The Phillies are in dire need of a spark. They just completed a lackluster 5-5 road trip and after tonight's very flat 8-2 loss to the Houston Astros, the Phillies have now dropped five of their last seven games. Meanwhile, the surging Atlanta Braves are just four games behind the Phillies for the National League East title. Moreover, as Todd Zolecki has pointed out, recent National League champions have played remarkably well in the stretch run. Simply put, this team needs some form of inspiration if they want to win the NL East or make another run in the playoffs.
Last season, the Phillies had just dropped two out of three games to the lowly Washington Nationals and were about to start a crucial three-game series with the Mets, whom the Phillies trailed by three games in the NL East. When the Phillies arrived at Shea Stadium, they were greeted in the clubhouse with an inspirational e-mail from Mike Schmidt. The Phillies responded by winning two of three games from the Mets and finished the season 16-6 and won the division by three games.
Earlier this season when the Phillies were in another tailspin, Manuel called a closed-door meeting after a 6-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Phillies responded by taking the final two games of the Blue Jays series and after being swept by the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies went on to win 14 of their next 15 games.
While fans and the media have scapegoated Brad Lidge for the Phillies' recent mediocrity, several other Phillies have scuffled in September such as Chase Utley (.692 OPS), Pedro Feliz (.598 OPS), Shane Victorino (.616 OPS), Cliff Lee (5.59 ERA) and Joe Blanton (4.91 ERA). Whether it's in the form of an e-mail from a Phillies legend, a closed-door team meeting or benching struggling starters, Charlie Manuel needs to realize that his team's current problems extend past who is pitching the ninth inning.