Tag Archives: Baseball

Top 5: Pitching Rotations – Revisited

Inspired by a comment left on my preseason rankings, and a bit of revisionism over at good friend Black Label Tennis, I’ve decided to revisit and revise my MLB starting rotation rankings.  With the MLB season nearly halfway over, here’s my take on the top 5 starting rotations.

Even if the Four Aces have been reduced to three, the Phillies still have the best collection of starters in all of baseball.

1. Philadelphia Phillies – I had the Phillies in this spot to start the season, and at the halfway point, I don’t see a reason to change this ranking.  As of writing, the Phillies have the best ERA in the league (3.05), the most complete games (9), and the best ERA+ (126). The Phillies have had 7 pitchers start at least 5 games this season, with only Joe Blanton posting an ERA above 4.  Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels have been Cy Young worthy.  Cliff Lee has had a few ups and downs, but has a 4 game winning streak during which he has given up just 1 earned run in 33 innings.  Sure Roy Oswalt hasn’t pitched as well as many expected, but even in relatively poor form (for him), he has posted a 3.79 ERA with a 101 ERA+.  Kyle Kendrick (4-4, 3.23 ERA, 119 ERA+) and Vance Worley (2-1, 2.83 ERA, 139 ERA+) have performed well filling in for Big Joe and Oswalt.  The Phillies have the best record in baseball and the largest division lead.  The only reason the Phillies don’t have more wins is due to an offense that is impotent at times.  For a great explanation of just how good the Phillies have been, check out this post over at Crashburn Alley.

2. San Francisco Giants – This was a tough call, as San Francisco and my #3 ranked team, the Atlanta Braves, have both pitched extremely well.  In the end, I decided to keep my preseason number 2 in place.  Each of the San Francisco starters, except Barry Zito, who has started just 3 games (there’s always a black sheep), has an ERA of under 4.  Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are studs, and pitching like it.  Journeyman, Ryan Vogelsong has been phenomenal in relief of Zito, posting a 1.86 ERA and a 200 ERA+ in 13 games (11 starts). Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sánchez have also pitched well. It will be interesting to see if Vogelsong can keep up his stellar performance.

Jair Jurrjens has leads a Braves pitching staff that is 2nd in MLB in ERA, behind only the Phillies.

3. Atlanta Braves – Though it pains me, as a Phillies fan, the Braves have earned this spot.  After finishing with an honorable mention in the preseason rankings, the Braves jump all the way to #3 based on the fact that they have a 3.1o ERA and a 123 ERA+.  Jair Jurrjens looks like the early Cy Young leader in the NL.  He leads the National League in ERA (2.07) and ERA+ (183) and has bounced back from a subpar 2010 in a big way.  Tommy Hanson has been nearly as good as Jurrjens, with a 2.48 ERA and 153 ERA+. Brandon Beachy has grabbed the 5th starting spot by posting a 3.22 ERA in 9 starts. Tim Hudson is having another good season, though not as good as last year.  Derek Lowe is the weakest link in the rotation.  Any team that can say that is in pretty good shape.

4. Oakland Athletics – The A’s keep their #4 spot and represent the first American League team to make the list.  The A’s staff has been as good as advertised and have gotten contributions from 9 different starters.  The worst of those 9, Graham Godfrey, has pitched 17 innings over three games with a 4.24 ERA.  The best, Gio Gonzalez (2.59 ERA, 159 ERA+), has been CY Young caliber.  Opening Day started, Trevor Cahill  has struggled as times, but is following up his stellar 2010 with a 2011 that is nearly as good.  Despite getting just three starts from Dallas Braden, he of the perfect game, the A’s have the lowest ERA in the AL.  Not bad for a patchwork starting rotation.

5. Seattle Mariners – The final spot was a tough call.  The San Diego Padres pushed hard for this spot. In the end, the Mariners (who weren’t even on my radar to begin the season) make it into the list because their rotation is the reason they sit just 1.5 games out of first place in the AL West.  Twenty-two year-old rookie, Michael Pineda has been a revelation for the Mariners.  One his way to a 2.45 ERA and 150 ERA+, Pineda has defeated the Phillies (6 innings, 1 ER) , pitched well against the Rangers and Yankees and given up more than 3 earned runs just twice in 15 starts.  Felix Hernandez has been good, though not as good as we have come to expect (3.18 ERA).  Erik Bedard seems to have found the Fountain of Youth in the Pacific Northwest, posting a 2.93 ERA in 14 starts.  The other two Mariners’ starters, Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, both have sub-4 ERAs and 2 complete games a piece.

Dropped Out:  The Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Red Sox and Dodgers both drop out of the list because due to lack of consistency from pitchers expected to perform.

Josh Beckett has looked rejuvenated this season and leads MLB in several statistical categories.

Boston Red Sox – John Lackey has been dreadful for the Sox.  Daisuke Matsuzaka is out for season and pitched poorly before undergoing Tommy John surgery.  Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are both pitching well, just not as well as last season. The lone bright spot for the Red Sox (at least in the starting rotation) is the return to form of Josh Beckett.  Beckett leads the majors in ERA (1.86), ERA+ (217) , is second in WHIP (.924) , and has thrown a complete game.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Who could blame them if they were distracted.  The team has been in turmoil since the offseason and just filed for bankruptcy.   Clayton Kershaw has grown into the #1 starter many expected – 2.93 ERA, 9.87 K/9, 1.029 WHIP.  He leads the league in strikeouts, and has posted back-to-back complete games in his last two starts.  Hiroki Kuroda has ably filled the role of Kershaw’s sidekick (3.10 ERA), but he looks headed out of Chavez Ravine.  The rest of the staff – Jon Garland, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley have all been disappointing.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

Top 5: Pitching Rotations

These are heady days for baseball fans.  Every team is undefeated, and hope springs eternal.  With the first games of Spring Training set for Friday, it seemed like it was time to start blogging about baseball again.

A question that seems to be on every baseball fan’s mind is  – who has the best starting pitching staff in baseball?  Below is my humble attempt at answering that question.  Let me know if you agree/disagree.

The Phillies boast a rotation that would make any team jealous. (photo from the4aces.net)

1. Philadelphia Phillies – While this might seem like a homer call, the Phillies have to be considered the best collection of starting pitching in the league.  After pulling off one of the major surprises of the off-season by signing Cliff Lee, the Phillies have four legit #1 starters.  The Phillies (on paper) have the best pitching rotation since the Braves of the early 1990s (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Steve Avery).  This is my initial reaction to the pitching staff – taken from my post Merry Cliffmas and Happy Halladays!:

Think about this, Lee, who won the Cy Young in the AL in 2008 joins a staff that includes: reigning Cy Young winner Roy Halladay; 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels; and 3-time All-Star Roy Oswalt. What other team can match that pitching depth?  The answer – NONE!

