June Swoon to ensure doom? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

It’s been raining a whole lot in Philadelphia lately, and I don’t think it’s only Mother Nature’s doing. Had you looked very carefully toward the sky throughout the week, you would have seen the sun blotted out by arrows of discontent shot heavenly from the Delaware Valley. That pitter-patter of rain was actually quite nice, as it drowned out the harrowing sounds of grown men shrieking, women groaning and children crying well into the night.

So why the dire tone, oh despairing Pundit?

Elementary, my dear friends – the Phillies are slumping.

Actually, slumping might be a nice way of putting it. Since the Boston series began on June 12th, the Phillies are an abysmal 2-10, headlined by a 1-8 homestand. Bleh! No Raul Ibanez has hurt the lineup, no Brad Lidge has seriously damaged the bullpen, and no Jimmy Rollins has been demoralizing. And yes, I know he hasn’t been injured; but he sure hasn’t shown up, has he?

Oh, it’s bad, real bad, depths of depression bad. They might as well just put a tee in front of the plate when the opposition is hitting, the starting pitching has been so atrocious. Which in turn has left the bullpenners with overused arms that hang from their bodies like over-boiled spaghetti noodles and a lineup that is pressing and stressing worse then the president of the chess club who is about to – for whatever strange reason – ask the hottest cheerleader to prom.

I mean, good grief, the Phillies have been so bad, they’ve even thrown me off of my game, as evidenced by the completely trite high-school metaphor I just used.

It’s just ugly, everywhere you look.

Or so it seems.

Revisionist history. We always get revisionist history. We’ve all gone back to the days when Michael Jackson was just a pop star, and not whatever he became later in life. Memories are always so much rosier then reality. So, lest we have all forgotten, amidst the parading and celebrating and boozing we did last October, the Phillies pretty much did the same thing last year at about this time. They were 12-14 in June, and went on a similar late-month swoon, finishing a horrific 4-11 after June 13th.

And look how that all turned out.

You’ve heard it a thousand times if you read the papers or listen to sports talk radio in the city, but I’ll reiterate it once more: for the Phillies to win, they need three things to happen.

1 . They acquire a starting pitcher, preferably one with second-starter talent

2. Brad Lidge returns to form

3. Jimmy Rollins starts performing at a higher level

I’m not worried about them not winning at home – that will come. The lineup has been solid, and once the starting pitching settles back in, the bullpen should return to form, should Lidge put it back together, of course. Until further notice, the three above issues are now the principal themes of this year.

And, as a lifelong Philadelphia fan, that’s the way I like it. I like my teams to have some issues, some concerns. It makes them real. Last year came down to the wire – what made us think anything would be different this year? Hell, what would we talk about if the Phillies just ran away with this thing? How would we vent if we didn’t have the Phillies to assume our misplaced frustrations with the world? No conversations – nay, arguments – about what starting pitchers the Phillies should go after? Boring. No carefully drawn-out analysis about the mechanics of Jimmy Rollins’ swing? Amateur fandom, at best.

Champions are best enjoyed when we are able to watch how very close they came to becoming chumps. That moves us, we can relate to it, we can put our hands around them and squeeze them and understand them because we are like them. Raise your hand if you’ve succeeded at everything in life. That’s what I thought. Their failure draws us closer to them, especially because we see the potential they have.

It’s all just tough love, and we’re all like the screaming, nagging mothers who do so because they care so damn much. Because good mothers don’t care if they are the bad guys so long as it wakes their kids up a little bit and teaches them how to be good people. And don’t mothers always get that gleam in their eye when they talk about their mischievous kids, the ones who buck them and have hard-to-contain personalities and learn everything the difficult way? Don’t mothers just light up a room when they describe the successes those kids have had, because they saw it all along, that potential that just needed a little bit of structure, and tough love, and patience?

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Phillies. You know what they should be. What will ultimately make what they become so much more meaningful is watching them struggle to achieve it.

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