Tag Archives: Phillies

The First Half is in the Books

Just as the World Cup ended yesterday, so too did the first half of the Major League Baseball season.  As fans and teams settle into the All-Star Break, it is time to reflect on the roughly 3 months of baseball already played.  Thankfully, we have plenty of time to do that, as today and Wednesday are the only two days in the year when there is not a game in one of the four major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL).

Looking back, the first half of the season has been a bit of a see-saw for both of my teams.  The Phillies started strong, but then entered a month-long slump that saw them fall out of first place.  The Red Sox started poorly, only to rebound to within .5 games of first place and then fade before the Break.

Phillies – The Phillies started quickly, compiling an 8-2 record over their first 10 games, and avoided another terrible April by going 13-10 in the first month of the season.  On May 11, the Phillies were 20-12 and had a 5.5 game lead on the Atlanta Braves.  What a difference a month makes, as one month ago the Phillies had lost that lead and sat 2.5 games behind Atlanta.  A swing of 8 games!  The dramatic turn of events can be attributed to a month-long slump and far better play by the Braves.  The shear totality of the slump was, and still is, most disconcerting.  It seemed the entire offense forgot how to swing (with the possible exceptions of Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard).  Howard has had a great first half.  While he has slightly fewer home runs and RBI than last season, his batting average is 34 points higher.  If Howard heats up after the Break, the way he usually does, his numbers this season could be among his best ever.  Jayson Werth, who started the season looking like an MVP candidate but cooled off over the course of the team-wide slump.  Chase Utley had hit 10 homers by May 20 and has hit 1 since then!  The slump seems to have coincided with Jimmy Rollins‘ brief return from injure and his quick return to the DL.  Rollins, while not a prototypical lead-off hitter, is the spark plug of the offense, when his speed/power combination was out of the lineup, the Phillies’ offense sputtered.  If you compare the offense over the first half with last year, you will find that the Phillies have played 1 more game this season but have scored 50 fewer runs!  That is an average of .57 runs per game less than last season.  They have hit 31 fewer home runs (122 last year, 91 this year), and are worse in every offensive category except triples (21 this year, 15 last year).

This lack of offense has hurt the Phillies’ pitching, which currently ranks 6th in ERA in the national league.  While the pitching staff has an ERA of 3.92, far better than last year when the staff posted an ERA of 4.61 before the Break, the Phillies offense has scored 4.72 runs per game.  This lack of run support has been most noticeable when Roy Halladay is on the mound.  When Doc pitches the Phillies average 3.8 runs per game, or nearly 1 run fewer than their average.  When a pitcher has a 2.19 ERA, there is no way he should have 7 losses before the Break.  He probably shouldn’t have 7 losses in a season.  I’m not sure what causes the Phillies to forget hot to hit when Doc is on the mound.  Are they complacent, thinking he will pitch another perfect game?  Have the myriad injuries affected the Phillies approach at the plate?  Nobody can know for sure outside of the Phillies’ clubhouse.  Cole Hamels has been better this season, posting an ERA over 1 run lower (3.78 this year, 4.87 last year).  While he hasn’t quite recaptured the form that made him the World Series MVP in 2008, he has looked much better than the guy who wished the season was over during the World Series last year.  The rest of the staff has been shaky at best, with some great performances (see Jamie Myer’s two complete games) and some terrible performances (virtually all of Joe Blanton‘s starts, and about half of Kyle Kendrick‘s).  Hopefully, J.A. Happ will return after the Break to bolster the rotation or the Phillies will make a trade or two to reinforce the pitching staff.

Injuries certainly haven’t helped the Phillies with Rollins, Utley, Polanco, and Carlos Ruiz all missing time due to injuries.  The bullpen has also been injured, with Brad Lidge, Chad Durbin, and Ryan Madson all missing games.  This hasn’t helped, as the bullpen has been a weak spot.  Players are being thrust into roles they are unaccustomed to, and haven’t been performing.  One of the few standouts has been Jose Contreras, who filled in as closer when both Lidge and Madson were out.  He performed admirably and has a 2.79 ERA in the first half.  While the subs have played fairly well across the board, clearly the Phillies have missed having their normal line up performing together.

As it stands right now, the Phillies are 4.5 games out of first place in the NL East, and 1.5 behind the Rockies and Dodgers for the Wild Card. As mentioned in previous posts, the Phillies have produced great results after the Break, playing .599 ball over last 5 seasons.  The Phillies swept the NL Central leading, Cincinnati Reds just before the Break and have a great chance to continue momentum as they play the Cubs for four games starting Thursday.  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.

