Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #15

Record since last Report Card:  7-0

Overall Record:  92-61 (1st in division, 6 ahead of Atlanta)

I could go on and on about what a great week this was, what a great month it’s been, and how good this team is, in general, but let’s cut right to the chase:  the Phillies are the team to beat.  Not in the division, not in the National League, but in all of baseball.  At no point in this incredible run of success that they’ve had over the last few years have I made that statement, but I made it after Monday night’s win, and obviously two more wins over a very good Braves team did nothing to change that opinion.

With all due respect to the other contenders, especially the Yankees and Rays, I see no reason why the Phillies, especially with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, shouldn’t be the favorite to win the World Series. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re some sort of lock to win it, or even win the pennant again.  I’ve heard some Phillie fans dismissing the thought of a team like the Reds or Giants beating the Phils in the first-round.  In a playoff series, anything can happen.  But with the pedigree of this Phillies team, the way they rise to the occasion again and again and again, with three aces in the rotation, and a back-end of the bullpen that is rounding into shape, they are the most likely team to win it all next month.

On to the grades:

Position Players:  A stellar week with the bats, highlighted by 19 runs combined in the first two games of the week (vs. Marlins and Nats) and a 4-run 9th inning to beat the Nats 7-6 on Sunday.  Seemingly in the middle of it constantly were Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez.  Werth’s power stroke has come back in a big way, as he hit 4 homers this week en route to a .440 (11-25) average.  His two-run bomb completed that comeback on Sunday. 

Ibanez delivered key RBI hits in the Atlanta series.  His two-run double in the 6th on Tuesday gave the Phils a 3-run cushion, and his RBI double in the bottom of the 8th on Wednesday accounted for the only run of the game.  He hit .464 (13-28) on the week, and over the last two weeks, he’s hitting .440 with 10 extra-base hits.

Utley and Ruiz each had another nice week, while Wilson Valdez continued to contribute, hitting .360 (9-25) with his usual handful of jaw-dropping plays at short.  Who knows how many runs this offense would have put up this week if the table-setters, Victorino and Polanco, hadn’t struggled.  Those two combined to hit .200 (12-60), with just one extra-base hit.  Polanco’s elbow injury continues to effect his power, as his homer-less drought has now reached two months, and he has just one long ball since May 9th.

Grade:  A-

Starting Pitchers:  Very similar to the last few weeks here, and that’s not just a good thing, it’s a great thing.  Oswalt and Hamels again vied for Start of the Week, and the nod has to go to Oswalt for his effort against Atlanta on Wednesday night, even though he got a no-decision.  He went 7 shut-out innings, allowing one hit and striking out eight.  In his other start of the week he beat the Nats by allowing one run in six innings.

Hamels lone start of the week came on Monday against Atlanta, when he set the tone for the series with 8 excellent innings, allowing one run.  Stat of the Week:  Cole has now allowed one run or less in 10 of his last 14 starts, including the last 5 in a row.  Halladay had two more good-but-not-great starts, allowing three runs in each and going 6 and 7 innings, respectively.  He’s allowed at least 3 runs in six consecutive starts.  It would be nice to see him throw up a real gem here in one of his final starts to go into the playoffs feeling strong.

Blanton and Kendrick were both decent, going 6 innings apiece against the Nats over the weekend.  Blanton allowed four runs and Kendrick gave up two.  In all, the starters combined for a 2.73 ERA, and struck out 44 batters while walking just 7.

Grade:  A-

Bullpen:  What an electrifying performance Lidge gave to close out the game on Monday.  He came in with a two-run lead, with the Bank rocking like a playoff game, and he was facing the 2-3-4 hitters in the Braves line-up.  His slider was diving like we haven’t seen in a while, and he had complete command of it.  He was very shaky in a non-save situation last Wednesday in Florida, but that could be chalked up to the old “closers struggle in non-save situations” phenomenon.  He converted four save opportunities after that.  His consistency is not at the level that it was in ’08, but for the most part he very much resembles the guy he was two years ago.

Yet another dominating week for Ryan Madson, who allowed no runs in his four outings.  There’s been a lot of talk about him being over-used, and there’s something to be said for that, but it’s worth noting that he missed two months with that toe injury early in the year, so his season innings total is still well below what it was the past two years.  Jose Contreras had a couple good outings and should have the 7th inning role locked down.  Not that the Phils need a 7th inning man that often considering how good their starters are.

