, the Fish outscored the Phillies 43-19 over the
last two weeks.

Back in April, after the Fish took six games from the Phillies in the season’s
first three weeks, I went back and
looked at
what was going on when the two hooked up. Basically, the 19-6
record over two seasons (at the time) didn’t accurately reflect the difference
between the two teams. Nevertheless, some patterns had emerged, and those seem
to have continued into July:

  • The Marlins hit the Phillies better than they do other teams. After
    this week, the gap is stark. A team that bats .263/.331/.413 on the season is
    pounding the Phillies to the tune of .301/.358/.487. Mike
    Lowell
    and Miguel Cabrera lead the charge with 1000+
    OPSs. Every regular other than Juan Pierre hits the Phillies
    better than the league as a whole.

    I mentioned back in April that the Fish own Brett Myers.
    Myers made one mediocre start against them this week: five innings, three
    runs, four walks, five strikeouts. That was, believe it or not, a good game
    for Myers against this team, bringing his career ERA against them down to
    6.53.

  • The Phillies’ bullpen struggles against the Marlins, causing them to
    lose close games.
    While the Phillies did pick up a one-run win over the
    Fish, their bullpen was the direct cause of two other losses, allowing three
    runs in consecutive eighth innings to break up tie ballgames. Those two
    collapses added to a long string of notable failures, and ran the pen’s ERA
    against the Marlins this year to 6.23.

  • The Marlins’ pitchers shut down the Phillies’ power. This may be
    the biggest reason the Phillies can’t beat the Marlins. For the entire season,
    the Phillies are slugging .428, with a home run every 27.7 at-bats. They are normally a
    good power team, led by Bobby Abreu and Jim
    Thome
    .

    Against the Marlins, though, the power just isn’t there. They’re slugging .349
    with a mere seven home runs in 12 games, one every 59.7 at-bats. While Thome
    has been all right (two homers, .512 slugging), Abreu has been a non-factor,
    hitting .261/.320/.348 with no homers. In a mirror image of the Marlins’
    performance, virtually every Phillie sees his numbers go down against
    the Fish.

The Phillies’ inability to beat the Marlins in head-to-head play kept them out
of last year’s postseason and will keep them out of this year’s. In the age of
the unbalanced schedule, you just can’t give up this much ground to a division
rival. Since the schedule changed in 2001, four division winners have
lost at least 11 games to a team in their own division. Three of those (’03
Twins vs. Royals, ’02 A’s vs. Mariners, ’02 Diamondbacks vs. Giants) went
8-11; the worst record any division winner had against a rival was the ’03
A’s, who went 7-12 against the Mariners but still managed to win the division.
That mark includes three losses on the last weekend of the season, after the
race was over.

The Phillies may not be done yet, but that precedent, along with the
challenges they face in keeping their pitching staff healthy and finding a
center fielder, do not bode well for them. Speculation is rampant that Larry
Bowa won’t be around much longer, and as someone who has criticized Bowa in
the past, I can’t argue with a decision to let him go.

That said, I wonder if Ed Wade isn’t getting a free ride. This is shaping up
to be the third straight year in which a competitive Phillies team falls short
of the postseason, and the third straight year in which Wade was unable to
make a significant addition to bolster the team at the trade deadline. (You’re
welcome to consider Mike Williams a major addition. Me, I’d
have preferred the wide receiver.)

Firing the manager is the obvious in-season move, and in this case, it might
have a salutory effect. Once the season is over, however, it’s going to be
time to examine the last three years as a whole. Wade’s track record is
uninspiring, largely a mixed bag of free-agent signings, with very few trades
and virtually no bold strokes. The Phillies have a middle-of-the-pack farm
system, one that is heavily reliant on what some high-risk, high-reward
pitching prospects do over the next couple of seasons.

Wade might yet pull off the move that puts the Phillies into the postseason.
Whether he does or not may determine not just his team’s fate, but his own.

Trade deadline week has been a dud so far, but hope springs eternal. With that
in mind, we’ll be doing a media blitz over the next couple of days. I’m on KBAD 920 in Las Vegas this afternoon at 1:25, on Chuck Wilson’s ESPN Radio show
Saturday morning between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Eastern, and I’ll be part of Will
Carroll’s live Baseball Prospectus Radio show tomorrow morning as well, along with Jonah Keri and other guests. Jonah will also be chatting up a storm Saturday as the clock winds down to the deadline. Also, Chris Kahrl and I will be working the keyboards to bring you fresh content as events warrant on both Saturday and Sunday.

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