Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies can be cruel, clever and clairvoyant all at the same time.
Case-in-point came on Sunday when one fan in the lower level made a cardboard cutout sign that featured a photo of Nik Wallenda walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. Below that, the fan neatly printed out: Still Safer Than Relying on Papelbon in the Ninth.
Funny stuff, and by the time the ninth inning rolled along, Jonathan Papelbon proved the fan to be right once again as he blew his fifth save in the last two weeks.
One of the strengths of the Philadelphia Phillies this season was supposed to be the closer, but Papelbon’s five blown saves in the last two weeks raise questions about him going forward. The most important among those questions is, “Can he be trusted?”
The answer right now would appear to be no. When Papelbon was closing out games on a regular basis for the Boston Red Sox in his halcyon days, his fastball would consistently be clocked in the 95-97 mph range. In a blown save on Sunday against the Chicago White Sox, the top speed on the radar gun for Papelbon was 92 mph.
That’s not going to cut it for a team that currently rests at 48-48 and needs to make a serious run in the second half in order to take the NL East. Right now, the Phillies are 6.5 games off the pace set by the first-place Atlanta Braves and 5.5 out of the second wild card. They would have to go about 10 games over .500 over the last 66 games and at least one, maybe two, of the teams ahead of them would have to do no better than .500 for them to catch up.
Can the Phillies do it with an unreliable closer? Definitely not.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel thinks the five-day All-Star break should help. It better. They don’t have many options at closer beyond Papelbon or a possible trade.
For a fan base spoiled by Brad Lidge’s 48-for-48 performance (no blown saves) in the World Championship year of 2008, Papelbon’s penchant for blowing saves is maddening and unsettling.
That’s a tightrope the Phillies cannot afford to walk across if they hope to make a run.