March 28, 2013

The truth about Roy Halladay.

Roy Halladay pitched against the Toronto Blue Jays today. His line: four and a third innings, six strikeouts, eight hits, two runs.

We Phillies fans may want to get used to that.

Something is wrong with the Doc. Meaning, of course, that he's no longer the superhuman ace we grew to love from 2010 on. There are no more perfect games or no-hitters in his future. His Cy Young total will forever hold steady at two.

Maybe he's concealing (or battling through) a nagging injury. Maybe he's still adjusting to his body's new age-enforced limitations. Or maybe he's just burned out, done as a capable starting pitcher.

I'm voting number two; there are probably persuasive arguments for all three.

We'd hoped to receive a legitimate answer in spring training. How does he look? Was last year's mediocre performance, specifically the horrific final few months, an aberration?

But none were given. Today's start was apparently more of the same: he looked good, not great. He labored at times; his command was off. He touched 91 MPH but mostly sat between 88 and 90.

Afterwards, Halladay and pitching coach Rich Dubee were optimistic. And they should be; hope springs eternal, right? But it's starting to feel more and more like everyone's afraid to accept the inevitable.

It could all come unraveled in a jiffy; Doc's scheduled to start the second game of the 2013 season. His opponents will be the Atlanta Braves: Justin and B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman. There's no Chipper Jones, no Brian McCann, and Dan Uggla is a shell of his former self, but that's a solid lineup.

And if Halladay is still chucking 88 MPH fastballs down the pipe, still pretending like he's one start, one inning, one good pitch away, he's going to get clobbered.

We always thought Roy would go down throwing; we just never envisioned it being so soon.

I'm convinced that Halladay can still be a quality starting pitcher. More than a few top arms have reinvented themselves, starting relying more on deception and control, less on velocity and pure stuff.

But it's time to acknowledge that if his fastball speed stays down a tick, if his cutter isn't cutting, if his control has dissipated, he'll never come close to being "Roy Halladay" again. There are numerous ways this can end; none of them involve 20 wins or an ERA around 2.

At the end of the day, I think the biggest issue is Halladay recognizing what his 35-year-old frame can and can't do. This is the kinda guy who runs stadiums on his day off, the first one at workouts, an inspiration to so many; one of the hardest-working pitchers, if not the hardest, to ever come through Philadelphia.

If anyone is going to refuse to accept his own mortality, it's Roy Halladay.

Yet, here we are. We can see it with our own eyes. And so much is resting on this season: One year left on his contract, the team's last real chance to compete for the playoffs with this ragtag bunch of old-timers. They won't get it done without three aces, and no one fears for the other two.

Forget about Chase Utley's knee and Ryan Howard's ankle, Dom Brown's potential and Delmon Young's racism slash refusal to take a pitch. This season, and any opportunity the Phillies may have to achieve glory, rests on Roy Halladay.

He doesn't have to be a superstar. He doesn't have to take home any special hardware. And we won't burn him in effigy if he comes up short.

If he does, however, his team is cooked, and his time in red pinstripes is over. And the emotion I felt while typing that sentence reminds me why everyone associated with the team has a cautious smile plastered to his or her face.

We don't want to lose Doc, and we certainly don't want to see him break down before our eyes. But it's April in four days, and baseball starts in three. One way or another, we're soon to find out the truth about Roy Halladay.

March 10, 2013

Fly no more.

It's all over for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Yes, they're only three points behind the New York Rangers, currently the number-eight seed in the Eastern Conference.

But they're also only three points ahead of Florida, the worst team (points-wise) in the National Hockey League.

They've played 26 games and won 11. They've scored 72 goals (seventh in the Eastern Conference) and given up 80 (tied for third-worst). They're 4-10 on the road.

Simply put, they're not very good.

And this last week's slate of games was the ultimate kick in the pants. No one expected the Flyers to take down New York, Pittsburgh and Boston, but going 0-3 against your biggest rivals is one more dagger to the heart of a season that keeps on slipping away.

Sean Couturier (two goals, five assists) is regressing after a dynamite debut year. Ilya Bryzgalov is regressing after a dynamite first month of the season (2.20 GAA to 2.80 GAA; .923 SV% to .899 SV%). Only seven Flyers have more than 10 points.

Injuries haven't helped; Ryan Suter, Zach Parise or Shea Weber would've. But the team is the team, and the guys that are on the ice every night deserve the record they're currently saddled with.

If this keeps up, and I suspect it will, heads are gonna roll. Maybe Peter Laviolette's, maybe Paul Holmgren's, most likely Bryzgalov's (via amnesty buyout) and the unrestricted free agents (Simon Gagne, Ruslan Fedotenko). With James van Riemsdyk busting out in Toronto (14 goals in 26 games), the organization will most likely show some patience with its remaining bushel of young talent.

But that won't help this floundering bunch in the spring of 2013.

"It seemed like we packed it in," Scott Hartnell said after yesterday's shutout loss. Nobody's disagreeing.

The season isn't over; the standings are still very much in flux. Maybe they'll cobble together some wins versus lesser foes and sneak into the playoffs.

But the road to the Stanley Cup will go through Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago, and the Flyers are miles behind those squads in both talent and execution. I can't imagine a scenario where they get hot late and mirror what the Kings accomplished last year, or what the Flyers themselves achieved in 2010. And beyond that, there's not much else to root for.

There are 22 games left in the 2012-2013 season, 22 more opportunities to right the ship and at least avoid a repeat of the 2006-2007 disaster. At this point, that might be the best they can do.