Rollins says Phillies' run far from done
Every time Jimmy Rollins watches the San Antonio Spurs, he sees his Philadelphia Phillies. That's splendid news for the Phillie Phanitc, along with other Phillie Phollowers around and beyond the Liberty Bell.
The Spurs are old, creaky and yesterday's news. Even so, they had enough to flatten the Los Angeles Lakers over the weekend in the opening game of the NBA playoffs for both teams.
These are the same Spurs who ignored geezer talk to finish the regular season with the NBA's third-best record.
See where I'm going?
"Despite their age, all the Spurs do is win," said Rollins, whose Phillies can't say the same at the moment.
Once, the Phils could. During a stretch from 2007-11, when they were more a bunch of middle-aged athletes than senior citizens, they won the National League East five straight times. They also captured two pennants and a World Series championship.
Now the Phillies seek to escape a second consecutive season of mediocrity. They finished 81-81 last year, and they are threatening to end this season with a similar record -- or worse.
Let's just say the Phils are youth challenged when compared to most of their peers. Only the New York Yankees (31), Toronto Blue Jays (30.6) and Los Angeles Dodgers (30.2) have rosters with a higher average age than that of Philadelphia (30.1).
But here's what should scare the Phillie Phantic and those Phollowers more than anything: Compared to the Phillies, the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals are rocking the cradle, and they are Philadelphia's biggest challengers in the division.
Of the Major League's 30 teams, the Nationals rank 27th in average age at 27.6, and the Braves are 29th at 27.5.
So maybe it's not a coincidence the Braves and the Nats are higher in the standings than the Phils. Not only that, Atlanta has spent most of the early season with the best record in baseball.
Rollins shrugged. He recalled how the Spurs often stumble during the early-to-mid parts of their regular seasons before Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker find enough juice in their ancient legs to shock folks down the stretch.
"They're definitely an old team by NBA standards, because it's a league of all 19-year-olds," Rollins said, referring to the 36-year-old Duncan, who forms the Spurs' aging-yet-effective nucleus with 35-year-old Ginobili and 30-year-old Parker. "They've learned how to adjust. They're not going to try to outrun you. They're going to play half-court offense. Tough D. They're going to make you take tough shots.
"You look at Tim Duncan. He cut his minutes back. He's not trying to run with the youngsters, and overall, they've been more effective.
"I'd love to be like San Antonio."
Well ... to a point. Even at 34, and with pounding from 14 Major League seasons on his 5-foot-8 frame built for speed as a leadoff hitter and four Gold Gloves at shortstop, Rollins prefers to play -- a lot.
Rollins didn't miss any of the Phillies' first 21 games. He went 2-for-3 Monday night in Philadelphia against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and his tiebreaking RBI in the sixth sent the Phils to a 3-2 victory.
Despite Rollins steady play, the Phillies are fourth in the NL East at 9-12 after Tuesday's 2-0 loss to the Pirates.
Blame an inconsistent offense. The Phils scored fewer than four runs in 13 of those 21 games. Their pitching also is shaky. They sit in the bottom third of baseball in team ERA, and they began the week with opposing teams averaging more than a touchdown per game against starters Cole Hamels (6.46) and Roy Halladay (6.04).
You can't ignore the age thing with Halladay. Despite two Cy Young Awards on his resume, there also is "35," representing his number of birthdays, and his velocity has declined steadily over the last three years.
That said, Halladay is younger than Michael Young, the Phillies' 36-year-old third baseman, who nevertheless is hitting .333 in his first year in Philadelphia after 13 seasons with the Texas Rangers.
Elsewhere, Phils relievers Raul Valdes and Chad Durbin are 35. Second baseman Chase Utley, catcher Carlos Ruiz, starting pitcher Cliff Lee and reliever Mike Adams are 34.
The Phillies also have the significant likes of first baseman Ryan Howard at 33 and closer Jon Papelpon at 32. Which means this makes sense: manager Charlie Manuel is 69.
Sounds like these guys need their AARP plan.
"That's something we've talked about over the years, trying to figure out the right amount of playing time for guys, for instance," Rollins said. "[Manuel] has talked about getting me down to somewhere around 148 games or so per season. He asked me how much better off I would be if I played eight to 10 less games than I normally would play.
"Those days off would come on day games after a night game, leading into an off-day, because all of those things make a difference. Look at [Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich. His older players have come in and out of the lineup, and obviously, they're doing pretty good."
They are. And to hear Rollins tell it, baseball's wannabe Spurs (you know, the Phillies) wish to do the same.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.