Just look at their numbers from last season:

I know that Lee, Hamels and Oswalt did not have great records, look at the other stats! Ridiculous. Also keep in mind that when Oswalt was with the Phillies he was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA. The Phillies now have the best pitching staff in the league.

It doesn’t matter who takes the fifth starter spot (though I think it will be Joe Blanton), the Phillies have the most formidable starting rotation in baseball.

Tim Lincecum anchors the rotation for the defending World Series champions.

2. San Francisco Giants – As seen in last year’s NLCS, the Giants’ pitching staff can hang with the Phillies.  Tim Lincecum, who struggled at times last season, found his form in the playoffs. Matt Cain made the Phillies’ offense look pedestrian. Jonathan Sanchez looks like he is ready to take the next step toward becoming an elite lefty. Madison Bumgarner developed over the course of the season and looks set for a big year.  The only question mark is Barry Zito as the fifth starter, but if he even has an average year (10-14, 4.45 ERA in his time with the Giants) he will be a pretty decent 5th starter.

If Beckett and Lackey can bounce back, the Sox will be tough. (Image from CBS local/Credit: Dan Roche/CBS)

3. Boston Red Sox – Some might question the Red Sox being ranked this highly, especially after the poor performance last season of Josh Beckett, John Lackey and the enigma that is Daisuke Matsuzaka, but I believe that at least one of the aforementioned pitchers will rebound this year.  If more than one can return to the form all have previously exhibited, the Red Sox will have a formidable rotation.  Jon Lester (19-9, 3.25 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (17-7, 2.33 ERA), two guys I thought deserved more Cy Young consideration last season, anchor the rotation.  Even if Beckett and Lackey turn in career average years – 15-10, 3.96 ERA for Becket & 15-10, 3.89 ERA for Lackey – the rotation should be good enough to win the AL East.  Any positive contribution Dice-K can give will be an added bonus.

Trevor Cahill and the Athletics could unseat the Rangers in the AL West. The A's certainly have the pitching.

4. Oakland Athletics – This selection might surprise some, as the Athletics toil in obscurity in Oakland, but the A’s have a legit rotation.  I think this excerpt from a post on pitching rotations sums up the A’s:

Check out these stats and compare them with any pitching staff in MLB: Brett Anderson 7-6 2.80 ERA  75 K’s, Trevor Cahill 18-8  2.97 ERA  118 K’s, Gio Gonzalez 15-9 3.23 ERA  171 K’s, Dallas Braden 11-14  3.50 ERA 113 K’s and a perfect game. Average age…25!!  Oakland led the AL with a 3.56 era, 17 shutouts and held opponents to a .245 batting average.  Question mark is 5th starter but they have many young guys to choose from in the minors and they also signed Rich Harden. If they can get any hitting they could be a team no one would like to play come October.

Clayton Kershaw is my early dark horse for the NL Cy Young. This kid is for real.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers – Four of the Dodgers’ starters finished last season with ERAs under 3.60.  Not too shabby.  Clayton Kershaw led the way with a 13-10 record and an ERA of 2.91 and will be just 23 at the start of the season.  Forming the rest of the rotation behind Kershaw are Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.39 ERA), Chad Billingsley (12-11, 3.57 ERA), Ted Lilly (7-4, 3.52 ERA w/ the Dodgers), and Jon Garland (14-12, 3.47 ERA w/ the San Diego Padres).

In making this list, several teams just missed the number 5 spot (I feel like the top 4 are pretty set).  The St. Louis Cardinals would likely have made the top 5, but with concerns about the health of Adam Wainwright‘s elbow, the rotation is weakened.  Some have been touting the Milwaukee Brewers with Zack Greinke joining Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo at Miller Park.  I think the Brewers have the beginnings of a very good rotation, but it remains to be seen how Greinke will adjust to the NL and whether Marcum is for real.  A third team that many have in their top 5 are the Padres.  Mat Latos and Clayton Richard are two studs at the top of the rotation but after the top 2 there are more questions than answers.  Also, could Latos be in for a sophomore slump? Lastly, the Atlanta Braves are in the discussion as well, especially if Derek Lowe and Jair Jurrjens can rebound from subpar 2010 seasons.  Looks like I could have found one more team and written a top 10.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

Merry Cliffmas and Happy Halladays!

The Philadelphia Phillies gave their fans an early Christmas present by signing Cliff Lee!

Wow!  Just as I am trying to finish the semester (only one more day!) another can’t miss story comes along.  Like the results of the World Cup voting, how can I not comment on the Philadelphia Phillies signing one Clifton Phifer Lee for $120 million over 5 years (with a vesting option for a 6th year)?  I mean seriously!  Did this really happen!?  Things like this never happen to Philly teams.  Generally, free agents have spurned teams from Philadelphia, especially the Phillies.  I guess the winning culture developed over the last several years has started to pay dividends beyond the World Series title and 4 straight years in the playoffs.  The Phillies are now a destination for free agents.

The most interesting part of the Phillies signing Cliff Lee is that he left money on the table to sign with them.  Both the Yankees and the Rangers offered more cash and more years.  According to Phillies beat writer Randy Miller, Lee’s wife played an important role in him signing with the Phillies.  She was reportedly spit on and harassed during the ALCS.  Looks like the stupid New Yokr fans may have cost the Yankees.  All I can say is thank you Yankee fans!

I am almost too excited by Lee joining the rotation to write anything coherent! Think about this, Lee, who won the Cy Young in the AL in 2008 joins a staff that includes: reigning Cy Young winner Roy Halladay; 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels; and 3-time All-Star Roy Oswalt. What other team can match that pitching depth?  The answer – NONE!

Just look at their numbers from last season:


I know that Lee, Hamels and Oswalt did not have great records, look at the other stats! Ridiculous. Also keep in mind that when Oswalt was with the Phillies he was 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA. The Phillies now have the best pitching staff in the league.  The only other team that could even make an argument would be the Red Sox with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and John Lackey, but a couple of those guys have some questions marks and underperformed last season.

Assuming the Phillies can score runs for their Big Four, a problem at times last year, they have to be considered the early favorites to win the National League and the odds on favorite to win the World Series.

