THAT "LONG" SEASON the Phillies keep telling us about keeps getting a little shorter.

With 129 games remaining on the schedule, the Phils, at 14-19 after last night's loss at Arizona, certainly have enough time to get things together.

So why is there so much anxiety over the slow start?

Why is the 6 1/2-game deficit they face in the National League East seem more like a 20-game one?

It's a lack of faith.

It's not that the Phillies have lost.

It's that the Phillies are losing in a way that virtually everyone could have predicted on the day they finished spring training.

Most fans' biggest concern about the Phillies coming into the season was a shaky, makeshift bullpen that wouldn't be able to keep things close and would end up blowing games.

After Monday's meltdown in Arizona, Phillies relievers are now a combined 2-7 and have blown four out of 11 save opportunities.

With a 1.59 earned run average, Geoff Geary is the only reliever with an ERA under 3.60 with at least 10 innings pitched. Injured closer Tom Gordon was 1-1 with three blown saves and a 4.82 ERA before going to the disabled list.

By comparison, the Mets' bullpen was 5-2 with seven saves in nine chances, and the Braves' bullpen is 9-2 with 12 saves in 15 opportunities.

It's easy to see why the Braves and Mets are 6 1/2 games in front of the Phillies.

It would be easier to buy the Phillies' argument that "it's still a long season," if there was any way of seeing how the bullpen situation would straighten itself out.

The Phillies already have played the only wild card they had by moving Brett Myers from the starting rotation to the 'pen.

Considering they have no players on the roster they can afford to trade for quality relief pitching, and no hot prospects in the minors to deal, the Phillies' only course of action is to hope things will improve.

After 24 years without a championship, hope isn't something Philadelphia fans have a deep reserve of.

You'd think the teams in this town would understand that by now, but they all seem to live by the mantra, "Trust us. We know what we are doing."

The Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, however, haven't earned the right to expect that.

When the Phillies didn't address their area of need virtually all fans were concerned about in the offseason, it's hard to ask fans to trust that things will work out while it's blowing up around them.

To their credit, the Eagles have used their model to build a consistently competitive team that is generally always in the running.

But the Birds haven't brought home a Super Bowl ring, and until that happens, a lot of fans aren't keen on hearing members of the Eagles' brass rank their organization right up there with the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and reigning champion Indianapolis Colts.

During the Eric Lindros era, Flyers fans consistently screamed for the team to acquire a Stanley Cup-caliber goalie, but Flyers' brass insisted on guys who were a step past their prime or not quite good enough to stand on their heads in a crucial playoff series.

When the new NHL rules changed the style of play after the lockout, the Flyers seemed to get caught with their pants down, having spent big money to put together a team that might have won a Cup under the old system.

It has been three decades since the "Flyers' Way" has brought a Stanley Cup to Philadelphia, yet the Flyers can't understand why fans keep asking them to catch up with the times.

Beyond the obvious reason that you want a big-time prospect like Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, part of the reason a lot of fans were upset that the Sixers didn't throw games to improve their draft status is because they don't trust management to be able to rebuild this squad.

Even the village idiot cannot mess up the first or second pick in this year's draft.

But the 11th pick, about where the Sixers would select unless they get lucky in the lottery, is an entirely different story, which requires an eye for talent that a lot of Sixers fans aren't sure general manager Billy King has.

They look at the gradual disintegration of the team since it peaked with an appearance in the 2001 NBA Finals and openly wonder whether King is up to the task of rebuilding.

Right now, the Phillies are asking us to have some faith that they will turn things around, but faith and Philadelphia sports fans go together like oil and water.


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