PHILLIES ARE WORTHY OF OUR RAGE

When is it safe to remove the protective seal from a beloved team and treat them with the harsh scrutiny that our other clubs receive? For me, that day is today. The statute of limitations on coddling the Phillies just ran out.

Actually, the precise moment when I realized that these are not the 2008 champions came in the third inning last Friday night in Boston, when our baseball heroes so embarrassed themselves that manager Charlie Manuel tried to bench the entire team. The score was 12-0 at the time. It wasn’t that close.

This ballclub is begging for the screaming rage that we so often vent against the Eagles. The Phillies are sleepwalking through a season with nary a peep of complaint from the most demanding sports city in America. Well, it’s time to make a list of the culprits, and then plant our boot where the sun don’t shine.

Let’s start at the top. The trade of postseason hero Cliff Lee for a bundle of nothing headed by bust pitcher Phillippe Aumont set the tone for this debacle. I’ll say it one more time, and I don’t care whether GM Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to hear it. What the heck was he thinking? Did he lose his mind the day he made that deal?

Next is folk hero Charlie Manuel. If Manuel were actually the clubhouse maestro his reputation suggests, please explain what he was doing last week when he speculated that Jayson Werth was floundering because of pending free agency. And while you’re at it, let me know how this preeminent authority on hitting can provide no insight into one of the worse batting slumps in baseball history.

Chase Utley is another sacred cow who needs to stop milking our good will.

Either he is in decline as a player, or he has the slowest-healing hip injury in the annals of medicine. How can a player who hit .332 three years ago drop to .292, then .282 and now .256?

And Ryan Howard, his pockets overflowing with the money from his new $125 million contract, might want to ponder the reason for those riches. No, it wasn’t pinging singles into the outfield; it was blasting baseballs out of the park. Howard has averaged 50 home runs in the past four seasons. This year, he is on a pace for about half that. In other words, he is now officially overpaid.

There isn’t enough room in this column for the rest of the list — the psychological quagmire that is Cole Hamels, the medical questions about Jimmy Rollins (half a season lost to a calf strain?), the rapid aging of Raul Ibanez. They are all giving us less than we expect, less than we deserve.

The expiration date on our kindness has ended, Philadelphia. It’s time to call a dog a dog. This team has fleas.

– Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays from 5:30-10 a.m.

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