Grade:  A-

Up Next:  An off day on Thursday before the Mets come to the Bank for three and then a trip to D.C. for three before going to Atlanta to close out the regular season.  To be frank, the division race is all but over.  These next 9 games will be mostly about answering certain questions going into the playoffs.  For example:  What will be the order of the aces in the rotation?  Can J.C. Romero be trusted in key situations?  Will Jimmy Rollins be ready to go, and where will he hit in the batting order?  Will Mike Sweeney, Greg Dobbs, and/or Dom Brown be on the playoff roster?

Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #14

Record since last Report Card:  5-1

Overall Record:  85-61 (1st in division, 2 ahead of Atlanta)

Another injury strikes, but the Phils keep right on rolling.  In the heat of a pennant race, it’s all about winning series, and after knocking off the Marlins on Tuesday night, the Phils have now won six consecutive series since being swept by Houston late last month, winning 15 of 19 in that stretch.  It sounds like a broken record at this point, but the pitching was great this week, and the offense was good enough.  

No doubt, things are moving in the right direction, but with six games against the Braves still to come, the division is still up for grabs.  As an added challenge, Jimmy Rollins could be out for the rest of the regular season, with a strained hamstring.  It’s hard to believe he wouldn’t be in there for the last series of the year, against Atlanta, if the division is still on the line, but we’ve seen already this year how hitters take some time to get their timing back after an injury.  In the meantime, Wilson Valdez is (again) an everyday starter.

On to the grades:

Looking good leading off

Position Players:  For the ’08 or ’09 Phillies, this would’ve been a fairly average week for the offense, but for the ’10 squad, it was a breath of fresh air.  They averaged 6 runs a game, including two double-digit run totals, and weren’t shutout once!  Victorino has settled in nicely into the lead-off role, hitting .407 (11-27) this week, with 2 steals and 8 runs scored.  He will most likely remain in the lead-spot for the rest of the season.  Utley and Howard continued their recent production in the middle of the order, combining to hit .341 (15-44) with 4 homers and 16 RBI, including 6 RBI’s by Howard in last Wednesday’s win.

Carlos Ruiz continued his career year, hitting .500 (9-18) with a homer and 6 RBI.  That production is made more important with him bumped up to the 7-hole due to the Rollins injury.  Raul Ibanez also had a big week, hitting .409 (9-22) with 5 extra-base hits, including 2 homers.  Valdez continued his solid contributions, hitting .304 (7-23) with 2 doubles.

On the negative side, Polanco had an usually poor week, hitting .185 (5-27), though he did have a big RBI double in Tuesday night’s tight win over Florida.  And Jayson Werth’s somewhat up-and-down season was ‘down’ this week, as he hit .192 (5-26).

Grade:  B+

The '08 Cole is Back

Starting Pitchers: How good has the starting pitching been for the Phillies?  Well, over the past few weeks, Roy Halladay (AKA the best pitcher on the planet and a Cy Young favorite) has been clearly the third best pitcher on his own team.  Cole Hamels continued to dominate this week in his two starts against the Marlins.  He pitched 7 shutout innings, allowing 4 hits, to beat them last Wednesday, then struck out 13 Marlins in 6.2 innings, allowing 1 run, on Tuesday.  That 1 run snapped his 25 inning scoreless streak.  All Phillie fans remember well the last time Cole was pitching this well: October 2008.  That is pretty exciting.

Neither of those two efforts by Hamels, however, were enough to secure him the Start of the Week for a third straight time.  That honor goes to Roy Oswalt, who looked effortless in throwing a four-hit, complete game shutout against the Mets on Sunday.  How about Oswalt’s stats since becoming a Phillie: 6-1, 1.98 ERA.  If you take away his first start, when he was admittedly too “amped up”, that ERA statistic reads 1.57, over 57.2 innings pitched.

As for Halladay, he’s been far from bad lately, but he hasn’t been his normal dominant self, either.  He allowed 4 runs in 7.2 innings on Friday.  He’s now allowed at least 3 runs in four straight starts, and more than 3 runs in back-to-back starts for the first time all season.  It’s probably just a minor blip, but it’s worth considering that Halladay may be starting to run out of steam a little bit, having already thrown 228 innings on the year.

