2004 Philadelphia Phillies
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 2004 Philadelphia Phillies / Franchise: Philadelphia Phillies / BR Team Page
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The opening of Citizens Bank Park, combined with the acquisition flame-throwing closer Billy Wagner, veteran setup men Tim Worrell and Roberto Hernández, and starting pitcher Eric Milton made the 2004 Philadelphia Phillies' season one of the most eagerly anticipated ones in the team's history. The Phillies were almost universally picked to dethrone the Atlanta Braves atop the National League East, and some prognosticators felt they would win the World Series.
The season got off to a disappointing start for the Phillies, though, as they lost six of their first seven games. The last game in that opening stretch was the first regular season contest at Citizens Bank Park, a 4-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. In what would be a recurring theme all season, the pitchers struggled to adjust to the cozy dimensions of the new ballpark, while the hitters struggled mightily with runners in scoring position. All the while, the players' already strained relationship with the coaching staff (most notably manager Larry Bowa and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan) rapidly deteriorated.
Despite a series of injuries to the pitching staff and an inconsistent lineup, the Phillies recovered from their slow start to spend much of the season's first half at or near the top of the National League East standings. In fact, the team was in sole possession of first place as late as July 22nd despite never being more than seven games above .500 to that point. On July 26th, the team embarked on a 13-game road trip which figured to make or break the season. After losing six of the first seven games on the trip (including an embarrassing four-game sweep at the hands of the Florida Marlins), rumors of Bowa's imminent dismissal swirled. He remained at the helm and the Phillies closed the trip by winning five of six. Back in position to break the franchise's 11-year postseason drought, the ballclub returned home for a 10-game homestand. It would prove to be a turning point in the season. Trouble was, it was a turning point in the wrong direction as the Phils went 1-9, capped off by a critical three-game sweep at the hands of the eventual Wild Card-qualifying Houston Astros. The disastrous homestand allowed the Braves to pull away in the NL East, and more or less ended any realistic Wild Card chances for the Phillies. The team did finally put things together in September, as they closed the season by winning 21 of their final 29 games. However, it was too little, too late by that point, as the Phils had dug themselves too deep a hole to climb back into any serious contention.
The season was not without its bright spots, particularly on offense. Bobby Abreu had his second 30-30 season while making his first All-Star team. David Bell rebounded from a disastrous 2003 campaign to hit .291 with a career-high 77 RBI. Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, and Mike Lieberthal finished strongly after slow starts, while Jason Michaels and Chase Utley performed well in part-time roles. Wagner and rookie Ryan Madson turned in fine campaigns from the bullpen, though both spent significant time on the disabled list over the course of the season.
Predictably, many players had up-and-down seasons. Jim Thome slugged 42 home runs and knocked in 105 runs, but was plagued by injuries to both hands during the second half. Pat Burrell faded after a hot start and also missed a month with a wrist injury. Marlon Byrd suffered through a sophomore slump, and spent some time back in the minors to regain his stroke. Brett Myers went 11-11 with a 5.52 ERA. Eric Milton went 14-6, but won just three games after the All-Star break while serving up a league-high 43 home runs. Hernandez struggled out of the bullpen for the majority of the season. Starting pitchers Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, and Randy Wolf, along with relievers Madson and Wagner all missed significant time with injuries. During the season, Paul Abbott, Todd Jones, Felix Rodriguez, Brian Powell, and Cory Lidle were added to the depleted staff. Only Lidle, who notched consecutive shutouts against the Milwaukee Brewers on August 29 and New York Mets on September 4 and went 5-2 after being acquired in an August trade with the Reds, made any significant contribution.
After much speculation, Bowa was fired on the season's next-to-last day, replaced on an interim basis by bench coach Gary Varsho. Kerrigan resigned under pressure immediately following the season, while it was announced that hitting coach Greg Gross and third base coach John Vukovich would not be retained.
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