For more information on Lee’s signing with the Phillies check out:

Todd Zolecki with MLB – Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff, Cliff …
Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley – Cliff Lee Signs with Phillies
Jeff Fletcher at FanHouse – In Spurning Millions, Cliff Lee Shows Value
Jayson Stark at ESPN – Cliff Lee’s return simply stunning

Red October: Phillies vs. Giants

Earlier this evening, as I was coming into the house after work, I noticed a card in the mail.  I could tell by the address label on the front of the envelope that the card was from my wife’s grandmother.  I expected the card to discuss the recent 49ersEagles game, as my wife’s grandmother and I have a long-standing bet when the Niners and Eagles play (same goes for the Packers, my wife’s grandfather’s favorite team).  While the card did mention the Eagles/Niners game, she devoted half of the card to the Giants vs. Phillies.  While not normally much of a baseball fan, she just couldn’t resist making a bet (our usual $5) on the series.  She’s quite enamored with Tim Lincecum, but conceded that the Phillies might “have [the Giants] for their breakfast” due to San Francisco’s lack of hitting. Leave it to her to snap me out of my funk and get me to write a blog post about the series.  It’s a good thing the card got here today and not on Monday, or I would have missed out on the opportunity to weigh in on the series before it started.

Prompted by my wife’s grandmother’s comment about San Francisco’s lack of hitting, I decided to look into the offensive stats of both teams.  While San Francisco doesn’t have the offensive talents of the Phillies’ most recent opponents, the Giants are in the upper half (check out the bottom of the table where it displays the rankings) of the National League in most major offensive categories.

Two of the biggest areas of weakness for the Giants are team speed and patience at the plate.  The Giants stole just 55 bases all season, good (or bad) enough to place them in a last place tie in the NL with the Cubs.  The Giants also hit into the most double plays (158) in the NL.  This lack of team speed could come back to haunt a team not likely to have many base runners facing the Phillies pitching staff.  Plate discipline has been another area of weakness, with the Giants ranking 13th out of 16 teams in walks, and 12th in strikeouts.  Clearly this is a team that will swing freely at pitches, which should play into the hands of the Phillies’ pitchers.  That being said, the Giants do have some pop, ranking 6th in homer runs, just behind the Phillies.  It is worth noting that the Phillies rank ahead of the Giants in every major offensive category.

For those that want to use the regular season as a guide for this series, the Phillies and Giants split the series 3-3.  The Giants won 2 of 3 in San Francisco back in April.  The Phillies won 2 of 3 at Citizens Bank Park in August, including a game I was lucky enough to attend and blog about.  In those 6 games, the Giants put up a better batting average (.290 vs. .226) and hit more home runs (8 vs. 3), but the Phillies scored more runs (29 vs. 27).  The Giants put up better pitching numbers posting a better ERA (4.00 vs. 4.50) and a better WHIP (1.204 vs. 1.333).


Will the Giants' pitcher-friendly park be a factor? Or will the Phillies' lefties put a few into McCovey Cove?

Clearly, the teams benefited from playing in their home parks, and it will be interesting to see if that continues.  While the regular season numbers can help paint a picture of what to expect, the teams are both vastly different from even the last time they played.  The Giants went through a poor run of play, but finished the season strong, going 20-10 over the last 30 games.  The Phillies, as has been well documented, were on fire for much of the 2nd half and especially in September.

This series will present some interesting pitching matchups, a point the media has beaten to death.  The first game will see defending Cy Young award winner, Lincecum take on the presumptive 2010 Cy Young winner, Roy Halladay.  As Eno Sarris points out over on Fangraphs, Lincecum has pitched well vs. the Phillies (3.17 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in seven games) and Halladay has floundered against the Giants (7.23 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in three games), but this means little.  As Sarris writes:

Those numbers are career splits, and what do starts against other iterations of these lineups even mean? Diddly. And then, if we try to boil it down to splits in this season, we get one poor game for Halladay against the Giants (seven innings, ten hits, five runs, five strikeouts and no walks) and one excellent game for Lincecum (eight and a third innings, three hits, two runs, 11 strikeouts and one walk).

Will "The Freak" be able to shut down the potent Phillies offense?

Beyond “The Freak” vs. “Doc”, the pitching will dominate this series.  Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley previews the starting pitching staffs (Blanton and the SF starters, look here for more on H2O), and likens the matchup to the choice between “Maine lobster and filet mignon”, as opposed to Phillies vs. Reds (Maine lobster and Alpo).

Baer also previews the Giants’ starting 8 here, and the Phillies’ here.  I’m not sure that I agree with all of his breakdown of who wins each position.  Baer summarizes his previews like this (my comments in italics following each position):

  • Catcher: PushWhile I have much love for Carlos Ruiz, I think Buster Posey is the better player.  Will Chooch’s experience make this a push? Or will Posey’s superior offense win out?
  • First base: GiantsI have to argue this point, while Aubrey Huff has had a great season, Ryan Howard is still the better player.  While the Big Piece hasn’t driven in any runs and only has 3 hits in 11 at-bats this postseason, he is still a former MVP.
  • Second base: PhilliesI can’t argue this assessment, as Chase Utley is clearly the best 2B in the game, even if he was hurt for part of the season.
  • Third base: PhilliesIf Pablo Sandoval were playing like he did last year, this would be a much closer race, but he has suffered a sophomore slump.  Placido Polanco has been battling an elbow injury, but he is still better than Mike Fontenot or the artist formerly known as Kung Fu Panda.
  • Shortstop: PhilliesJimmy Rollins, who is starting to look a little healthier, is better than Edgar Renteria or Juan Uribe.  It’s just a fact.
  • Left field: GiantsFunny the difference a year makes.  Last year, Raul Ibanez would have beaten Pat Burrell hands down.  This season, Pat the Bat has seen a resurgence while Rauuuuuuuuuuul has started to show his age.  Given Burrell’s resurgence, I would have to agree with this one.
  • Center field: GiantsAndres Torres has been a bright spot for the Giants in his first full season.  I had the pleasure of seeing a game at AT&T Park earlier this season (April 24) with my wife’s cousin and uncle and I remember both her cousin and I wondering why Torres wasn’t playing.  Finally given the chance to start regularly at the beginning of May, Torres has been a revelation.  For he Phillies, Shane Victorino had an up and down year, but the Flyin’ Hawaiian has shown that he can perform on the big stage.  I would call this a push.
  • Right field: PhilliesJayson Werth vs. Cody Ross. Please!  I don’t even need to write anything else.  Plus Werth would win this for his facial hair alone.