At the back of the rotation, Joe Blanton was excellent on Monday, allowing 1 run in 6 innings pitched, and Kyle Kendrick was left in the rotation, giving up just 2 runs in 5 innings in Saturday’s loss.  All told, Phillie starters allowed just 8 runs over these 6 games, good for a 1.74 ERA.

Grade:  A

Bullpen:  The Phils received good news when it was determined that Brad Lidge’s elbow soreness was nothing serious.  He was ready to go on Friday night, but no save opportunities came until Tuesday, so he got some extra rest, which can’t be a bad thing at this point of the season.  He put the Marlins down 1-2-3 to convert that opportunity.  Here’s an interesting stat on Lidge: his WHIP (walks x hits/innings pitched) is actually lower this year than it was in ’08 (1.17 vs. 1.23).  Since giving up that walk-off, 3-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman on July 31st, he’s allowed just one earned run in 16.1 innings.  The key to that success seems to be his improved control, as he’s walked just three batters over that span.

Ryan Madson continues to dominate.  Phillie fans should be feeling pretty good about the Madson-Lidge combo at the end of games.  It’s the rest of the bullpen that is still some cause for concern.  Though Contreras and Durbin haven’t been as effective lately, there is still plenty of reason to have confidence in them, and they will continue to get the key 6th and 7th inning calls.

If you were looking for answers to the lefty reliever situation, you got absolutely none this week.  Romero made one appearance and gave up hits to both hitters he faced before being lifted.  Bastardo also appeared just once and faced two hitters, striking out one and giving up a hit to the other.  The Nate Robertson experiment came to a very quick halt, as he gave up 6 runs in one inning of relief and was cut loose the following day.

Grade:  C

Up Next:  They’ll go for the sweep against the Marlins tonight before flying home, where they’ll get the Nationals over the weekend before welcoming in the Braves for what will surely be a playoff atmosphere at the Bank.  The rotation has been set-up so that the Big Three will start the three games vs. Atlanta.

Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #13

Record since last Report Card:  6-2

Overall Record:  80-60 (1st in division; 0.5 game ahead of Atlanta)

Yes, after a strong week, the Phils have finally run down the Braves and moved back atop the NL East for the first time in over three months.  Not to take anything away from what they did, but it didn’t hurt that the Braves seem to be doing their best Mets impression here in the season’s final month.  Atlanta was 2-5 on the week, including losing their last two games to the lowly Pirates.

Of course, it’s impossible to say that the Phils haven’t earned their current position.  Since July 21st, when they sat 7 games behind the Braves, they’ve been the best team in baseball, with a 32-14 record.  It’s just another example of something that we’ve been harping on for a few years now: this team is at its best when the pressure is highest.  Not only are they now leading the division, but they’re also only half a game behind Cincinnati for the best record in the NL.  We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, just getting into the playoffs is really the most important thing, but considering the NL finally won the All-Star Game, as well as how well the Phils have played at home, it would be pretty nice to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

On to the grades:

Chase celebrates his Rocky Mountain Slam

Position Players:  It was clearly a huge improvement from the ‘F’ grade they earned in the previous Report Card, and the 6-2 record may suggest a good week from these guys, but there were still plenty of issues.  Let’s start with the good news:  they scored just over 5 runs a game, more than doubling their output from the previous week.  They were even able to pick up a win in Colorado when the pitching staff allowed 11 runs, thanks to a 12-run outburst led by a Chase Utley grand slam.

Individual highlights:  The big news is that Utley and Howard are looking good.  Utley hit .387 with 11 RBI, while Howard launched 3 homers.  Victorino had a huge week, hitting .367 with 2 homers and 6 steals.  Polanco hit .333, including the Hit of the Week with his RBI single in the 8th inning on Tuesday to put the Phils back ahead after the bullpen blew a 3-run lead.  On the negative side, Rollins continued to struggle.  A 2-for-19 stretch prompted Charlie to drop him to the 5-hole for the past two games, where he responded with 3 hits.  That 5-hole belongs to Werth though, so Rollins might just be stopping over there on his way to Victorino’s vacated 6th or 7th spot in the order.

