Phillies Midseason Report
Here we are, 94 games into the season, with the Phillies sitting at 59-35. That’s the best record in the majors, but at the moment it only provides a 3.5 game cushion over the hard-charging Braves. As I said in the season preview, this race is going all the way down to the wire because the Braves will be there until the bitter end. With the second “half” of the season officially underway after taking two of three from the Mets over the weekend, let’s take a look at how we got here.
The Good: Pitching. As expected, the starting pitching has been the team’s backbone, and the bullpen has actually been a pleasant surprise. The Phillies rank second in baseball in ERA (3.12), first quality starts (62), and second in WHIP (1.18), while ranking seventh in BAA (.241). The starters’ collective ERA is 2.99 (first), while the bullpen’s is 3.45 (13th).
The four-headed monster of a starting rotation has been whittled to three because of Roy Oswalt’s meddling back injury that will sideline him until at least August. Luckily, his cohorts of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels have been as advertised. Halladay is Halladay and Lee is Lee (despite walking more batters), but Hamels has been the most impressive of the three — save for his most recent start against the Mets — and could very well thwart Doc’s quest to repeat as the NL Cy Young Award winner. It won’t be long now before he gets his mega-contract with an average annual value of $20 million, and hopefully the Phillies are the team that gives it to him (there’s no justifiable reason to let Cole ever wear another uniform). And to the minority collection of ungrateful asshole fans in this city who doubted Hamels or simply chose to forget how good he is, on his behalf allow me to extend a hearty FUCK YOU.
Most impressive statistical accomplishment: Something tells me you remember Cliff Lee’s immaculate month of June, in which he put up the following numbers…
42 IP, 21 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0.21 ERA, Record: 5-0. You can’t even do that in a video game while playing on rookie mode. Completely insane. And he did all that despite a pedestrian 29/8 K/BB ratio. In addition to his pitching, how much fun has it been to watch Lee bat? Holy shit. No wonder he wanted to come back to the NL, he loves being able to hit and help his own cause. No joke, I was actually hoping Charlie would let him DH for a game in one of the interleague series.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Vance Worley, who’s making himself into a legitimate major league starter. I love his two-seam fastball and the moxie with which he pitches. Worley’s mental makeup is remarkable and his mound presence is swagtastic. He believes he belongs at this level, and that kind of confidence is manifesting itself in his performances. While I’m still not sure if Worley projects as anything more than a #3 or #4 starter, I do like watching him pitch. Also, props to the much-maligned Kyle Kendrick, who has been one of the best #5 starters in baseball. Somehow.
As for the bullpen, where would this team be without the contributions of Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes? Those two young arms have saved the Phillies’ ass numerous times. Without them, it’s not at all a stretch to say we’re in second place behind Atlanta. For fuck’s sake, after Madson went on the DL, Charlie tabbed Bastardo, apparently the teams’ fourth-string closer, to take over the role. All he did was convert each of his first four save opportunities without giving up a single hit (and only one total baserunner via a walk). Bastardo’s stats right now are just silly and likely unsustainable (right?). He’ll come back down to earth at some point over the course of the rest of the season, which is something I’m expecting because of his workload. Bastardo has already pitched 33 innings so far, while his total innings pitched for his career coming into this season was 42.1. Still, right now… wow. With Madson set to come off the DL, Bastardo should return to his role as the setup man.
And Michael Stutes… well, what more can I say about the way ol’ Stutesy has performed up to this point? He’s another guy who exudes confidence and demonstrates a strong mound presence, despite his slight appearance. Stutes doesn’t care who he’s pitching against and isn’t intimidated by anything. Sweet hair, too, can’t forget about that.
