November 5, 2009

I wonder which song they're gonna play when we go.

"I hope it's something quiet and minor and peaceful and slow."
-The Gaslight Anthem, The 59 Sound

The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies went out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

These weren't the defending champs we'd become accustomed to seeing. The team that came up big when they needed to in the regular season, the team that would never say never when staring down Huston Street or Jonathan Broxton.

Other than Cliff Lee, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth, they were exposed in the World Series as a flawed team. Cole Hamels couldn't pitch like Cole Hamels, so the 38-year-old Pedro Martinez was expected to. No one could decide whether Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ were starters or relievers, even though one helped guide us to the championship last year and the other is about to win the National League Rookie of the Year award.

Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino had none of the fire so desperately needed at the top of the lineup. Raul Ibanez looked a thousand years old. Pedro Feliz just looked awful.

And Brad Lidge's season ended just as it should -- with another meltdown, cementing one of the worst seasons for a closer in major league history.

This is not to say that the 2009 Phillies weren't enjoyable. Some of those playoff comebacks were the stuff of legend, and returning to the World Series for the second year in a row will probably mean a lot more when the dust settles.

My biggest issue, however, is that what everyone thought would kill the Phillies all season did, in fact, end up doing them in. Ryan Howard can't hit lefties, and that disability flared up big time in the World Series. Feliz got worse and worse offensively as the year went on, and his performance in the playoffs all but assured that his option won't be picked up for 2010. Lidge and the bullpen were question marks at best, and they couldn't keep some of the more iffy games close when it counted. Hamels was inconsistent all season, and downright awful in the playoffs.

The bench needs to be upgraded, and the bullpen will get at least a minor overhaul. Another closer option would be nice, and a true utility infielder to spell Utley and Rollins once a week is practically a necessity.

The nice thing, though, is that all this team needs is tweaks. The core returns for at least one more season, battle-tested and hopefully hungrier than ever. If Ruben Amaro Jr., who proved with the Lee and Martinez acquisitions that he is not content to stand pat, goes out and gets an Adrian Beltre-type to replace Pedro Feliz, that would be icing on the cake.

All the pieces are there to make a similar run in 2010. That's what I keep telling myself, at least. For now, though, I'm sad that the Yankees turned out to be the better team. I guess it's a testament to this era of Phillies baseball that losing a postseason series can be so difficult -- they don't do it too often.