The 2004 Philadelphia Phillies were supposed to be the team that finally got the franchise over the hump and into the playoffs for the first time since 1993. It didn?t happen.The inaugural season at Citizens Bank Park provided little relief for fans that expected their team to make one gigantic leap from baseball obscurity into championship contention. The Phillies playoff hopes officially ended with a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 27th.
For the second straight season, the Phillies were the favorite to take the National League East division title away from the Atlanta Braves. But a porous lineup and a pitching staff prone to injuries defined a team that just wasn?t good enough.
Despite breaking a record for home runs hit in a season, the Phillies were often very inconsistent at the plate. Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal, for most of the season, hit below .200 with runners in scoring position – the most important statistic that never shows up in the box score.
Thome, despite anotherseason with 40 homeru and 100 RBIs, was far from the same player that single-handedly carried the Phillies down the stretch in 2003.
Thome, however, suffered from nagging hand injuries throughout the season.Burrell started out fast in April, but quickly fizzled (.251, 24 HRs). It didn?t take long for fans to see the old Burrell back in familiar strikeout-friendly fashion, swinging at balls outside the strike zone on a regular basis, and reverting back to the same destructive batting technique that had him hitting an abysmal .209 in 2003.
Lieberthal, who had a marvelous 2003 season (.313, 81 RBIs) finally showed his true ability – or lack thereof – in 2004. Lieberthal was batting a dismal .148 with runners in scoring position, and only 59 RBIs headed in the final week of the season.
Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins and David Bell, overall, had productive seasons. Abreu made his first All-Star team, Rollins emerged as a constant in the leadoff spot, and Bell bounced back from injuries that plagued him for most of 2003. Young players such as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard proved that they belong and deserve to have significant roles in 2005.
As for pitching, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, and Kevin Millwood – all who are in the starting rotation – missed significant time with injuries. The bullpen struggled at times without closer Billy Wagner, who had to spend three stints on the disabled list due to reoccurring back and groin injuries.
Eric Milton, who was acquired from Minnesota in the offseason, was the only pitcher to begin the season with the team to record more than 10 wins. Rookie Ryan Madson was a strong force in the bullpen, and prodigy Gavin Floyd showed early flashes of brilliance after he was called up from the minor leagues in September.
In the end, with few bright spots or impressive performances it?s hard to compensate for a season that never was. The disappointing 2004 campaign is reason for fans to be concerned that next year?s team will feature much of the same. Diehard Phillies fans will continue to support their team, but others may not.
“I hate the Phillies fans who go against their team when they are doing bad,” said West Chester junior Mike Duffy.
West Chester senior PJ Jennings also showed his loyalty to the team.
“I?m going to follow them [next year],” said Jennings “I think that even though they didn?t live up to standards this year, if they can get a few positional guys added to the roster, they could take the division in 2005.”
A few offseason additions may not be enough to save Larry Bowa?s job as manager, who has had a history of well-publicized disputes with his players. Ultimately, the fact that Bowa hasn?t endeared himself to many of the players may lead to his demise as manager.
“This team has no guts,” said Jim Fiore, West Chester senior and longtime Phillies fan. “And their incessant whining about the manager is proof of all that is wrong. It became apparent that [the team] gave up on themselves first… The players are making millions of dollars to play a game and they can?t focus because their manager scowls at them when they mess up? Ridiculous!” With or without Bowa, the Phillies may be in for a rude awakening next season. A new ballpark is a wonderful attraction, but if the team isn?t getting it done on the field, who will want to watch?
“They are going to see more and more empty blue seats in the stadium next year, and maybe then they?ll realize they have to do something,” said Fiore. “By then, it will be too late. I?m not going to be led around by my nose. You can count me out.” And out go the Phillies for 2004.