Rollins is nice segue into the bad news:  They failed to score more than 2 runs in 3 of the games.  They were shut down by two mediocre Brewer pitchers at home.  Then, the real low-light, getting one-hit over 6 innings by a 28-year-old making his ML debut, en route to a 7-1 loss on Monday afternoon.

But the real problem was with the defense.  Having trouble hitting the ball is excusable, but handing out extra outs and extra runs with careless defense at this time of the year is not.  Tuesday night’s win would not have been as close were it not for a misplay by Howard and Blanton on a groundball in the 3rd inning, an unnecessary throw home by Utley in the 7th, and a wild throw home by Werth in the 8th.  All told, the Phils made 8 errors in these 8 games, and that doesn’t even tell the whole story about the sloppy defensive play.

Grade:  C

Starting Pitchers:  Certainly not a banner week for these guys, but they were solid for the most part.  The Start of the Week, for the second straight week, goes to Cole Hamels, who threw 7 shutout innings, allowing 3 hits, in a 1-0 win over the Brewers on Friday.  Cole has an 18-inning scoreless streak going.  Runner-up is Oswalt’s effort last Wednesday, when he allowed just 1 hit in 6.1 shutout innings, but did walk 6 Dodgers.

The other 6 starts of the week were fairly middling efforts.  Oswalt allowed 4 runs in 7 innings in his other start, and Halladay had the same line (on four solo homers) in his only start.  Joe Blanton was the victim of some poor defense, allowing 4 unearned runs in his two no-decisions, along with 6 earned ones.  He was really knocked around in Coors Field on Thursday, giving up 10 hits in 4.1 innings.

Kyle Kendrick took the loss on Sunday, allowing 4 runs or more for the 5th time in his last 6 starts.  Thanks to a double-header on Monday, Vance Worley made the first spot-start of the year for the Phils, and allowed 2 runs in 5 innings.  There’s been talk of Worley replacing Kendrick in the rotation.  The good news is that, thanks to off days, the Phils will only need a 5th starter three more times.  Worley was solid, but he wasn’t overly impressive.  He might have a future in the rotation (as early as next year), but I would just stick with Kendrick for those three starts, unless he gets even worse.  We’re in a pennant race now, and Kendrick has the experience.

Grade:  C+

Lights Out for Lidge?

Bullpen: Kind of a difficult week to sum up for the pen.  On the one hand, the Phils were 4-0 in 1-run games, but two of those games were only that close because the pen allowed multiple runs.  It was odd to see Madson stay on for the 9th inning of a 1-run game on Tuesday.  It seemed like Charlie was being overly cautious about working Lidge too much, but he revealed after the game that Lidge has been feeling elbow soreness, and is unavailable until at least Friday.  This is, obviously, not good news for the Phils or their pen. 

Despite a wild pitch that allowed the tying run to score in the 8th on Tuesday, Madson did have another strong week, giving up no earned runs in 5 innings.  He’s now allowed no earned runs in 24 of his last 25 outings, which is really impressive.  Phillie fans long ago gave up hope of Madson being able to handle the closer role, but he’s certainly first in line for the job if Lidge is out for an extended period of time.  Despite a very shaky save in Colorado on Thursday, Lidge also had a good week, giving up no earned runs in 4 innings.

Chad Durbin had a rough week, allowing 5 runs in 4 innings, and Contreras had a rare poor outing on Tuesday, giving up those 3 runs that tied the game at 7 in the 8th.  The lefty situation continues to be a pretty huge concern.  Romero has come in and walked the only batter he faced in his last two games, Bastardo continues to be largely ineffective, and Mike Zagurski gave 3 runs in his first appearance since being re-called.  Veteran starter Nate Robertson may get a look as a situational lefty in the coming days.

Grade:  C

Up Next:  This is one of the first Report Cards where the team’s record really doesn’t correspond to the grades.  That probably tells us that the 6-2 record was a bit of a mirage this week.  The Phils actually only outscored their opponents by one run in those 8 games, which makes those C/C+ grades look more logical.  But it’s all about picking up W’s, so clearly it was a successful week.  Let’s give some credit to Charlie Manuel for finding a way to win 6 of these 8 games.