Red Sox – I wish that the Phillies could have had the luck in replacing their injuries that the Red Sox have had.  At various points this season, it seems that virtually ever major Red Sox player has been injured.  Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, and Jason Varitek have all missed significant amounts of time.  J.D. DrewKevin Youkilis, Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre (and they have all missed a couple of games).  In the rotation, has also missed more than a few games.  It seem the only starters (in the field) to avoid missing major amounts of time have been Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Clay Buchholz have all spent time on the DL.  Only Jon Lester and John Lackey have avoided the injury bug.  What is truly amazing about the Red Sox’s situation is that they are still in contention despite all of the injuries.  They have been very lucky to get the kind of production they have received from their prospects and minor league call-ups.  Daniel Nava, a 27 year-old rookie outfielder, has done more than just occupy an outfield position.  He has hit .300 with 16 RBI in 24 games for the Sox.  Bill Hall (on the opening day roster, so not a call-up) has provided some pop and played 6 different positions.  Darnell McDonald, who never played more than 47 games in a season, has already played in 68 for the Sox, driving in 24 runs and hitting 6 homers.  All of this production is a bonus when a team is trying to fight this many injuries.

At the beginning of the season, the Red Sox stated that their philosophy was to win with pitching and defense.  Many people (including me) wondered who was going to drive in the runs.  Beltre hasn’t had a really good season since 2004 with the Dodgers.  David Ortiz looked a shadow of himself over the last season and a half.  Even Pedroia’s production had fallen off from his 2008 MVP season.  I thought that Youk would have to shoulder most of the offensive load, and that the Sox would lose a ton of low scoring games.  Nobody, except maybe Paul the Octopus, could have predicted the way the Sox were going to win their games in the first half.  The Sox have, unexpectedly, used offense not pitching to win their games.  Currently, the Sox rank 22nd in the majors in ERA and 11th in fielding percentage; however, they are 1st in runs scored, 3rd in batting average and 2nd in home runs.  While Youk does lead the team in most of the offensive categories, Papi has found some of his old swagger, Beltre is having his best season since the aforementioned 2004 campaign, Pedroia’s production has gone up from last season, and Martinez has been solid.

While it may look like the pitching is not living up to the off-season hype, Lester and Buchholz have been phenomenal.  Both pitchers have sub-3 ERAs (Lester – 2.78, Buchholz 2.45).  Lackey, the Sox’s premier off-season signing, has not lived up to his large contract.  I saw this coming, as Lackey had a 4.44 ERA over the previous 3 seasons at Fenway Park.  I remember going to game a couple of seasons ago thinking I was going to see a good game.  Buchholz was starting for the Sox, Lackey for the Angels.  Instead of seeing a great pitching match-up, Lackey was knocked from the game after giving up 7 runs in 4 innings.  While Lackey does have a winning record this season, those numbers are a bit deceiving, as the Sox have given him 5.4 runs of support.  It’s pretty easy to win when your team is scoring that many runs per game when you pitch.  This reminds me a bit of Beckett’s career with the Sox.  He has had double-digit win totals every year in Boston, but has not posted an ERA under 3.27.  As a matter of fact, he won 16 games his first season in Boston (2006).  Maybe Lackey will rebound with a strong 2nd half, but so far he hasn’t been worth the money.  Dice-K has been his usual injured, erratic self and has not really helped the Sox much this season.  He has had a very up-and-down season.  The Sox need him to pitch better in the 2nd half if they hope to make a run to the playoffs.

Heading into the Break, the Sox are 5 games behind the Yankees for the AL East lead and are 3 behind Tampa for the Wild Card.  Over the past five seasons, the Red Sox have posted a .551 winning percentage after the Break while posting a .598 winning percentage before the Mid-Summer Classic.  Hopefully, the Sox will be able to avoid what has become their patented post-Break swoon, as they would finish with 91 wins if they played .551 ball.  On the other hand, if they keep winning at their current pace, the Sox would finish with 94 wins.  Those three games could be crucial because unless something changes dramatically, the three teams at the top of the AL East will fight for 2 playoffs spots.  One team, likely with a very good record, will be watching at home come October.  The Sox face a tough task after the Break, as they play the AL West leading Texas Rangers and newly acquired ace Cliff Lee.


Walking with the Wounded

Things just keep getting worse for the Philadelphia Phillies.  First Jimmy Rollins goes down early in the season.  Just when the Phils got him back, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and Placido Polanco all go down with injuries.  The Phillies have also lost backup catcher Brian Schneider to injury.  Early in the season the Phillies also lost J.A. Happ making their starting rotation thinner than they would have liked.  Combine these injuries with an extended, team-wide slump and you have the Phillies sitting 4 games behind the Atlanta Braves just before the All-Star Break.

