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The Cruelest Month (revised)

I just got back very late last night from a two-week trip to Australia and Japan, to find that the Phillies had dropped the first two games of their series against the Toronto Blue Jays; this afternoon, I had the dubious pleasure of watching most of the finale, which the team also lost. The result wasn't surprising, as the Phillies have stunk on ice in interleague play pretty much since the outset of Bud Selig's experiment more than a decade ago. But as others pointed out here and on Back She Goes!, the problem might not be interleague so much as the mysterious yet consistent bad vibes that seem to follow Charlie Manuel's team every time the calendar turns to June. 

Actually, the Phils haven't been a complete disaster in the season's third month; since the start of Manuel's tenure, they have a collective 59-66 (.472) record in June, which certainly isn't good but is hardly the stuff of baseball nightmares. It just looks crappy compared to the club's overall 390-322 (.548) mark since the start of the 2005 season. And it's actually slightly worse than the team's cumulative record in April (57-63, .475), usually considered the roughest month for the team. Add that June has been the team's worst month in three of the last four seasons, including this one, and has seen more serious injuries than any other month, and you start to get the idea. 

So join me, if you dare, for a brief tour of the last five Junes--the true cruelest month for the Manuel-era Phillies.  

2005: 15-12 (.556), 135 runs scored/135 runs against. Okay, this doesn't look too bad... until you consider that the month began with the team on an 11-1 streak that actually started on May 31--the day I got married, as it happened. Then from June 14-30, the Phillies went 4-11 and lost five straight series—three in interleague play and two against the Mets. These included the notorious road interleague series at Seattle and Oakland, in which the Phils lost four of six while playing the likes of Tomas Perez and Ramon Martinez at first place as an injured Jim Thome DH’d. Meanwhile, a young slugger named Ryan Howard continued to tear up the International League. Notable transactions in June 2005 included the highly questionable trade of Placido Polanco to Detroit for Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez, as well as a release and re-signing of Amaury Telemaco. Appropriately enough, Thome’s season (and, as it turned out, his Phillies career) ended on June 30 after he went 0-10 in three games against the Mets. The team lost five straight, tied for its worst losing streak of the 2005 season, from June 23-28.

2006: 9-18 (.333), 120/165. The Phillies began June two games over .500 and in striking distance of the Mets in the NL East. And they actually fared pretty well for the first week of the month, winning five of seven after sweeping Arizona… and then the bottom fell out, as they lost three of four to the Nationals and were swept at home by the Mets to fall 9.5 games back and essentially exit the division race. But things got even worse as interleague began: series losses at home to the still-awful Devil Rays and Yankees, the seemingly annual sweep by Boston, and two more series losses at Baltimore and Toronto. Though the team eventually recovered to surge back into the division race, they ultimately fell short of a playoff spot—largely because of the hole they dug for themselves back in June. The month included the signing and sole Phillies appearance (which, not coincidentally, proved to be the last career appearance) of pitcher Adam Bernero. as well as the pickup of Rick White and the trade of Daniel Haigwood to Texas for Fabio "Model Dictator" Castro. Randy Wolf was lost for the season after going six innings against the Brewers on June 11. The Phillies’ worst losing streak of the year, seven games, ran from June 20-28.

2007: 15-13 (.536), 143/166. The outlier, in which the Phils put up a winning record despite getting badly outscored for the month. June began in characteristic fashion, with a 13-0 loss to the Giants at home, but afterward things picked up. They even did fairly well in interleague play by Phillies standards (6-6), albeit against the weak-sister AL Central. The month did end with three straight losses to the Mets, including the major-league debut of J.A. Happ. Notable transactions included one awful free-agent signing (Jose Mesa) and one very good one (J.C. Romero). The bad June injury of 2007? Jon Lieber, who blew out his knee at Cleveland on June 20, two starts after throwing a complete-game shutout at Kansas City. Freddy Garcia was also lost for the year; on the plus side, Kyle Kendrick was recalled to replace him. 

2008: 12-14 (.462), 112/101. The Phils’ sole losing month (not including March, in which they played one game and lost) in their championship season.  Again, it wasn’t until the second week of June that things went south; through June 13, the team had a 9-3 record for the month, culminating with a 20-2 blowout of the Carindals in St. Louis that marked the eighth time in 53 games that the team had scored in double digits (and their second 20-run performance in 17 games). It was also the last time the Phils would crack 10 runs until July 26; they’d score 12 more the next day, and that was it for double-digits in 2008. After June 13, the Phils scored 47 runs in their 14 remaining games during the month (an average of 3.4), and were held to two runs or fewer in eight of those games; through their first 69 games, they had scored 373 runs (an average of 5.4), and been held to two or fewer just 13 times. Probably not coincidentally, Chase Utley's marked offensive falloff began in mid-June; it's likely that he sustained the hip injury that bedeviled him through the remainder of 2008 around that time. The team had its worst losing streak of the season (six games) from June 17-24.

2009 (through June 18): 8-8 (.500), 81/76. Again, it’s tough to differentiate between the Phillies’ interleague struggles and their general pattern of sucking in June; this year, the team’s inexplicable struggles at home (8-18 against all non-Nationals opponents) adds another layer to the story. The just-concluded 1-5 stretch against Boston and Toronto made this June look much worse than it did a week ago; on the other hand, the month already has seen Brad Lidge, Scott Eyre and most recently Raul Ibanez to the disabled list, and Ryan Howard has dropped down his annual rabbit hole with 27 strikeouts and a .232 average in 69 June at-bats.

The good news? The team has just ten games left this month, around off-days on the 22nd and 29th. And maybe the rain will keep up.