September MMLBRC: Philadelphia Phillies

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. Now in the box: the defending NL East champs.

We here at Them’s Good Eaton have always subscribed to the cliché — tired as it may be — that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.

Well, that pretty much goes out the window in September.

The task ahead of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies boils down to this: 24 games left, and a 2-game division lead for the hated Mets.  With that as the backdrop, I’ll simply point out that efforts like this are completely unacceptable this month.

So what do the Fightins need to do to experience this again this year?  So glad you asked!  I’ve got a couple of thoughts…

  • The man pictured above has to play like… umm, I don’t know… the 2007 National League MVP!  I realize that the power he flashed in 2007 was an abberation (.531 SLG in 2007 vs. .441 career SLG) but he’s not even getting on base at the same clip at last year (.344 in 2007 vs. .335 in 2008).  Jimmy Rollins delivered on his promise to lead the Phils to the NL East crown last year, and if they’re going to repeat, he’s got to have a big month in that leadoff spot.
  • Whether it’s a smoke-and-mirror act or not — and that’s a discussion for another time — the bullpen has to hold it together over the last month.  Chad Durbin has pitched a lot of innings (76.0 in 58 appearances), but I’m not buying the “fatigued” excuse for anyone else: Phillies starters have pitched the 3rd most innings in the National League.
  • Either Kyle Kendrick has to get his act together, or Charlie Manuel has to have the cajones to pull the plug and give J.A. Happ another shot.  Special K made 5 starts in August and averaged the following line: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K.  Then he started September off with a 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 K clunker against the mighty Washington Nationals (team OPS+: 85).  I love what the kid did for the team last year, and he’s been serviceable for much of the 2008 campaign, but if he can’t cut the mustard down the stretch, then sentiment can’t override the necessity of getting quality starting pitching.
  • As stupid as this sounds, the September call-ups have to contribute.  The first batch included a few pleasant surprises in prospects Greg Golson and Lou Marson — the former can caddy for Pat Burrell, while the latter serves as the No. 3 catcher and lets Manuel pinch hit Chris Coste.  Potential additions, already on the 40-man roster, include R.J. Swindle, T.J. Bohn, Jason Jaramillo, Mike Cervenak, and Brad Harman.  Obviously this list doesn’t strike fear into anyone, but if Swindle can retire one LHB in a key situation, or Bohn can be a defensive replacement for an inning, then you’ve gotten some (potentially crucial) value from your September call-ups.
  • Finally, on a team level, the Phillies simply have to take advantage of the soft spots in their September schedule.  That means showing no mercy in the 11 games remaining against the lowly Nationals (Sept. 2-3, Sept. 26-28) and Braves (Sept. 16-18, Sept. 22-24).  The Mets were able to seize the division lead in large part because they took care of business against teams like the Padres, Braves, and Pirates — posting an 11-2 record against those teams in August.

With those warning signs in place, let me strike a few positive chords here as the finish line comes into view.

  • Remember when Brett Myers played for the IronPigs?  Seems like ages ago now, especially after the infamous hothead has gone 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and a 42:7 K:BB in 8 starts (43.2 IP) since his return from minor league purgatory.  Eric Seidman put together an interesting analysis of Myers before and after the demotion, and it boils down to this: improved velocity and a more consistent release point (which in turn has led to better command) is the root of Brett’s resurgence.  Whatever the case, he certainly looks like a legit No. 2 starter right now.
  • I honestly think the 2008 Phillies are more well-built for the playoffs than the 2007 Phillies.  No, the offense isn’t quite as good — thanks to the loss of Aaron Rowand and down years from Rollins and Ryan Howard — but the starting rotation is much, much better.  I’ll take Cole Hamels, this incarnation of Myers, a resurgent Jamie Moyer, and an innings-eating Joe Blanton over last year’s 4-man playoff rotation any day.  And obviously the bullpen’s been better than last year (we’ve had no Brian Sanches sightings this time around).

In case you think I’ve got my red-pinstripe-tinted glasses on (note: I have no idea what these would look like), Baseball Prospectus’ “Secret Sauce” calculator thinks the Phils have a better playoff formula than any potential NL playoff team except the Cubs and Brewers.  Bottom line: Charlie Manuel’s crew would certainly be a dangerous club in October.

Now all they have to do is get there.

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