I am excited about this series.  I have a couple friendly wagers with my wife’s family (her grandmother and her cousin), and the pitching matchups should make this a classic.  While I think the Giants will put up more of a fight than the Reds, I believe the Phillies are the better team and will win this series in 6.

Red October: Doc Throws Second No-Hitter in Playoff History

 


The final out of Halladay's second no-hitter of the season (photo from Jeff Sullivan at SB Nation)

October 6, 2010 – The day Roy Halladay threw the first no-hitter by an NL pitcher in the history of baseball.  According to @MLB_PR on Twitter, the game was the 1263rd playoff game in history, and just the 2nd no-hitter.  Let that sink in for a second.

October 6, 2010 – A date many Phillies‘ fans (and baseball fans in general) will not soon forget.  Fans of the Phillies may even remember where they were as Doc threw his second no-hitter of the season, becoming just the 5th man to do that in a season.

October 6, 2010 – The date this fan missed his favorite team’s ace throw a no-hitter because he was in French class!  Are you kidding me!  How did I allow this to happen?  I contemplated skipping class, but I had an exam, so that was out.  My only recourse to follow the game in real-time was to keep track of it on my Droid X using MLB At-Bat, and hope that I wouldn’t miss anything historic.    In retrospect, I should have set my Tivo.  I didn’t and I missed an historic event.  What an idiot!

Enough with my rant, time to talk about the game.  Much has been written, and rightfully so, about Roy Halladay’s brilliance and this post will add to those words.  Roy Halladay is simply the best pitcher in baseball.  He has been a beast throughout his career and his first season with the Phillies has been superlative. To quote Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley:

In his first year with the Phillies, Halladay has:

  • Pitched a perfect-game against the Florida Marlins
  • Made the NL All-Star team
  • Pitched a complete game shut-out to help his team clinch the division against the Washington Nationals
  • Led the NL in wins, complete games, shut-outs, innings pitched, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and lowest walk rate
  • [Will likely] win the NL Cy Young award
  • Put himself into legitimate NL MVP candidacy
  • Pitched a no-hitter in Game One of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, his first career post-season start

On the day the trade went down that brought Halladay to the Phillies, I knew that he would be awesome in Philly.  I said to my wife’s uncle, that Halladay would easily have an ERA in the low 2’s (he ended the season with a 2.44 ERA) and that he was my favorite to win the Cy Young award.  When I made that prediction, I didn’t know he would be this good.

How good Halladay was last night? According to the ever helpful Baseball-Reference.com, Halladay’s pitching performance had a game score of 94, which tied it with Don Larsen‘s famous perfect game for the 4th best game score in post season history!  Two of the three players who finished with better game scores pitched into extra innings, adding points to their totals.  Roger Clemens (the man with the best game score) struck out 15 batters in a one-hitter against Seattle.  Strike outs count for something in the computation of game scores, so the Rocket grabs the top spot.

To quote Eno Sarris at FanGraphs:

But of course it was his work on the mound that was so impressive. He showed legendary control in pitching his no-hitter, only producing 25 balls on 104 pitches. He induced weak groundball after weak groundball (12 of them, to 6 fly balls). He was efficient – using only 11.6 pitches per inning. He was dominant. He had the kind of game that will go down in history right next to Don Larsen’s perfect game. He produced a game of which everyone who watched felt unworthy. He was awe-some.

That type of dominance is the reason the Phillies brought Halladay to Broad and Pattison.  I can’t wait to see what Doc has in store for us as the postseason continues.

Of course, the night couldn’t simply be a celebration of Roy Hallday’s greatness, somebody had to cause some controversy.  In what sounds a lot like sour grapes, Orlando Cabrera decided to spout these words, “He and the umpire pitched a no-hitter. He gave him every pitch. Basically, we had no chance.”  In response to this comment, as Eno Sarris points out using data from BrooksBaseball.net, Cabrera had nothing to complain about.  See the chart:

As you can see, Halladay had little help from umpire John Hirschbeck.

Clearly, Cabrera should take some lessons from fellow Red, Jonny Gomes who had this to say about Halladay,

I think Doc actually took the umpire out of the game by just throwing strikes. I really didn’t have any questionable strikes on me. I’m not really worried about the umpire too much. I’m worried about the guy on the mound. He did a great job — all four corners down and in, up and in, down and out. He threw all four pitches in all four corners.

Props to Gomes for showing some respect for the achievement, for the pitcher and for being a class act.

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s game; can the Phillies other Roy (Oswalt) pitch the Phillies to a 2-0 series lead or will the Reds and their potent offense strike back?

Oh, and if you missed the game like I did, check out all 27 outs here.

Who Saw This Coming?

In my haste to get the Champions League previews written and posted before the games started, I neglected to write something about how the Philadelphia Phillies have stormed from 7 games behind on July 21 to take a 3 game lead on the Braves heading into today’s games.

So, how did the Phillies get here, and did anyone really see this coming?

How did the Phillies get here? – The Phillies reached their nadir in late July following a four game losing streak that put their record at 48-46 for the season.  They were staring up at both the Mets and the Braves and even the Wild Card looked like a long shot.  How could a team that stormed out of the gate, posting a 7-1 record through their first 8 games fall so far behind so quickly? Following the torrid start, the Phillies finished April 12-10.  They followed that by going 16-12 in May, 13-13 in June, 15-13 in July. As I mentioned in a post just before the All-Star Break the Phillies have a history of success in the second half.  This has been the case once again this season, as the Phillies have posted a 40-15 (.727) record since July 21.

Roy Oswalt has been a beast since joining the Phillies. He has posted a 7-1 record with a 1.94 ERA since the trade.

Much of this success stems from the stellar pitching the team has received from the front half of the starting rotation.  Cole Hamels has been outstanding since the end of July (lowering his ERA from 3.63 to 3.01 in that time) with the Phillies going 7-4 in games he has started since July 21.  Roy Halladay has continued to pitch well, though he has seen his ERA rise of the past several games.  Since July 21, the Phillies are 9-2 when Doc takes the mound.  And then there is Roy Oswalt.  Oswalt has been a revelation since arriving in South Philly.  The Phillies are 9-1 in games Oswalt has started, while Oswalt has lowered his ERA from 3.53 to 2.90.  By having three starting pitchers that are pitching this well, the Phillies have been able to get over offensive slumps and still win games.