Utley’s injury is the most worrying.  He had surgery on his thumb and is expected to miss 8 weeks.  With that time-table, Utley will return at he end of August or early September. Polanco will be out for 3-4 weeks with elbow problems.  No word on how long Schneider will be out of the lineup, but hopefully it isn’t long as Chooch isn’t ready to start his rehab assignment.  Chooch is still recovering from a concussion and those aren’t something you want to mess with.  Happ is the closest to returning of the Phillies on the DL.  He will make another rehab start at Lehigh Valley and should hopefully rejoin the big club after the Break.

With Utley and Polanco out of the lineup, the Phillies lose at lot of offense at the top of their lineup.  Shane Victorino hasn’t been great in the lead off spot, and the injuries mean the Phillies have Greg Dobbs batting second!  The man is batting .171 right now and he’s batting second!  Rollins has been pushed to third, which sacrifices his speed at the top of the order for his run producing capabilities.  Wilson Valdez appears to have won the right to replace Utley, he performed admirably in his stint as Rollins’ replacement, but clearly cannot replace Utley’s offensive ability.  As if this weren’t enough, the starting catcher right now is Dane Sardinha!  I hadn’t even heard of this guy until he was called up when Chooch went on the DL.  He has a .143 career batting average!  The Phillies then found an excellent replacement for Utley when they recalled, Brian Bocock to take Utley’s roster spot.  This guy was batting .179 with Lehigh Valley, how do you think he will do against big league pitching?

Ultimately, the Phillies need to explore some trade options to replace Utley.  Polanco could return shortly after the Break, but the loss of Utley will handicap the Phillies as they fight to make the playoffs.  With Utley out until the final month of the season, the Phillies could be out of the race by the time he returns.  A potential replacement could be Kelly Johnson of the Diamondbacks.  The D-backs are already out of the race and Johnson has been hitting well over the course of the season.  Disregarding his current slump, Johnson could replace most of Utley’s offense.  He is relatively cheap, making $2.35 million this season, and is signed for just this year.  I can’t imagine the D-backs would ask for much in return, perhaps a couple of mid-level prospects.  This would allow the Phillies to slot him in as a replacement for Utley returning Valdez to the bench.  This would give the Phillies more flexibility to cover future injuries.  Another potential replacement would be Mike Fontenot, a career .270 hitter who would be an upgrade over the current starting alignment of Dobbs at 3B and Valdez at 2B.  He is currently sitting behind Ryan Theriot for the Cubs, is on a one-year contract and is making $1 million this season.  The Cubs would likely trade him for a low to mid-level prospect.  Another option would be Mike Aviles from Kansas City.  He has been playing well this season and has established himself recently as the starting SS.  Like the other options, he is on a one-year contract and is cheap ($429,000 this season).  Kansas City isn’t going to compete this year, and is always looking to add prospects.  A mid-level prospect would likely be enough to bring Aviles to Citizens Bank Park.  I just read Buster Olney’s blog, and he mentioned Ty Wigginton (currently of the Baltimore Orioles) as a potential replacement.   I could see that move happening and agree that it would be a great fit.

Ruben Amaro needs to do something to help the lineup because a starting 9 that includes Greg Dobbs and Wilson Valdez is not going to win the N.L. East.  That’s a fact.

Musings on Baseball, Basketball and the Longest Tennis Match in History

So many sporting events during the last day, and so little time to blog about them.  I’ve decided one post to cover the most interesting non-World Cup sporting events of the last day was the way to go.

Baseball – Good night for one of my teams, not so good for the other.  The Phillies were able to pull off a late game rally to defeat the Indians 7-6. Maybe Jimmy Rollins‘ absence meant more the Phillies than I thought.  His walk-off homer secured the victory.  Coupled with a sterling pitching performance from Jamie Moyer on Tuesday the Phillies are on a modest 2 game win streak.  Maybe the Phillies need to play the AL Central more often.  Hopefully, the Phillies can use this to propel themselves into a good stretch before the All-Star break.  If the Phillies can play well going into the Break, I think they have an excellent shot of catching Atlanta and winning the division.  In the past several years, the Phillies have been excellent after the All-Star Break, posting a .599 winning percentage over the last 5 seasons.  If the Phillies can go into the Break within striking distance, I believe they will heat up after the break and catch the Braves.

