But the Phillies have stumbled out of the gate to a 3-9 start -- trailing the Washington Nationals in the NL East. And the losing may already be taking its toll.
After the Phillies were drubbed 8-1 by the New York Mets on Tuesday night,
manager Charlie Manuel blew his top in his office, letting loose with a profane tirade and challenging WIP-AM talk show host Howard Eskin, a longtime critic of Manuel, to a fight. Later, in the team clubhouse, he had to be restrained from going after Eskin by two Phillies coaches.
In an interview on ESPN2's Cold Pizza, Eskin acknowledged he doesn't think Manuel is a good manager, but says his opinion is based on Manuel's game management and isn't personal.
"His problem shouldn't be with me, it should be with the players that are ultimately going to get him fired," Eskin said.
The blow-up started during the postgame news conference when Eskin suggested that Manuel throw a clubhouse tirade to shake up his stumbling team. It continued in Manuel's office and the Phillies' clubhouse, where Manuel had to be held back by coaches Milt Thompson and Mick Billmeyer.
Eskin said when he got to Manuel's office, the manager was waiting for him with a challenge.
"I don't like what you've been saying about me for three years and I'm gonna drop your ass right there," Eskin quoted Manuel as saying.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Phillies manager said he just wanted to move on and not discuss his exchange with Eskin. But eventually the manager did talk about it, saying: "I got questioned [about] who I was as a man, and how tough I am.''
"When I first started managing this game, I used to grab guys and slam them on the wall and everything," Manuel said, trying to make clear that he's capable of confronting players. "Really. That was no problem. I had no problem doing that. I'm older now, and things like that. I'm 63 years old, but at the same time I've still got that same passion. I've still got that same fire.''
Manuel's remark came as he revealed the Phillies will move starter Brett Myers to a set-up role in the bullpen and put Jon Lieber in the rotation. He said neither that move nor his flare-up with Eskin was a response to the team's woeful start to the season.
Eskin said he told Manuel he should be angry at his players, not him -- and that it's not fun coming to games and seeing the Phillies lose.
"We're going to win!" Manuel replied.
The Phillies were listless on Tuesday night, despite starting pitcher Freddy Garcia making his debut after opening the season on the disabled list. Philadelphia stranded 12 baserunners, the bullpen allowed the Mets five runs in 4 1/3 innings, and in a forgettable scene in the sixth inning, members of the team had to be coaxed off the field after getting the third out.
Leaving so many runners on has been indicative of the Phillies' overall struggles to start the season. Philadelphia has stranded 122 runners, the most by any team through 12 games since the 1970 Tigers stranded 123 in their first 12 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Phillies are batting .200 with runners in scoring position; according to Elias, the only NL teams with a lower mark are the Nationals (.183) and Pirates (.194).
Meanwhile, the pitching staff is last in the National League with a 5.38 ERA, is allowing a .279 opponents' batting average, and the bullpen is 0-3 with a collective 4.42 ERA. The Phillies' 3-9 start is their worst since 1997, when that team stumbled to a 3-10 record and finished 68-94. It's a continuation of a maddening trend for the Phillies, who haven't posted a winning April record since 2003.
"We're a lot better than that," center fielder Aaron Rowand said, according to the Philadelpihia Daily News. "We're going to win a lot more games than that [1997 team], I guarantee you."
As for the team's famously caustic fans? They mounted an "E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!" chant in the seventh inning, choosing to praise the city's successful NFL team rather than bury its baseball team.