Saturday, August 18, 2012

Phillies Still Fighting For Playoff Berth

While there are still 40-plus games left in Major League Baseball's 2012 regular season, it has already seemed like an eternity for the Philadelphia Phillies and their fan base.
However, despite what seems to be the most injury-plagued season any single team has had in baseball history, along with a few underachieving stars, the Phillies are still alive in the playoff race.
I know it sounds absurd to think that after everything the Phils have been through that they actually have a shot at the post-season - especially when they can't even trade for players without them coming to town and getting hurt (see Nate Schierholtz). I don't blame you. I don't entirely believe it myself. But it's true.
The division is out of reach. That shouldn't be news to anyone. When you see the number 19 in the 'Games Back' column as of Friday afternoon, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Phils won't be winning the NL East for the sixth straight year. Still, as of Friday, at least they were out of the basement. It only figures that the team I suspected to compete with the Phils for the division crown at the beginning of the year, the Miami Marlins, would be worse.
Thanks to MLB's rule change this year where two Wild Card teams make the playoffs (each will play in a one-game playoff before starting the NLDS series), the Phils will have one less team to jump over in the Wild Card standings. Prior to Friday's game, Philadelphia was 11 games back and in seventh place in those standings. That means that only 11 games and five teams stand between the Phils and a possible post-season berth.
Though it seems like a long shot, all that Phillies fans should be asking for right now is a chance. And there is one. Two teams ahead of the Phils, the Atlanta Braves (leading the race with a 69-49 record) and the New York Mets (nine games behind Atlanta), have both shown the ability to go into major slumps at the worst possible time. The Braves lost 21 of their final 32 games last year, including each of their last five, to miss the playoffs entirely after it seemed like they were going to push the Phils for the division title.
Every Phillies fan knows about the Mets historic collapse in 2007. Jimmy Rollins said the Phils were the better team. Everyone in New York hated him. Analysts called him crazy. Turns out Rollins would have the last laugh. Despite leading the division by seven games on Sept. 12, the Mets went on to lose 12 of their last 17 games. It was the beginning of the Phillies' NL East reign. Heck, the Phils' post-season may have turned out a little different that year had they not gotten the red-hot Colorado Rockies in the first round. Why do I bring that up? BECAUSE MATT HOLLIDAY STILL HASN'T TOUCHED HOME PLATE!
Besides Atlanta and New York, the other five teams ahead of the Phillies are Pittsburgh, Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco. All four of those teams are playing slightly above .500 ball since the All-Star break. St. Louis and San Fran are both 18-14, while Pitt and 'Zona are 17-16. The Phils are 17-14 in that time frame. These numbers show that while it will require a run at some point, and the middle receivers to somehow miraculously turn it around, the Phils still stand a shot at moving up the board if the other teams continue to play at their current level or go into a slide.
Again, I know this may be a lot of wishful thinking, but until the Phils have been mathematically eliminated I am not ruling anything out. I don't know how anyone can after watching the Boston Red Sox go 7-20 down the stretch last season. Sure, the Phils will need five different teams to go into coinciding slumps, but there is a first time for everything right?
The two biggest and obvious problems for the Phillies are 1. the amount of teams that they will need to jump and 2. going on a roll when apparently no lead is safe with their current bullpen. In the end I think those two factors, probably the latter more so than the former, will end the Phillies' five-year post-season run.
Regardless, I haven't heard a fat lady singing yet. The Phillies haven't given up and neither will I.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Out With The Old(er), In With The New(er)