The home stand wraps up tonight with the Marlins again, followed by a road trip to New York and Miami.  Keep an eye out for whether Kendrick or Worley gets the nod to start in Citi Field on Saturday.

Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #12

Record since Third Quarter Report Card:  4-5

Overall Record:  74-58 (3 behind Braves, 1.5 ahead of Giants for Wild Card)

Tuesday night’s win over the Dodgers closed out the month of August, with the Phils still hanging 3 games behind Atlanta.  Conventional wisdom says that it takes a week to gain a game in a pennant race, so with about 4 weeks to go, the Phils still have a very legitimate shot at the division, but their margin for error is slim.  Obviously, the six games they have left head-to-head with the Braves will be huge.

It was a strange 9-game stretch, in some ways.  The Phils were swept by the 4th place Astros at home, then swept the Padres, who had the best record in the NL, in San Diego.  Plus, what would you have said in April if I had told you that the Astros would sweep 4 games in Philly, and Roy Oswalt’s only appearance of the series would come as a left-fielder for the Phillies?  On the other hand, there were some very familiar sights, namely fantastic starting pitching and an inexplicably inept offense.

On to the grades:

Chase hasn't been himself.

Position Players:  What is wrong with this offense??  That’s the question Phillie fans have been muttering (or shouting) to themselves for much of 2010.  In the 8 games prior to Tuesday night’s 8-run outburst, the Phils averaged just over 2 runs a game.  A team built around its high-powered offense has had several long slumps this season.  So, what’s gone wrong?

The Phils, and their fans, were hopeful that Utley and Howard would come back from their injuries and propel the team past the Braves.  You can argue that they may have both come back too early from their injuries, but that’s over and done with now.  Utley and Howard combined to hit .149 (10-67) over these 9 games, with three of those hits and the only homer (Howard) coming on Tuesday.  What we’re seeing here is that injuries can have a more lasting impact than just the time players spend on the DL.  You could argue that Jimmy Rollins’s season (.190 this week) has also been derailed by his early-season injuries.  Baseball is a game of timing and routine, and a lot of Phils’ have had those things thrown out of whack by injuries.

Besides the above three, Polanco (.189) and Victorino (.176) were also below the Mendoza Line for the week.  In fact, the highest batting average for a Phillie regular in these 9 games was Werth at .242 (and two homers).  Two of the biggest hits came from the bench, with Mike Sweeney’s 2-run homer on Sunday providing nice insurance in a 3-0 win, and Brian Schneider’s 3-run blast on Tuesday putting the Phils ahead after surrendering a first-inning run.  I’m wondering if Ruiz is completely healthy because Schneider has started 3 of the last 6 games, including against a good left-hander (Wandy Rodriguez) on Thursday.  And speaking of not completely healthy, Howard looks like he’s having trouble with his lateral mobility at 1st, as two balls went past him to his right on Monday that he normally would have at least knocked down.

Grade:  F

Starting Pitchers:  Over the past few years (or maybe my whole life?), if the Phils had a stretch like this offensively, they would’ve been lucky to win 1 out of 9.  Thanks to the starters, though, they went 4-5.  Here is an incredible stat:  in 61 innings pitched by the starters, they had FOUR walks.  It’s pretty great to watch pitchers that just refuse to beat themselves and pound the strike zone like these guys have been.

The Start of the Week goes to Mr. Hard-luck Hamels, who went 8 shutout innings in his hometown on Sunday, and actually got some run support for his 1st win since the All-Star Break.  Cole gave up 2 runs in 7 innings for a no-decision in that wild 16-inning game last Tuesday.  Probably the best development of the week was the continued excellence of Joe Blanton.  He allowed 1 run in each of his starts, throwing 13 innings combined.  Blanton had a 2.82 ERA in the month of August.  Roy Oswalt also turned in an excellent start, allowing 1 run in 8 innings to beat the Padres on Friday.

Roy Halladay had a sub-par week, but certainly wasn’t bad at all.  He gave up 3 runs in 7 innings in each of his starts, and was saddled with a loss each time.  Kyle Kendrick was mediocre, giving up 8 runs in 11 innings in his two starts.

