Friday, July 8, 2011
Worrying About The Phils?
Point: The Phils are 55-33, the best record in the majors.
Counterpoint: They had the best record last season, and look where it got them.
Point: The offense continues to struggle way too often. Of their 88 games going into this weekend's series with Atlanta, the last three games before the All-Star break, they've scored fewer than four runs in 46 of them. That's over half, if you're math-challenged.
Counterpoint: In those 46 games they're 18-28. That's a .391 win percentage, which is much better than most, if not all, teams. That's a testament to the performances of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. In their other 42 games, the ones where they've hit the magic four-run target, they're 37-5 (with two of those losses coming this week, oddly enough).
Point: That rotation is so formidable.
Counterpoint: If the offense continues to put pressure on them to be excellent instead of merely good so often, might they not weaken just enough so that, come October, they're not quite as excellent as they need to be? And with Roy Oswalt out with his back problem and Joe Blanton (remember him?) not yet ready to return, the Phils have to keep Kyle Kendrick in the rotation along with youngster Vance Worley. (By the way, with all the praise of Worley, how do we know that Worley 2011 isn't Kendrick 2007 -- promising now but ultimately not all that great?)
Point: The hitters who have been slumping so much will come around. And they'll get a big right-handed bat at the trade deadline to help protect Ryan Howard.
Counterpoint: Ruben Amaro keeps saying the Phils' payroll is pretty much maxed out. Maybe this time he means it. And there aren't a lot of quality bats out there, particularly affordable ones. Not many teams are realistically considering themselves out of the playoff running. Some teams with pretty mediocre records are still withing striking distance of a division or wild-card lead. And those slumping hitters have mostly been inconsistent at best all year (Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez), or are struggling/have struggled with injuries (Chase Utley, Placido Polanco). In fact, the injuries to some of the relievers, the worrisome status of guys like Utley and Polanco, and the Phils' weak bench might lead Amaro to shore up those areas instead, if payroll permits.
Point: They got Utley back and he gets a day off now and then, so he should be fine. Everyone else who's hurt should be okay before long as well.
Counterpoint: With that knee condition, who knows how he'll be down the stretch when he'd likely be in every game (depending on the status of the pennant race)? And he just played in the field in all three games in Toronto, on artificial turf. What was Charlie Manuel thinking? Of the guys who needed to be a DH for one of those games, Utley should have been near the top of the list, not Howard and Rollins. And Polanco's back issues certainly seems like a lingering problem. He's been struggling since April.
Point: The bullpen's been pretty strong even without Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras. Ryan Madson's finally gotten the hang of closing. The young guys -- Mike Stutes and especially Antonio Bastardo -- have excelled.
Counterpoint: Well...yeah, it has, if you ignore the guys like David Herndon and Danys Baez (except for that stunning 5-inning stint in the 19-inning win over the Reds. And Lidge may be back soon, although what role he'll take is in question. Presumably the closer's job stays with Madson (once he gets back from his stint on the disabled list, likely after the All-Star break). But can Stutes and Bastardo -- right now the 8th-inning guy and the closer -- handle the increased workload and the playoff pressure?
So...is all of this concern just silly?
I still can easily see the same thing happening this year that happened last year: the Phillies roll to the NL East title, perhaps the best record in baseball again, only to run into the wrong team at the wrong time and be bounced from the playoffs. Last year it was San Francisco. This year it could be the Braves. Or the Giants again. Or perhaps some other team will get hot at the same time the Phils' bats go cold. People who dismiss this theory with the Big 3 "Halladay-Lee-Hamels" argument seem to forget that last year it was "Halladay-Hamels-Oswalt" and it didn't matter. And this year an early exit will feel a whole lot worse, because of the heightened expectations generated by the return of Lee.
It's no time to panic, but it is time to ponder the possibilities.