On the other side of a walk-off were my 2nd team, the Red Sox.  They were facing Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been historically good this season, so who could have blamed them for losing.  The funny thing is that the Sox actually got to Jimenez, chasing him after 5 2/3 innings in which they scored 6 runs.  To put this in perspective, Jimenez had only given up 13 runs total in his previous 14 games!  In the month of May, Jimenez pitched 6 times and gave up 4 runs in the whole month!  The 5 2/3 inning outing was also the shortest of the season for Jimenez.  John Lackey put in a valiant effort on the mound and at the plate (he had 2 hits) and deserved better.  The Sox rallied from an early 4 run deficit to take a 6-5 lead into the 9th.  Jonathan Papelbon came on, so the game should have been over.  Instead, Papelbon gave up two home runs and the Rockies walked off with the victory.

Tennis – The longest tennis match in the history of the sport is finally over.  I couldn’t go without mentioning that John Isner finally won his match against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon.  The match started on Tuesday.  Tuesday night the match was suspended and play was resumed on Wednesday.  The players played for the entire day Wednesday only to have the match again suspended due to darkness.  Isner was finally able to break Mahut’s serve in the 138th game of the 5th set.  The match is truly an epic, taking more than 11 hours over 3 days to complete.  The match was so compelling that it even got me to stop watching soccer yesterday afternoon.  The Ghana-Germany and Serbia-Australia matches took a backseat to history in the making.  Like Isner said “This will never ever happen again”.  Both men deserved better than for the loser to be knocked out of Wimbledon.  Bravo to both men.

NBA – The lead up to the NBA draft continues with the top of the draft coming more into focus.  John Wall is a lock to go at #1 to the Wizards.  It appears the Sixers are going to take my advice and draft Evan Turner.  The Nets are now leaning toward Derrick Favors.   After that things get fuzzy, as there could be a lot of movement due to trades.  It should be an interesting night.

2.43 ERA and an 8-6 Record

Yes, those stats are correct.  Roy Halladay has compiled a 2.43 ERA and still his record is 8-6.  How is this possible?  The Phillies almost seem to relax, offensively and defensively (they have committed some atrocious errors behind Halladay), when Halladay pitches and it is coming back to bite them.  An interesting stat, via an ESPN text message, is that the Phillies have scored 9 runs in Halladay’s 6 loses.  That is a measly  1.5 runs per game.  Even for an offense that has been sputtering for the better part of a month, 1.5 runs per game is ludicrous.  The MLB average is 4.48 runs per game according to Baseball-Reference.com.  So the Phillies are scoring roughly 3 runs per game fewer than the league average.  For the season, even after the poor performance over the last month, the Phillies average 4.65 runs per game, slightly higher than the league average.  Halladay is receiving a total of 4 runs per game in run support, over half a run fewer than the Phillies’ average.  That number is skewed by a couple of really big wins by the Phillies in Halladay’s first 7 starts.  The Phillies have scored 11, 10, 8 and 7 runs for Doc, but every other game (10 in total) they have failed to score more than 4 runs.

Halladay has been as advertised this season, giving the Phillies quality starts almost every time he takes the mound.  When the Phillies traded for him, I thought this would be a perfect match.  Halladay dominating on the mound, backed up by an offense that was 4th in the majors last year in runs per game.  Instead, the Phillies offense has been lost,  especially so when Halladay takes the mound.  It’s a shame to see a pitcher put up such good numbers and continually lose games.  Here’s hoping the Phillies can figure out what the problem is and give Halladay the run support he deserves.

Has the Sleeping Giant Woken Up?

The Phillies have won 4 of their last 5 games (against good competition too) and have scored 5 or more runs in all of the victories.  Over the last 5 games, even the loss to the Yankees, the team has looked more like the team that has won back-to-back NL pennants and the 2008 World Series.  Will the arrival of Jimmy Rollins help to keep the restarted engine running?  Is Chase Utley hurt?  If he is, perhaps he should have had a hurt knee a month ago because he was a beast last night in the Phils’ victory over the Twins.

The funny thing about Utley is that his stats (OPS, Runs Created and Wins Above Replacement and other metrics) are all in the top two or three on the Phillies’ roster.  We have just come to expect so much of him that the slump he has been in is shocking. While his numbers are below his career averages and the worst of his career since he has became the Phils’ starting 2B, I believe he will bounce back. Relative to the rest of the team, which isn’t saying much when the team is playing poorly, Utley isn’t playing any worse than most of the team. It just appears that way because of the superlatively high standards he has set.

June hasn’t been a kind month to the Phillies, with only Ryan Howard and Placido Polanco hitting above .300.   If not for Howard, who is having a great month so far (5 HR, 16 RBI, accounting for nearly half of the Phillies’ HR and 1/4 of the RBI this month) the Phillies would be much worse shape.  Way to earn that money Big Piece!

It is rare for an entire team to undergo a month long slump but you have to believe that when the team does wake up (and it looks like that time might be now) the rest of the National League East will not be happy about it.