2014 Philadelphia Phillies: What a drag it is getting old

Ed Roebuck

Ed Roebuck was relief specialist before they were common. Of his 460 major-league appearances, he started only once — in early June 1957 for the Dodgers vs. the Reds. He lasted five innings and lost 3-0. Roebuck was a rookie in 1955 on the Brooklyn Dodgers only world champions, pitching two shutout innings in their Game 6 loss. Roebuck was 5-6 with a 4.71 ERA and 12 saves in ’55, then 5-4 with a 3.93 ERA and one save in ’56 when he pitched three times in the Yankees’ seven-game win, allowing a hit and a run in 4.1 innings. In ’58 Roebuck hurt his shoulder, according to the Los Angeles Times, and went to the minors to try to return the majors as a hitter. Roebuck batted .265 and slugged .478 in 113 at-bats, but even better, healed his shoulder on a throw in the field. “He had what you call a frozen shoulder,” Dodger trainer Bill Buhler told the Times. “It isn’t too common anywhere, even in baseball. It was a miracle cure.” Roebuck returned to pitching and was back with the Dodgers in 1960, going 8-3 with eight saves and a 2.78 ERA in 116.2 innings in 1960. After another lost year to injury, he was 10-2 with nine saves and a 3.09 ERA in 62, finishing tied for 26th in the MVP vote. It might have been higher had the Dodgers not lost a playoff to the Giants. Roebuck pitched in all three playoff games, and was the hard-luck Game 3 loser. Roebuck entered in the sixth inning trailing 2-1, with the bases loaded and nobody out. A forceout and double play preserved the deficit, and Roebuck hurled scoreless seventh and eighth innings as the Dodgers took a 4-2 lead. Roebuck, working into his eighth inning in three straight days, finally tired in the ninth, walking two and giving up a game-tying single to Wilie Mays. The Giants scored two more and Roebuck took the loss (the winner was ’56 Series perfect game pitcher Don Larsen). And after a year with Washington, Roebuck was one of the Phillies’ best relievers in their ill-fated 1964, going 5-3 with a 2.21 ERA and 12 saves. He was still effective for the Phils in ’65 (5-3, 3.40 ERA, 2 saves), he was sent to the minors in ’66. His final numbers: 52-31, 3.35 ERA, 62 saves, 791 innings, 302 walks, 477 strikeouts, .727 OPS against, 115 ERA+, 6.7 WAR.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Third baseman Maikel Franco didn’t do much in his first two minor-league seasons but has in the last two. Two years ago he hit .280 with 49 extra-base hits, and last year he did even better, hitting .299 with 16 homers before a promotion to AA, and .339 with 15 homers after it. Franco won’t turn 22 until the last week of the minor league season in an organization whose major-league roster averages more than 30 years of age per player. But Franco plays the same position as the Phillies’ youngest regular, Cody Asche, and is not without flaws. Franco doesn’t walk much (.334 on-base lifetime) and doesn’t run well (24 double plays hit into two years ago, 19 last year). His youth gives the Phillies time, but their propensity for injury may rush things.

Trivia: The top 10 pitchers who have won the most games as Phillies. Answer below.

What he said: Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard: “What do you think I’m capable of?” Howard said. “Are you asking me if I’m capable of hitting 40-plus home runs? Absolutely.” What he meant: “Are you asking me if I’ll hit 40 home runs? Sure. Twenty this year, and 20 next year.”

Outlook: The Phillies won 73 games last year, then spent the offseason insisting they were contenders. For what, they never clarified.

Maybe the Phillies are right and everyone else is wrong. And maybe the Phillies haven’t noticed what everyone else has: they’re not the cool kids anymore.

The Phillies keep trying to rebuild and contend at the same time, which is a bit like trying to tiptoe down the third-base line. They dealt outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, then went out and signed an even older outfielder in Marlon Byrd when faced with the prospect of more John Mayberry; they added A.J. Burnett, 37, and Ramon Hernandez, 33, to the rotation while staffing their bullpen with novices.

Talk about mixed messages. There’s a scenario that could work for the Phillies, but it’s not likely to happen, especially with starting pitcher Cole Hamels injured to start the season, and without the kind of young stars necessary to complement their aging stars. But there’s hope, especially for the long-term: ESPN’s Keith Law ranks the farm system 14th (it was 27th last year) and said their 2013 draft might have been baseball’s best.

In the now, like a lot of industries, the Phillies’ message is do more with less, as in they’re going to play their aging regulars less and hope they do more. And get hurt less. But it’s hard to see how more of Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jayson Nix is a good thing or will lead to less losses.

This is manager Ryne Sandberg’s first full season and it’s evident he’s going to manage as he played — simply, efficiently, sparse in his emotions and his statements. That didn’t jibe with stylish shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who said “Who cares?” when asked what his spring training average was.

Sandberg implied that he did when he kept Rollins from playing for three days. There are reasons to be down on Rollins but his disinterest in his spring average isn’t one of them (for the record, he hit .173). His contract and his lack of production are foremost.

Rollins is being paid $11 million and is likely to be so again in 2015, unless Sandberg applies a lot of the less is more philosophy to him this season (434 plate appearances this year will guarantee Rollins’ contract next year). That’s a lot of money for a player who hit .252 last year and hasn’t had an on-base percentage above .338 since 2008.

The Phillies have long struggled with where to bat Rollins. His speed suggests he bat high in the order, but his inability to reach base suggests otherwise. His power — 23 homers in 2012 — would slide him snugly into the mid-bottom of the order but his ego might not.

Like the Phillies’ future, there’s no easy answer.

Trivia answer: Steve Carlton won 241 games as a Phillies (1972-86), most in team history. He’s followed by Robin Roberts, 234 (1948-61); Grover Cleveland Alexander, 190 (1911-17, 1930); Chris Short, 132 (1959-72); Curt Simmons, 115 (1947-60); Curt Schilling, 101 (1992-2000); Al Orth, 100 (1895-1901); Charlie Ferguson, 99 (1884-87); Cole Hamels, 99 (2006-2014) and Jack Taylor, 96 (1892-97). Eliminating the 19th-century winners, weould add Tully Sparks, 95 (1898, 1903-1910); Bill Duggleby, 90 (1898, 1901-1907) and Jim Bunning, 89 (1964-67, 1970-71). Eppa Rixey with 87 (1912-20) and Larry Christenson with 83 (1973-83) are next.

Team song: George Gershwin: They Can’t Take That Away From Me

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