Who saw this coming? – Maybe my wife’s optimism is rubbing off on me, but even though I thought the Phillies were in a tough spot, I didn’t think they were out of it.  A couple of months ago, I asked in this very space if the Phillies chances of making the playoffs were toast? In that post, my answer at the time was that I thought the Phillies would make one of their patented 2nd half runs, but that they needed reinforcements (enter Roy Oswalt). I also stated my belief that the Braves would falter.  I went a step further in my post wrapping up the first half by stating, “My bold prediction is that the Phillies will storm back to win the division, as the Braves fade down the stretch and the Mets remember they’re the Mets and choke sometime in September.”  The latter part of that prediction has already come to pass.  The Braves have faltered in September, going just 8-9, while the Phillies have gone 14-3 this month.  As for the Mets, they choked earlier than expected and are 14 games behind the Phillies.  We shall see if the first part of that prediction comes true, with the Phillies holding a 3 game lead over the Braves with 13 games let to play (6 of which are against the Braves).

What the Phillies need to do? – The Phillies have 13 games remaining, 7 at home and 6 on the road.  All of the games are in the division, and as mentioned before 6 of those games are against the Braves (3 home, 3 away).  The other remaining games are against the Nationals (4 games – 1 at home, 3 away) and Mets (3 home games).  Their current home stand, which ends against the Mets next Sunday and includes 3 games against the Braves, could decide the division.  If the Phillies head to Washington with a lead in the division, the Braves will be hard pressed to catch them.  If the Phillies went 7-6 in their remaining games (and there is no reason to believe they can’t post that kind of record), the Braves would have to go 10-3 just to tie the Phillies.  With the way the Braves have been playing that just doesn’t seem likely.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Phillies currently have a 98.55% chance of making the playoffs (+23% over the last 7 days).  With a 3 games lead over Atlanta, and what amounts to a 5 game lead in the Wild Card (if necessary), the Phillies look headed for their 4th consecutive postseason.

Missed Opportunities

The Liberty Bell at Citizens Bank Park hasn't rung much in the past 9 games. If the Phillies want to make the playoffs it needs to ring a lot more often.

What a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday (8/17), I was in attendance for the game where the Phillies took the Wild Card lead from the San Francisco Giants.  Since that game, the Phillies are 3-6.  They have ceded the Wild Card lead to back to the Giants, and the offense has looked anemic.  This 9 game slump is reminiscent to the offensive struggles the team experienced during June and July.  Since the game I attended, the Phillies have scored 25 runs, an average of just 2.78 runs per game.  It’s amazing they have won three games!  Somehow they managed to score 8 runs against the Giants on the 18th and 6 against the Nationals on the 22nd (both wins).  The other win came in a 1-0 win over the Nationals, where Roy Halladay was his usual dominant self.  During this stretch, the Phillies have lost games where their starters have given up 1 (Joe Blanton on 8/23 against the Astros), 2 (Cole Hamels on 8/24, the 16 inning game), and 3 (Halladay on 8/25, the revenge of J.A. Happ).  These are games the Phillies should win.  The offense, which a year ago was so potent but this year has been streaky, should score more than 2.78 runs per game.

The craziest statistics I came across while researching for this post showed just how under supported Halladay and Hamels have been this season.  In Hamels’ 27 starts. the Phillies have scored fewer than three runs 14 times (follow the link and scroll to the bottom to see the breakdown).  Of those games, the Phillies have been shutout in 4 of them!  With Halladay it is even worse.  While the Phillies have been shutout just once with Doc on the mound, they have scored fewer than three runs 16 times.  Of those 16 games, they have scored one run in 6 of them.  When your two best pitchers have ERAs of 2.22 (Halladay) and 3.40 (Hamels, who has been excellent in the 2nd half with an ERA of 2.83) the team should win more games.  Period!

Thankfully for the Phillies, the Braves have lost three straight and are 5-5 in their last 10 games.  While the Braves have been swooning, the Phillies have missed opportunities to pick up games.  During the last 9 games, the Phillies have lost 5 games to teams they should have beaten (1 to the Nationals and 4 to the Astros).  Given that the Phillies won 2 out of 3 against the Nats, I can’t complain too much about that loss.  What is incomprehensible is the sweep by the Astros.  The team is 11 games under .500 and came into the series 15 games under .500.  While the Astros have played better over the last couple months – they are 26-21 (.553) during July and August – they aren’t a contender.  During that same period, the Phillies are 29-21 (.580).  Most of their starters, with the exception of Hunter Pence (and he might not), wouldn’t start for the Phillies. Their pitching staff consists of a bunch of former Phillies (Brett Myers, Nelson Figueroa, and the aforementioned Happ), Wandy Rodriguez and a guy best known for ESPN comparing him to Chuck Norris after his first start (Bud Norris).  Not exactly a staff that strikes fear into many teams, and one the Phillies certainly should have handled.

Given the Phillies previous dominance at home and the Astros weakness on the road, the sweep is even more difficult to understand.  Going into the series, the Phillies were 42-22 (.656) at Citizens Bank Park.  On the flip side, the Astros were only 22-36 ).379) on the road.  Combine these stats and most would have predicted a Phillies series win, if not a potential sweep for the Phils.

As with the Braves, the Phillies’ main contenders for the Wild Card have been playing poorly over the last 10 games.  The Cardinals are 3-7, while the Giants are 4-6.  The Phillies should give thanks that these teams decided to play poorly at the same time they were slumping.  Entering tonight’s games, the Phillies found themselves. 5 games behind Giants, and were even on losses. The Cards have 3 games in hand (but are playing tonight) and have 1 fewer loss.  Right now, all Phillies fans should cheer for the Nats who take on the Cards tonight.  It could be a tough game for the Nats, as Chris Carpenter is on the hill.

Looking forward, the Phillies need to find their offense and kick it into high gear.  Of the teams they are now battling with, the Phillies have the toughest schedule remaining.  With a West Coast trip – including stops in San Diego, LA and 1 game in Colorado coming up – the Phillies face tough competition over the next week and a half.  The Phillies play just one team the rest of the way who are currently under .500 (the Nationals, for 6 games).  According to the latest Hunt for October on ESPN, the Phillies remaining strength of schedule (SoS) is .505.  By comparison, the Braves have a SoS of .485, the Cards .467, and the Giants .485.

To make things even more difficult for the Phillies, they have 22 road games and just 13 home games remaining. This does not bode well for a team that is 28-31 (.475) on the road.  If the Phillies win 47.5% of those 22 games, that would give them 10 (maybe 11) wins.  If they win at home at their current pace, the would give the Phillies 8 (maybe 9) more wins.  I’m not sure that between 88-90 wins is enough for the Phillies to win the division, and it will be just as tough to win the Wild Card with that number of wins. What all Phillies fans have to hope for is one of their now patented September runs.  If all goes well, the season ending series against the Braves in Atlanta could decide the division and may decide which team is golfing come Columbus Day.