            Major League Baseball’s July 31st trade deadline saw two Philadelphia Phillies get shipped out of town.
            Centerfielder Shane Victorino and leftfielder Hunter Pence were both dealt to National League West teams on Tuesday.  Both seemingly the casualties of a huge payroll, and being practically unsignable after this year, Phillies’ general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. decided to deal the outfielders and get something in return while he still could.
            I can understand trading Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  There was no way the Phils could have given Victorino the contact he was looking for.  Especially with having just signed Hamels to the second-richest pitcher contract of all-time.  Amaro recently said in an interview that Hamels’ contract had nothing to do with it, but I’m not buying it.
            The one I can’t fully understand was Pence’s deal.  I know he was eligible for arbitration and would require about $14M next year, and I know he wasn’t playing up to his potential.  But again, much like my Hamels argument, I ask ‘why unload one of your youngest, most talented players?’
So what Pence is due to make a large amount of money.  Haven’t you been selling out the park every single night for the last three years?  Amaro has shown the ability to fork out the cash when the time calls for it.  Trade or release someone else.
Jimmy Rollins.  Ryan Howard.  Chase Utley.  Roy Halladay.  Placido Polanco.  I suspect all five of those player’s careers will be over within the next three to four years (or close to being over).  Pence just turned 29 in April and would still have a few years left after all those guys are gone.  But in the end it all comes down to Amaro’s philosophy of dealing someone when he feels that he won’t be able to resign them.
In the end I feel like we have to give Amaro the benefit of the doubt.  While Pat Gillick was responsible for the World Series winning team in 2008, and Amaro did have most of the same players the following year, he still got the Phils back to the Fall Classic.  He still got the pieces to set a franchise-record for wins in a season.  He bought when the team was fighting for a ring, and now he is selling when the team is in the basement.  As much as I hated to see those two players go, it’s only good business.
Also making the trip from Philly to LA was Joe Blanton.  The Dodgers claimed Blanton off of waivers on Friday and was sent across the country for either a player to be named later or cash considerations.  Again, this was a move to free up money.
Cliff Lee was also claimed off of waivers by the Dodgers on Friday, but a deal doesn’t seem likely according to reports.  That would sure be a lot of money for LA to take on.  Plus, the Phils have the luxury of getting the exact deal they want or taking Lee back off waivers. 
But enough about the guys who left town.  Let’s take a look at the guys who are joining the organization.
C Tommy Joseph (acquired in the Pence deal): Joseph is a 6-1, 215 pound catcher who just turned 21-years-old.  He was named the Giants’ No. 5 prospect by heading into this year and possesses some serious pop.  Last year at the AA level Joseph connected for 22 homers and drove in 95 runs in 127 games.  He had a respectable .270 average with a nice .471 slugging percentage.  I would think that he figures to be Carlos Ruiz’s replacement whenever the time comes.
P Seth Rosin (acquired in the Pence deal): Rosin is a studly 6-6, 250 at 23-years-old.  Before the trade he had struck out 68 batters in 56.1 innings, albeit it was at the A level.  He had only walked 18 batters in that time and possessed a .228 batting average against.  He was used as a starter (5 GS) and a reliever (34G, 10 SVs) and should only get better with age.
OF Nate Schierholtz (acquired in Pence deal): Schierholtz has been a platoon outfielder for the majority of his career, but will probably see plenty of time in the Phillies’ outfield now.  Schierholtz is a .270 lifetime hitter and had 45 hits in 175 at-bats with the Giants before being traded.  His best year was last year, when he hit .278 with nine homers and 41 RBIs in 115 games.  Not spectacular, but what do you expect to get in return when you are trying to free up money.
P Ethan Martin (acquired in Victorino deal): Martin was the Dodgers’ No. 8 prospect prior to the year and had some pretty impressive numbers before the trade.  Martin boasted an 8-6 record at the AA level with a 3.58 ERA.  His walk to strikeout ratio isn’t great (112:61), but he has only served up five homers in 118 innings.  He has a .214 batting average against, including a .171 average against righties.
RP Josh Lindbolm (acquired in Victorino deal): Lindbolm has been quite respectable in his two years in the majors.  This year he was 2-2 with a 3.02 ERA before being dealt.  He’s given up 42 hits in 47.2 innings, but has 43 strikeouts to go along with those numbers.  Either way, we all know the Phils could use some bullpen help and Lindbolm’s numbers are just as good – if not better – than anyone in the pen right now.