On the first Monday of each month we roll out our Monthly MLB Report Card (forever to be known as MMLBRC) for the Mets, Phillies and Yankees. We’ll still check in from time to time with short posts to quickly take the pulse of each team, but think of the MMLBRC as an in depth physical (anal probing not included). Truthfully, a month is probably too small of a sample size to make overarching claims like we will attempt to, but dammit, you want content! So rather than write well-reasoned quarterly updates, we’ll make rash decisions based on far too little data. Next up: your first place Phillies.
I like to think I’m a self-aware person, and I recently came to a realization: I have the wrong temperament to be a baseball fan. You have to keep an even keel over a 162-game season, and I’ll be the first to admit that I ride the roller coaster too high during the good times and too low during the bad times.
Let that serve as your warning as you read the second Phillies MMLBRC. The Fightins find themselves in sole possession of first place in the NL East after beating the Marlins yesterday, so I’m particularly bullish about their chances right now. Let’s take a look at a couple of reasons why the Phillies are where they are right now…
- The bullpen. It may seem like ages ago, but in reality it was only last season that the Phils were using guys like Yoel Hernandez, Kane Davis, Brian Sanches, and Anderson Garcia out of the pen. Now the roles are well-defined: Brad Lidge is the closer, Tom Gordon is the 8th inning guy, J.C. Romero is the go-to lefty, Rudy Seánez and Ryan Madson pitch the 7th, and Chad Durbin pitches anytime, anywhere. The result is a bullpen ERA of 2.74 — the best in baseball. And with a number of lefties –veteran Steve Kline, the erratic but hard-throwing Stephen Randolph, junkballer R.J. Swindle, and prospects Josh Outman and Fabio Castro — standing by in the minors to audition for a bullpen spot, there should be no need to make a panicky Turk Wendell type trade to bolster the pen.
- The top of the lineup is back to normal. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are back from their DL stints and are setting the table effectively. Chase Utley is hitting like an MVP candidate — and in fact, ESPN rocket scientist Steve Phillips named him his early season MVP in a segment I saw yesterday. And while Ryan Howard’s average still hovers just above the Mendoza Line (.208), he’s started to come around (.934 OPS, 10 HRs in May). All told, even with the early season injuries and the struggles of Howard, the Phils lead the majors in HRs and are second in runs scored behind only the Cubbies.
- Oh, and the rest of the lineup is dangerous, too. Everyone’s been hitting lately (even Pedro Feliz!). Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth (now on the DL), Chris Coste, Geoff Jenkins, Greg Dobbs, Feliz — they’re making pitchers work hard from 1 through 8 in the Phils lineup, and not just 1 through 4. For example: of the 60 runs the Phils scored in that torrid 5-game stretch from May 25 through May 30, spots 5 through 9 knocked in 30 of those. The bottom line: the lineup is deep and balanced, and no pitcher in his right mind wants to face the Phils when they’re mashing like they are now.
The one thing I haven’t touched on is the Phils’ starting pitching, an area which I think requires some special attention.
David Murphy argued in his blog High Cheese the other day that the Phils have all the starting pitching they need to get them to the playoffs. He may very well be right, but let’s assess what we have anyway…
- Cole Hamels, despite two poor outings over the past week, is a capable staff ace. As long as he stays healthy, he should be fine going forward.
- He’s been disappointing thus far, but Brett Myers showed signs on Friday night of coming out of his funk (8 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 11 K). The velocity still isn’t back to where it was, but if he can continue to locate his fastball as he did Friday, he can slot in as the dependable No. 2 starter we all hoped he’d be.
- I’ll deal with Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick under the same heading: innings eaters. Moyer will have his off days but will generally use his knowhow and scalding 82 mph fastball to keep the Phils in games, while Kendrick continues to pound the strike zone (only 2.81 BB/9), keep the ball in the yard (0.78 HR/9), and use the defense behind him to post quality starts. If the Phillies can get an average of 6 innings per start and a mid-4 ERA from this duo, they’ll be more than happy.
- Ahhh, Adam Eaton. Just when it looked like he could be headed to another DL vacation, the Eatonator responded with two solid outings and notched his first win of the year. Personally, I’m done expecting anything from Eaton, but if he can find a way to keep his ERA under 5 (it’s at 4.99 now), I’ll take it.
The phrase “solid but unspectacular” was invented to describe that group (I think). Murphy may be right in saying that quintet may get the Phils into the playoffs, but that doesn’t look like a championship caliber rotation to me.
But do you want to hear the good news? Both the lineup and bullpen are in good shape, so the Phils can afford to focus all of their attention on obtaining a difference-making starting pitcher. They have the chips to do it (as we discussed in last month’s MMLBRC), and there should be some decent starters available (unlike last year), so this is a storyline well worth keeping an eye on. As the division races continue to shape up over the next few weeks, we’ll start to take a look at some potential deals in more detail.
That’s all for now. Be sure to check out the Mets and Yankees MMLBRCs, and for your Phillies fix, we’ll be back later in the week with some info before the MLB Draft on Thursday.