Grade: A-

Bullpen:  Despite a couple hiccups, it has to be considered a successful overall week for the pen.  The lowlight, of course, was Brad Lidge balking in the tying run to blow a save on Friday.  He was good in his other three appearances, including a 1-2-3 save the day after that balk disaster.  This is the Lidge we have to live with.  It could be worse.

Ryan Madson saw his lengthy scoreless streak ended last Monday, but if it wasn’t for a terrible call when Michael Bourn clearly ran out of the base path but was called safe, he very well may have not given up anything.  Madson took the loss with 2 runs allowed in that game, but he was flawless in his four other appearances.

Although David Herndon took the loss in that 16-inning game, it was a strong showing by the pen.  They had combined for 8 shutout innings before Herndon was touched for 2 runs in his third inning of work.  Jose Contreras and Chad Durbin continued their solid seasons, combining for 9 scoreless innings on the week.  Antonio Bastardo was re-called (with Danys Baez put on the DL) to add another lefty, but he hasn’t been used yet.

Grade: B+

Up Next:  The calendar flipping to September means the rosters expand.  It sounds like the Phils will wait until they get back home on Friday to add some players.  Greg Dobbs and another catcher (Hoover or Sardinha) will probably be the first players added.  Others, including some bullpen depth, will be added as the coming weeks progress.  The Phils have the rubber match in LA today, one game in Colorado tomorrow, then come home for a 3-game set with Milwaukee.  After that, it’s all NL East until the end of the season.

Phillies Third Quarter Report Card

Record Since All-Star Break:  23-13

Overall Record: 70-53 (2.5 behind Atlanta, 2 game lead in Wild Card)

oswalt charlieThe Third Quarter of the Phillie season was one of constant roster turnover.  Besides the injuries (Utley, Howard, Victorino), there was also the addition of Roy Oswalt to the rotation, and one of the top prospects in baseball, Dominic Brown, joining the team.  Through it all, the team found a way to get back to playing winning baseball and again have themselves in position for a playoff berth.

Though they’ve come a long since their abysmal play in June, there is still plenty of work left to get back to the Fall Classic for a third straight year.  There are 39 games left in the regular season, and with the way the Braves are playing, the Phils will need to keep building on this quarter if they’re going to take the division title.  With all of their key players healthy (at long last), including the very recent returns of the big bats in the middle of the order, it doesn’t seem out of the question.

Catcher:  Well, it was probably the best quarter-season of Carlos Ruiz’s career.  He hit .309 and slugged .491.  In his 19 starts since July 27th, he’s hit .367 (29-79) with 21 RBI.  But those numbers don’t even tell the whole story, because many of those RBI came at the most crucial times.  He hit a 10th-inning homer to beat the Marlins on August 5th.  The next night he knocked in the go-ahead run in the 8th inning to beat the Mets.  Then, he finished off the Phils’ amazing comeback against the Dodgers on August 12th, with a two-run double in the bottom of the 9th, to win the game 10-9.

Grade: A

First Base:  Ryan Howard missed half of the 3rd Quarter with a sprained ankle, which is a shame, because he was en route to his typical monster 2nd-half before the injury.  He had 6 homers in 67 AB’s, good for a .612 SLG, and was knocking in a run a game.  Ross Gload and Mike Sweeney platooned in Howard’s absence.  Gload made a huge contribution, hitting .341, with a .449 OBP and .610 SLG.  Of course, he’s now on the DL with a groin strain.  Sweeney hasn’t done much since being acquired.

Grade:  B+

Second Base:  This spot was manned by Wilson Valdez for the vast majority of the quarter.  He didn’t really hit at all, but hey, it’s Wilson Valdez.  What can you really expect?  He played excellently in the field, and he did deliver a game-winning hit to beat the Diamondbacks on July 29th.  Not that it’s saying much, but Valdez looks like the most valuable backup middle infielder that the Phils have had in a while.  Let’s just hope he stays a backup.

Grade: C

Third Base:  It’s a pleasure watching Placido Polanco hit.  He has amazing bat control, and always goes up with a plan.  He was briefly leading the league in hitting this week, at .325, but actually had his first 3-game hitless stretch of the season and has dropped back to 5th in the league.  Not that Placido is expected to hit the long ball, but it is a little disappointing that he has only one homer since May 9th.  His .984 fielding percentage leads all ML thirdbasemen.