The Phillies clearly have the toughest road ahead and need to take advantage of any missteps the Braves, Cards or Giants make. They haven’t done that over the last few days and might look back at these past 9 games and wonder what might have been.

Robert Nutting and His Ownership Group = True Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates Fans have had to endure 18 straight losing seasons, while the team made $29 million in profits during the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Like robber barons of old, Robert Nutting and his ownership group are pocketing large sums of money while the fans that support the Pittsburgh Pirates watch their team continue a streak of haplessness that has now extended into its 18th season.  According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, the Pirates made $29.4 million in profits during the 2007 and 20o8 seasons while they won a combined 135 games.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by David Berri, president of the North American Association of Sports Economists:

“The numbers indicate why people are suspecting they’re taking money from baseball and keeping it — they don’t spend it on the players,” said Berri, the author of two books detailing the relationship between finances and winning. “Teams have a choice. They can seek to maximize winning, what the Yankees do, or you can be the Pirates and make as much money as you can in your market. The Pirates aren’t trying to win.”

The Pirates clearly weren’t interested in winning during this time period.  While they have made some strides in spending on the draft (signing Jameson Taillon for $6 million and Stetson Allie for $2 million) they have traded or allowed nearly every potential all-star or decent player leave the team.  As noted in the ESPN/AP article:

[T]he Pirates have shed former All-Stars Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth and Jack Wilson in trades, along with nearly every other player who was arbitration eligible — or close to it — or free agency: Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, John Grabow, Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche, Damaso Marte, Nyjer Morgan, Ronny Paulino and Sean Burnett.

They also dealt slugger Jose Bautista to Toronto for a backup catcher who has since left their system, and cut NL All-Star closer Matt Capps without getting anything in return because he sought a $500,000 raise.

The Pirates have seen gate receipts decline considerably since PNC Park opened, due in large part to the idiotic philosophy they have embraced.  Fans would come to games if they believed the team could win and if ownership was building a team that could compete.  While the Pirates seem to be changing the culture around the team lately, as evidenced by the willingness to spend money on the draft, it will take years for those draft picks to make an impact.  In the meantime, Pirates fans will watch their team stretch their streak of losing seasons to 20 or more.

The fact that the team appears uninterested in winning and takes the revenue sharing money, paid to MLB by teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox, to pad their accounts is unconscionable.  While the team is a business, I don’t begrudge them making profits, to make profits that large while the team flounders is crazy. Owning a sports franchise is different from owning a business of any other variety.  Sports franchises and their owners have a duty to the fans that support the team.  They need to reinvest revenue from the team in an attempt to build a winner.  A winning team will in turn beget more revenue. Like other businesses sports teams depend on sales to bring in revenue.  Unlike other businesses, sports teams represent communities; they give people a common cause to rally around.  They allow people to live vicariously through their on-field heroes; while many of us can only dream about playing baseball or any other sport at the highest level, cheering for those players that represent us is nearly as exciting.

As a baseball fan, I hope that this information leak will force Nutting and his ownership group to spend more money on returning a once proud franchise to glory.

More information (including the documents) from Deadspin and Biz of Baseball here.

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Boston Red Sox: Once Promising Season, Dead After 123 Games

The Blue Jays exit the field after their win. The scoreboard, in the background, shows the carnage.

The Boston Red Sox 2010 Season, once promising with the additions of John Lackey to the pitching staff and Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron to the lineup, has died.  The season was just 123 games old.

The Boston Red Sox 2010 season died on Friday, August 20 with a sold-out Fenway Park in attendance.  The Red Sox had been battling a systemic illness brought on by poor play and mounting injuries to key players.

Even my Rally Cap couldn't help save the Red Sox night or season.

The Red Sox, a team that has been close to contention for most of the season, placed 6 players on the All-Star Team, could not overcome season ending injuries to Kevin Youkilis, Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury, and an injury that saw Dustin Pedroia miss nearly 50 games.  Pedroia, who returned to the DL Friday, will likely not return until sometime in September, and could be done for the season.  No major league team can hope to compete against the Yankees and (now) Rays while battling the injuries the Sox have contended with all season.  The Red Sox had been within 4 games of the Wild card leading Tampa Bay Rays as recently as last week.  However, following a 16-2 drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays it became evident to all in attendance that the Red Sox season (already on life support) would be unable to sustain itself.

Yunel Escobar squares to bunt in the 1st. This was the beginning of the end for Lester and the Sox.

The first signs that last night was the end came when Jon Lester, arguably the Red Sox ace, gave up 5 runs in the first inning.  Prior to last night, Lester had given up 4 runs in the 1st inning in his 24 other starts combined.  The night got progressively worse, as the Blue Jays pounded 3 3-run home runs and scored in every inning except the 4th and the 9th.  To add injury to insult, the Red Sox saw two more players go down during the early portion of the game.  Mike Lowell sustained an injury in after colliding with John McDonald, and Scott Atchison (who had pitched well in relief of the ineffective Lester) left the game after taking a line drive off his leg.

In a season where the philosophy was, “win with pitching and defense”, the offense has, surprisingly, carried the Sox for most of the season.  With Josh Beckett and Lackey both ineffective for long stretches and Daisuke Matsuzaka inconsistent at best, the Sox have relied on good outings by Clay Buchholz and Lester to carry them.  Unfortunately, last night Lester did not deliver.  His lack of command (51 pitches, only 26 for strikes) doomed the lefty and dealt the death-blow to the Sox season.

Despite the gloom of last night’s game and the season, there have been several bright spots and reason to hope for the future.  The Sox have gotten contributions from several players in their farm system. Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish and recently promoted, Yamaico Navarro (who got a hit in his MLB debut last night) come to mind.  If the Sox can make some offseason additions (Hello Jayson Werth!), the team should bounce back and compete next season.

The grounds crew did a phenomenal job maintaining the field. The best work of the night at Fenway.

Survived by the 35,000+ fans in attendance each night at Fenway Park, and the millions of members of Red Sox Nation, the 2010 Red Sox season will go down as a lost season.  With this season dead, a familiar refrain could be heard as I exited Fenway Park, “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”

Check out some more pictures from the game on my flikr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/therallycap/

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Wild Night = Wild Card Lead

Citizens Bank Park - My 2nd baseball stadium in less than a week.

