Jimmy Rollins is killing the Phillies. There, I said it.
The defending World Champs are plodding along, leading the hapless Mets by 2 1/2 games in a division race that should be over by now. The Mets stink. There, I said that too.
There are many reasons why the Phillies have played just bad enough to let the Mets hang around, including injuries (Brett Myers, Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez, Carlos Ruiz, Scott Eyre, Clay Condrey), suspension (J.C. Romero), ineffectiveness of starting pitching, and on and on.
In my opinion, though, the biggest reason that the Phillies haven't done better is because their catalyst, their leader, the man who tells everyone that the Phils are the team to beat and then goes out and backs it up with an MVP season, is killing them.
It's a very simple formula for the Fightins, almost like turnovers in football. When Jimmy is going well, the Phils win... when he isn't, they dont.
Thus far in 2009, Rollins is hitting .211 with a .254 on-base percentage. .254 on-base? From a leadoff hitter? Yuck. Rollins had 20 triples in his MVP 2007 season; he has ONE so far in 2009. He hit 30 home runs in '07; this year he has six. He stole 41 bases and was caught six times in 07; this year he's taken 10 and been caught five times.
Rollins is scheduled to return to the Phils lineup tomorrow in Atlanta after his forced weekend off. While I agree that he should be back in the lineup, I don't think you can keep him at the top for too much longer if he doesn't turn things around. The Phils have too many big hitters to have no one on base when they come up. Shane Victorino isn't a great traditional leadoff man, but he's the best option for the Phils right now.
What's Jimmy's problem? Watching him day in and day out, I don't think he's been unfocused or out of it mentally save for a brain cramp with Pat Burrell running against the Rays on Wednesday night. I also don't think that he's losing it physically, as has been suggested. He's 30 years old, and was one of the better players on the Team USA roster during the World Baseball Classic prior to the start of the season.
I do think his problem is physical, but not an injury or age. I think he's trying to drive the ball out of the park all the time. Think Willie Mays Hayes in Major League II. Watch him swing the bat. From the right side and the left, his back shoulder is dropping, and his swing cuts up under the baseball, resulting in alot of easy fly ball outs. The results of this are easy to see in the reduction in home runs and triples. He's about 5'8" and 180 lbs soaking wet, so if he's not hitting hard line drives (the kind that end up in gaps and turn into triples), balls hit in the air are outs. I'm not even concerned about his pitch selection, because he's never been the type to work counts, take pitches, foul off a bunch of good strikes, etc. He likes to swing the bat. But it's how he swings it that makes the difference.
If Rollins decides to get on top of the ball and hit hard line drives and ground balls, thus letting his speed work for him, his average will go up, along with his confidence, his on-base percentage, and his runs scored.
And if that happens, the Phillies should have little trouble running away in the NL East. But whether or not that happens is dependent on Jimmy Rollins remembering that his job is to get on base, and leave knocking the ball out of the park up to guys named Utley, Howard, Ibanez and Werth.