Grade: B+

Shortstop:  You can’t help but wonder what Jimmy Rollins’s season would have been like had he not strained his calf muscle in a pre-game warmup before the home opener in April.  It’s a small sample size, but over the first six games of the year, he hit .391, with 7 walks and 5 extra-base hits.  After missing the better part of two months, he’s just never been able to find his stroke.  In the 3rd Quarter, he hit .239 with 1 home run.  If there’s a silver lining, it looks like his legs are fully healthy, as he was 12 for 12 in stolen base attempts in the quarter.

Grade:  D+

Left Field:  In July, we saw the renaissance of Raul Ibanez.  After a calendar year’s worth of struggles, Ibanez cameibanez through when the team really needed him, with Utley and other key players out with injuries.  For the quarter, Raul hit .311 BA/.403 OBP/.479 SLG.  He had an 18-game hitting streak that stretched from July 22nd-August 11th.  In the ten days since that streak ended, he’s struggled, though he did pick up a 2-run homer on Sunday.  With everyone finally healthy, the 38-year-old could maybe use a couple days off to re-charge for the stretch run.

Grade:  A-

Center Field: Shane Victorino missed a sizable chunk of the quarter with an injury, and when he’s been playing he hasn’t been very productive.  His OBP for the quarter was just .294, and the surprising power he showed in the first half of the season has disappeared, with his last homer coming on July 16th.  He’s showed some signs of heating up since coming back from the DL ten days ago, but he needs to get back to getting on-base and using his speed.

Grade: C-

Right Field:  Jayson Werth saw a lot of time in center during the quarter, but we’ll just consider him here for grading purposes.  It’s impossible to say if Werth was affected by the trade rumors earlier in the season (and he made that very clear in a Sports Illustrated article), but he definitely broke out of his lengthy slump right around the time that the rumors died down.  After a monster 1st quarter and sluggish 2nd, Werth has been raking again since the All-Star break.  The big-time power hasn’t been there (3 homers), but he hit .350 with a .456 OBP in the 3rd Quarter.  His 14 doubles in that stretch have him leading the majors, with 41 on the season.

Grade: A-

Bench:  The big story on the Phils bench has been Dom Brown, who has stayed in the bigs even after the return of the injured starters.  He’s definitely showed flashes of his talent (a LONG home run, gunning a runner down at the plate, every time he runs) but, all in all, he hasn’t really produced much.  Maybe the biggest indication of the seasoning he still needs: just one walk in 45 plate appearances.  We already mentioned the positive contribution of Gload, and Ben Francisco also had a solid quarter, with a .356 OBP and .538 SLG in 52 AB’s.  Brian Schneider really struggled (4-24), and Greg Dobbs and Cody Ransom, with their averages below the Mendoza Line on the season, are now in AAA.  Assuming the Phils make the playoffs, there’s still a bench spot or two up for grabs, as Sweeney and Brown haven’t locked up their spots.  

Grade:  C

Starting Pitchers:  With all the issues the team has had with run-scoring droughts and bullpen blowups, the starters have really been the foundation of this team.  They’ve definitely had their fair share of poor outings but, all in all, the team has gotten consistently excellent starting pitching all season.  Thanks to the addition of Oswalt, this is now (arguably) the best starting rotation in Phillie history, and they continued to show why in the season’s 3rd Quarter.

Oswalt has settled in nicely since his rough debut, and he’s now 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA in 5 starts for the club.  Anyone out there that thought he was over-the-hill when the Phils traded for him has been proven wrong.  The other Roy, Mr. Halladay, continues to carve up the National League.  Doc was 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA in the quarter.  He allowed 5 earned runs twice, but in his other five starts he gave up 1 run or less.

Cole Hamels threw really well throughout the quarter.  He gave up 1 run or less in four of his seven starts, for an ERA of 2.87.  Amazingly though, he didn’t get a single win, going 0-3.  Cole’s strike-out rate on the season is the best he’s had since his rookie year in ’06, which is a reflection of the increased velocity he’s had since last year, and also the cutter he’s developed.