The Bad: Offense. In essence, things have played out exactly as we expected. The offense has vacillated between struggling mightily to score runs and ripping the cover off the ball. That’s how it goes. However, the fact remains that the Phillies are a middling offensive team, at best. They rank 14th in baseball in runs scored (401), 20th in batting average (.249), 10th in on base percentage (.322), and 21st in slugging percentage (.380). Blech. Everyone aside from Shane Victorino — who’s putting up the best numbers of his career but has also made a few trips to the DL — is having a subpar year at the plate. I don’t care how many RBI Ryan Howard has, his OPS is .805, which ranks 55th in the majors. Please, go ahead and give me a good reason why I shouldn’t feel as though he’s trending downward as a hitter. But look on the bright side: That horrendous contract of his doesn’t even start until next season! Awesome. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Amaro during his tenure as general manager, it’s that he’s much better at making trades than he is at handing out contracts. Anyway, at least Chase Utley’s knee tendonitis doesn’t appear to be as troublesome an injury as so many, myself included, thought it would be. Then again, he’s also on pace to put up the lowest power numbers of his career and at the plate doesn’t resemble the player we’ve been accustomed to watching over the years.
We still don’t know what we have in Domonic Brown, but the raw skills are evident. Even though his long and loopy swing concerns me, when when he hits the ball… whoa. All the tools are there, but will the holes in his swing inhibit him from reaching his potential at the plate? We’ll see. I know there is a growing number of doubters out there, but, personally, I don’t think he’s far away from harnessing his talents and fulfilling the hype that has accompanied his ascent through the organization over the past few years.
The trade deadline is now less than two weeks away, and as much as Amaro says getting another bullpen pitcher is his main focus, you know he’s keeping his eyes peeled for a right handed hitter with some pop. The options that seem to be out there are as follows:
Hunter Pence (The most talked-about player on the market, aside from the last guy on this list, but the price tag will likely be prohibitive because I imagine any proposed deal will start with Domonic Brown/Vance Worley, before adding a prospect like Jarred Cosart, Jon Singleton, or Sebastian Valle — probably two of the three.)
Carlos Lee (Houston would literally pay a team to take on his contract; if El Caballo didn’t have another year left on that horrific deal, I just might be willing to give him a chance, especially because he wouldn’t cost much in terms of prospects.)
Michael Cuddyer (Supposedly the Twins are reluctant to trade him, and if they continue to gain in the standings in the AL Central, he’ll remain with the team. If the Twins fall out of contention over the next two weeks, holding onto Cuddyer makes little to no sense, given his impending free agency at the end of the season.)
Reed Johnson (Having a career year, and while I highly doubt he continues his .915 OPS pace, he would cost significantly less than other more glamorous options and could end up being a low risk/high reward pickup.)
Ryan Ludwick (I’d take him, but I’m not giving up anything substantial.)
Josh Willingham (Again, a guy I’d definitely take a flyer on, but I wouldn’t give up a top prospect for him.)
Jeff Francoeur (Charlie likes him, and I wanted him in free agency; would the Royals deal him?)
Melky Cabrera (Having a career year and, despite how long he’s been around, is still very young — turns 27 in a few weeks.)
Marlon Byrd (It would be funny to reacquire him now that he’s made himself into a serviceable major leaguer.)
Carlos Beltran (Of course he’s on the market, but I see no scenario where the Mets trade him to us unless we severely overpay.)
As for bullpen arms… the name you hear the most is Heath Bell, but just like with Pence, the asking price might end up being too much. I don’t think Amaro will be acquiring anybody who gets fans excited. A few names to remember, however: Koji Uehara (having an incredible season), Jon Rauch, Brandon League, Rafael Betancourt, Huston Street, Sean Marshall, Randy Choate (lefty specialist allowing a meager .093 BAA to left-handed hitters), Mike Adams (I’d probably take him over Bell, honestly, if the price is right), even Joakim Soria (he’s looking more like the Soria of old over the past month and a half).
Let’s also remember that with the Phillies about $3 million away from the dreaded luxury tax threshold, making a transaction isn’t some forgone conclusion. Don’t be surprised if the team right now is the same one you see on August 1 after the non-waiver trade deadline passes.
Regardless of what happens, one thing is clear: This team will continue to be buoyed by its pitching. We can only hope the offense gives enough support along the way and certain players get hot at the right time (which is what happened with the Giants last season). Personally, I’d rather be able to bank on something other than flimsy, fragile hope.