Last night, I completed the finally leg of my baseball-centric road trip – taking in the Phillies-Giants game at Citizens Bank Park.  It was a fun game and a special occasion for me, as my family and I celebrated my father’s birthday and my birthday.  The Phillies certainly delivered a great present for both my and my father, winning what became a wild game.  In addition, Chase Utley returned from the DL, which afforded me the opportunity to see my favorite Phillie in action.

Domonic Brown and Jim Jackson doing an interview for Phillies radio prior to the game.

Walking through the stadium to our seats, we were treated to seeing rookie Domonic Brown being interviewed by radio personality, Jim Jackson.  It was pretty cool to see Brown up close and listen to his interview with the former voice of the Flyers, now the voice of Phillies radio.

When I heard the pitching matchups announced for the series, I was happy that Roy Oswalt vs. Barry Zito was the contest for the game I would be attending.  I had seen Zito pitch earlier in the year when I went to a Giants-Cardinals game in San Francisco, so I would have liked to have seen another Giant pitcher (maybe Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum) but I can’t complain too much.  I was exciting to see Oswalt toe the rubber for the Phillies.

Roy Oswalt pitching to Andres Torres

The game did not disappoint, right from the start.  Pat Burrell made his triumphant return to Citizens Bank Park and received a hearty ovation both during lineup announcements and prior to his first at-bat.  He promptly thanked Phillies fans by smashing a home run into the left-field stands to give the Giants a 2-0 lead.  Matt Gelb, Phillies beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, tweeted after the home run “So that’s twice this year when Phillies fans have cheered an opponent (Thome, Burrell) only to have them homer. Stick to booing, obviously.”  Funny, how Phillies fans defy all the stereotypes that sports people want to assign them and are then rewarded with home runs that hurt their team. I suppose people might say that karma is a bitch.  Following a rocky first inning, Oswalt settled down and looked dominant until surrendering a home run to Jose Guillen in the 7th.

For the Giants, Zito pitched well through the first 4+ innings, but then the Phillies strung together a mini-rally in the 5th to tie the game and another in the 6th to take the lead.  Of course, I missed the rally to take the lead, as I was in line to get Crab Fries from the Chickie’s and Pete’s stand.  The line to get the fries was incredibly long, rivaling those at Disney World.  Crazy!  Philly sure does love those Crab Fries.  During the 6th, Jayson Werth finally did something with runners on base (though Placido Polanco wasn’t in scoring position).  Werth has been terrible with runners in scoring position all season, but maybe his double while Polanco was on base will jump-start his season.

Chase Utley, safe at 2nd after a throwing error by Mike Fontenot in the 8th.

The game took a comical turn in the 8th, as the Giants handed the Phillies insurance runs on a balk by Ramon Ramirez and a throwing error by Mike Fontenot.  By the time the Giants committed these errors, the Phillies had already taken a 7-3 lead, but a couple of free run to pad the lead certainly were welcomed.  As for the Phillies pitching, Ryan Madson (he pitched the 8th) and Chad Durbin (pitched the 9th) both looked good.  Madson continued his scoreless innings streak, it’s now 10 1/3 inning over 10 appearances.  Not too shabby.

Placido Polanco standing on first base after one of his 4 hits.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Placido Polanco’s awesome night.  All he did was go 4-5, to take the lead in the NL batting race from Joey Votto.  Polanco ended the night batting .325 to Votto’s .324.  It should be fun to watch Poly make a run at the batting crown.  Hopefully, he has many more 4-5 nights before the season is over.  The Phillies need those types of performances to make the playoffs, and it would be great to see a Phillie win the batting title.  If Poly can hang onto the lead, he would be the first Phillie since Richie Ashburn in 1958 to win the crown!

The Phanatic was happy with the outcome of the game, and is excited the Phillies are now in the lead for the Wild Card.

With the win last night, the Phillies took the lead in the Wild Card race.  They are 19-5 in their last 24 games, and now have a 1 game lead on the Giants and a 1.5 game lead on the Cardinals.  Following the game, Baseball Prospectus puts the Phillies’ chances of making the playoffs at 52%, up 5% with the win.  If the Phillies can win one of the next two games against the Giants, they should end this week in possession of the Wild Card lead.

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Random Thoughts on the NFL and MLB

NFL: Wednesday, I was sitting at the bar waiting for a friend to show up for dinner when I saw on Pardon the Interruption that the NFL is thinking of installing German microchip technology in footballs to help with goal line/first down calls.  Michael Wilbon argued that the NFL needed to embrace the technology.  He said that if there is technology to improve the product that sports should use it.  I, wholeheartedly, agree.  The NFL needs to make this change, and they need to make it soon.   I remember in the 1996-1997 playoffs, the Eagles were playing the 49ers in the Wild Card round.  During the game, which the Eagles lost 14-0, there was what looked like a sure first down taken from them when the officials placed the ball at an incorrect spot.  In addition to the poor spot, it seemed that the referee tilted the marker to deny the Eagles a first down.  While this could just be the clouded memory of a bitter fan, this scenario could not happen if the current technology existed at the time of the game.

Tennis already uses technology to help the chair umpires and lines people with in/out calls.  The “Hawk-Eye” technology uses high-speed video cameras to capture the flight path of the ball and comes up with a composite picture of where the ball landed on the court.  This has helped to eliminate some of the arguments, though not all, on calls during the match.  FIFA has toyed with the idea of installing this technology on the goal line, which would have helped during this year’s World Cup when Frank Lampard scored against Germany but neither the referee or the assistant saw the goal. FIFA has also explored adding the chip technology to their soccer balls, but again has been slow to accept the new technology.  I suspect that we may see changes soon due to the controversy generated following the World Cup.  While the technology the NFL is looking at is not Hawk-Eye technology, the principle is the same:  determine where the ball was at a given time and determine whether it crossed a line or not.

I am glad to see that the NFL is exploring the technology and I hope that FIFA and MLB will follow suit and embrace technology.  Think of all the controversial calls in the last few months that could have been avoided.  The Lampard “goal”. Armando Galarraga‘s “perfect game”.  There was even a call in last night’s Phillies/Marlins game (Gaby Sanchez‘s “hit” that was called foul) that might have gone the other way if MLB used chip or even replay technology.  Like Wilbon said, if there is technology to improve the product, use it!

MLB: The Red Sox found out yesterday that first baseman, Kevin Youkilis, will miss the rest of the season following thumb surgery.  This is a huge blow for a team that is trying to make up 5.5 games in the standings over the final 2 months of the season.  Going forward, I expect a platoon of Victor Martinez and Mike Lowell to cover the first base duties.  Neither is as good defensively as Youk, and Lowell’s bat is a shadow of its former self.  In addition, if Martinez plays first, somebody else will have to catch. With Varitek still on the DL, will we see newly acquired Jarrod Saltalamacchia called up?

