Cataldi: Prepare for worst with declining Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies v Detroit Tigers How much do you trust Roy Halladay and the aging Phillies?

The editors at Metro will happily confirm that this column was in their hands long before the Phillies season opened the 2013 season Monday night in Atlanta. The prediction that follows here was made hours before the first pitch. I’m sorry for the delay, but I have been fighting a horrible case of denial.

Unfortunately, I have recovered. And what I see now is not good. I love the names on the back of the uniforms — Halladay, Utley, Howard, Rollins, Lee, Ruiz and Young (Michael, not Delmon). What I don’t like are the ages associated with those names. The Phillies have the talent to win it all, if it was 2006.

I watched all 96 pitches muscled toward the plate last Thursday by Roy Halladay, and there is no denying his stunning decline. The proud former ace is still trying to throw balls 93 miles per hour, but his shoulder has already dialed it back to 88. He is an average pitcher, nothing more.

Cole Hamels is terrific, even with that weird new mustache. Cliff Lee can’t possibly have another year with only six wins; he should be fine. So the top part of the rotation is secure. But with Halladay, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan forming 60-percent of the starting staff, pitching is no longer a strength.

Even the bullpen, with back-end stalwarts Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon, isn’t as secure as it appears. Adams was brilliant in spring training, but will his fragile arm wither under the stress of a 162-game schedule? And will Papelbon fizz out again the way he did two seasons ago in Boston? My bet is, the answer to at least one of those questions is yes.

The conventional wisdom is this new, revived offense can overcome these concerns, and there’s no argument on that point here. When Carlos Ruiz returns, the Phillies will have a lineup as good or better than the Nationals and Braves.

In May, that is. But what about September, when age leads to fatigue, which leads to injuries, which leads to losses? Yes, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard look like themselves again, but knees and Achilles tendons tend to act up at the most inopportune times. What then?

Finally, there is the fascinating case of Charlie Manuel, at 69, still plugging away with no end in sight. The Phillies’ organization would beg to differ. Manuel is a lame duck, quacking his way through his final season. If fans expect the aging skipper to strategize around all of the above problems, well, pay closer attention next time, please.

The prediction here is that we are one unfulfilling season away from the dawn of a new era. The Phillies in 2013 will win … 77 games. That’s my prediction. Sorry.
Smith is mistake waiting to happen
The NFL draft comes equipped with a trap door this year. Any team that lands on the name “Geno Smith” will instantly drop out of sight, the victim of one of the most ridiculous propaganda campaigns in the history of the game.

Smith is the West Virginia quarterback who was not projected as a first-round pick after he played his last game three months ago. He is a talented athlete, but his throwing is erratic, and his running is reluctant. He moves his feet as fast as new NFL sensations Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, but he doesn’t like to do it.

Hmm. Does that remind you of anyone? Yup. Donovan McNabb — although Smith doesn’t project to be as successful as that still-irritating Eagles enigma. Smith is a draft mistake waiting to happen, a disaster in football shoes.

And sitting right there, with the fourth selection, is new Eagles coach Chip Kelly. He is still in need of a quarterback who can take full advantage of his aggressive offense. On paper, Smith seems to be an appealing choice.

That’s the big problem. Since the last game of his college career, Smith’s spectacular ascension up the mock draft boards has been exclusively on paper. Oh, he held a couple of workouts to display his skills, but there was no chance he would fail those tests.
Here’s what every team needs to know: Smith regressed alarmingly in the second half of his senior season. Why else would his status among scouts have dropped so far? Since then, he has benefited solely by talk. Talk is cheap. Blowing a top draft pick on Geno Smith is not. If Kelly chooses him, he will regret it.

I rarely write about college basketball because it is a deeply flawed and largely uninteresting game — with revolving rosters, a nauseating fraternity of egomaniacal coaches and a popularity based largely on office pools. As of this past week, I have a new reason to hate it: La Salle.

Now please understand, I taught at this fine institution of higher learning for four years, and my wife graduated from there. I harbor no personal grudges. My complaint is with the phony nature of college sports.

The truth is, La Salle fell far short of its Cinderella status, as did the co-fairy tale of Florida Gulf Coast and its frenzy of dunks and chicken dances. They were both doomed to failure. This wasn’t a case of David vs. Goliath; it was David versus a nuclear bomb. Where else in life do we bond ourselves to a sure loser than during March Madness?

Unfortunately, the media monster of today is never satisfied with the truth in stories like La Salle’s. Once the media machine began churning hype over Tyrone Garland’s “Southwest Philly Floater” and coach John Giannini’s doctoral presence on the sidelines, we were foolishly led to believe this just might be the reincarnation of the 1985 Vilanova champions.

Except it wasn’t true, none of it. In the biggest game of their careers, the La Salle players failed spectacularly — unless you want to define an early 17-3 lead by Wichita State as something else. They blew it. I know those words are way too harsh for college basketball, but I refuse to gush when they are winning, and then to gush again after they embarrass themselves.

In college basketball, no one ever wants to deal with the truth. And that’s why I hate it.

Idle thoughts from Cataldi
» Charlie Manuel’s dissatisfaction with his contract status is becoming more and more difficult for him to hide. Over the weekend, the Phillies’ manager brazenly declared that he’s the best talent evaluator on the team, and that his bosses refuse to acknowledge it. Manuel will blow up soon. Bet on it.

» When the Flyers are trying to decide whether to use the amnesty exception on Ilya Bryzgalov, GM Paul Holmgren — or, hopefully, his replacement — should study carefully the goalie’s work in shootouts. Then they should take his $51 million contract and mail it to Siberia.

» The Sixers are so desperate to get people to their games that they actually dragged Allen Iverson back for one more bow last Saturday night. Iverson couldn’t say no. He’s broke. Which leads to an interesting question: Who is doing worse right now, Iverson or his old team?

» Donovan McNabb is upset at the new contract Tony Romo signed with Dallas, a $108 million deal with $55 million guaranteed. McNabb pointed out that Romo has never won the big one, and doesn’t deserve that kind of money. Who wants to explain to McNabb the irony in his argument? Any volunteers?

» Congratulations to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who are introducing the first video-game urinals in American sports this season. There are no prizes, but the top scores will appear on the actual scoreboard late in games, along with the names. It should be quite an honor for those whizzes.

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