This injury changes everything, as Youk has become the heart and soul of the line up.  With his bat missing, and Dustin Pedroiaweeks” away from being activated, the Sox are missing a good deal of their power potential.  While Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz, and Martinez are still in the line up, it has just become exponentially more difficult for the Sox to catch the Yankees and Rays.  This weekend’s series with the Yankees takes on even greater importance with Youk out.  The Sox have to hope that their rag-tag bunch of fill-ins can keep up their collective magic because the team can ill afford a poor series in the Bronx.

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Roy: Part Deux

Well, I had a snappy beginning to this post all set but then Jayson Stark over at ESPN had to go an take my idea.  I should have expected a professional would hit on the Phillies cornering the market on starting pitchers named Roy and gotten this post up faster.  With the addition of Roy Oswalt, who the Phillies got in return for J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar, (an absolute steal in my opinion), the Phillies significantly upgraded their rotation.  They were able to accomplish this without trading their best prospects and GM Ruben Amaro rectified the mistake of trading Cliff Lee to Seattle in the off-season.  While Oswalt doesn’t have the sterling numbers of Lee this season, he’s no slouch.  As Stark reports:

[Oswalt] ranks among the league leaders in quality starts (15 — as many as Ubaldo Jimenez), WHIP (1.11 — better than Chris Carpenter), opponent OPS (.652 — better than Tim Lincecum) and strikeout/walk ratio (3.53 — better than all but a half-dozen pitchers in the league). So that kind of gets your attention.

He’s allowing a lower opponent batting average (.229), on-base percentage (.280) and OPS (.652) than he has in any season in his fabulous career. His strikeout ratio (8.4 per 9 IP) is his best since his rookie year.

And his swing-and-miss percentage (20.7 percent) is almost identical to that of Halladay (20.8), Carpenter (20.6) and Jimenez (21.0), according to our friends at FanGraphs.

The Phillies received Oswalt, a man who since 2001 leads the NL in wins (143, 28 more than the 2nd place guy), strikeouts (1593), is 2nd in innings pitched (1958.2) and 5th in ERA at 3.24, for relatively little.  While Happ was 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting last season, after posting a 12-4 record with a 2.93 ERA, his ceiling is just not that high.  Happ is already 27 years old, so he isn’t as young as many Phillies fans think, and his peripheral stats indicate that Happ could be in for a fall.  His walk rate this season is incredibly high (7.04 BB/9, though to be fair he has only pitched 15.1 innings) and his ground-ball percentage is low (32.7%) for a pitcher that was pitching in a home run friendly park, and his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was .250 (lower than the .300 average, signifying an increase in ERA, etc. could have been on the way).   The numbers point to Happ being at best a middle of the rotation starter.  Baseball Prospectus predicts that Happ would be at best a .500 pitcher with a decent ERA (between 3.98 and 4.23 over the next several years).  To be the centerpiece of a trade that lands a player like Oswalt, the numbers should be better.  Oswalt, whose numbers at Citizens Bank Park are excellent (4-0, 2.60 ERA, 1 HR allowed in 27 2/3 innings), is clearly an upgrade.

With the addition of Roy Oswalt, the Phillies now have a nasty rotation. Will it be enough?

The two prospects the Phillies traded are both in A ball and while they are showing some promise, are not locks to be productive big league players.  It is difficult to project MLB numbers for prospects as young as Villar and Gose, both 19.  Gose, an outfielder and #6 prospect in the Phillies system according to Baseball America, was hitting .263 for with 4 home runs, 20 RBIs, and 36 stolen bases at Clearwater;  however, he had also been caught stealing 27 times.  Villar, a shortstop and #22 prospect, hit .272 with 2 home runs, 36 RBI and 38 stolen bases for Lakewood.  Defensively, Villar is still a work in progress, committing 42 errors this season.  Both have shown flashes, but are years away from contributing in the bigs. What may be the most important part of the trade is who the Phillies did not trade to get Oswalt.  The Phillies were able to keep Jonathan Singleton, one of their best fielding prospects and did not have to give up any minor league pitching talent.  Singleton, an 18 year-old first baseman for single-A Lakewood, has played 70 games this season and is hitting .312 with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs.  The Phillies see him as the heir apparent to Ryan Howard.

As I mentioned above, this move clearly indicates that Amaro realizes the mistake he made in trading Lee.  Many fans would rather see Lee pitching in South Philly, but I think this deal actually makes more sense for the Phillies in the long-term.  Oswalt is under contract for next season, at a “reasonable” price of $16 million and has an option for 2012 for the same amount.  Houston has kicked in $11 million in the trade, which means that the Phillies are only on the hook for $1o million of the $21 million owed to Oswalt for the remainder of this season and next season (Oswalt has a $2 million buyout if the Phillies don’t exercise the 2012 option).  Lee, due to hit free agency at the end of the season, will command a lot more than $16 million next season, and will likely want a long-term deal.  By not keeping Lee and essentially replacing him with Oswalt, the Phillies gain financial flexibility.  The 2011 season is the last year on several current Phillies contracts, including Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez.  Several other contracts come off the books following 2012, including Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino.  The Phillies clearly made this deal knowing that the core of the team will be intact for at most the next 2 seasons.  They did not want to take on any more long-term liabilities (such as a potential 4 or 5 year contract for Lee) that would make it difficult to reshape the roster once the current set of contracts have expired.  While I would have liked to see Lee stay here for this season, and see the Phillies deal for a pitcher over the winter to replace him, replacing him with Oswalt isn’t as bad a deal as it initially appears.

The one negative I see with the Oswalt trade is that the Phillies likely will not want to take on more payroll this season, meaning they are unlikely to add reinforcements to a bullpen that doesn’t inspire much confidence.  The ‘pen currently ranks 17th in the majors with a 4.04 ERA and has 13 blown saves in 34 opportunities (in 2008, the Phillies only had 15 blown saves in 62 opportunities, and last year they had 22 in 66).  Not exactly the type of numbers that inspire confidence, and the worst performance for the Phillies relievers since 2007.

Despite the shaky bullpen, this trade make the Phillies the team to beat in the NL.  With a rotation that includes Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Oswalt, a 1-2-3 combination that ranks with the best in the league (for my money it could be the best) and an offense that finally looks like it has remembered how to score, the Phillies will be dangerous.  Watch out Braves.

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