The back of the rotation, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick, couldn’t stack up to the other three guys, but not many pitchers in the game could.  Kendrick had a bunch of really good starts, but also a few where he couldn’t get anybody out.  He ended up 3-3 with a 4.83 ERA.  Blanton, on the other hand, was really consistent, but consistently mediocre.  To his credit, he gave the team a chance to win every time out, which is why he still has a leg up on Kendrick if the Phils use a 4th starter in the post-season.  He was 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA in the quarter. 

Grade: B+

Bullpen:  If there’s one aspect of this team that will keep them from winning a championship, we all know it is the bullpen.  So how are things shaping up, and how will Charlie use these guys the rest of the way?  First off, David Herndon and Danys Baez are basically just there to eat meaningless innings when possible.  Herndon is staying because he was a Rule 5 pick, and Baez is staying because he’s still owed $2-3 million next year.  It’s very possible that both would be left off the post-season roster.

The 6th and 7th inning guys are Jose Contreras and Chad Durbin.  Contreras imploded in his first game after the All-Star break, giving up 5 runs in less than an inning.  But since then he’s been excellent, with a 1.46 ERA in 14 games.  He’s ready to step into an even more important role, if needed.  Durbin is hitting his first rough patch of the season.  He is what he is.  A useful and stellar relief pitcher, but not overpowering in any way and he will give up hits.

And, of course, the 8th and 9th innings belong to Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge.  Madson had a brilliant Third Quarter, posting a 1.37 ERA in 20 games.  He struck out 26, walked just 3, and currently has a streak of 12 straight scoreless appearances.  Lidge will most likely continue to be an adventure.  He was 11 for 12 in save opportunities in the quarter, but 7 walks in 12.2 innings doesn’t exactly put managers and fans at ease in the late innings of tight games.  Unfortunately, we know what would happen if Madson were put in the closer role, so we’ll live and die with Lidge.

Finally, an area of concern is the left-handed options.  J.C. Romero had a brutal stretch recently, though he looked pretty good in two outings this past weekend.  Antonio Bastardo will be back at some point, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll gain Charlie’s trust enough to be used in key spots in October.  I haven’t heard any rumors, but Ruben Amaro still has a week or so to trade for a lefty reliever.  Other names to keep in mind are Mike Zagurski and Scott Mathieson (not a lefty, but potentially useful), who are in AAA at the moment. 

Grade: C

Overall Team Grade:  A TON of credit has to go to Charlie Manuel for this successful quarter.  They won over 60% of their games with no contribution from Utley, and Howard missing half the games.  Charlie was really patching his line-up together with some slim pickings a lot of nights.  Of course, when your starting pitchers are getting the job done, that makes the job of the manager a whole lot easier. 

The Phils 4th Quarter schedule is strange.  They have 14 games coming against teams in the Central and West division, then their final 25 GAMES are all against the NL East.  Six of the last twelve games are against the Braves, including the final three games of the year in Atlanta.  It’s hard to imagine the division race won’t come down to the final week.

Third Quarter Grade:  A-

     

        

Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #11

Record since last Report Card: 4-2

Overall Record: 60-48 (2 behind Braves, 1.5 behind Giants in Wild Card)

Coming right on the heels of an 8-game winning streak, it was amazing how quickly things started to look really bleak this week.  The Phils dropped the first two games to the lowly Nationals, with the second loss coming thanks to another Brad Lidge implosion, and then in the 1st inning of the next game, Ryan Howard badly turned his ankle and had to be helped off the field.

All of those things made the subsequent 4-game win streak all the more crucial.  The Phils were able to keep pace with the Braves and, maybe more importantly, proved to themselves that they can win without their two best hitters in the line-up.

There were two roster moves this week.  OF John Mayberry was called up to replace Howard, and the team acquired veteran 1B Mike Sweeney from the Mariners, for basically nothing.  Cody Ransom was designated for assignment.  It looks like Sweeney will platoon with Ross Gload at 1B for now, and he could stick around for the rest of the season (and post-season) as a pinch-hitter, if he produces at all.

This week’s grades:

ruizPosition Players:  We’ve gotten used to seeing Charlie improvise with his line-ups this season, but things just started to get weird this week.  Carlos Ruiz batting 6th?  Ross Gload batting 3rd??  A right-side of the defense made up of Wilson Valdez, Cody Ransom, and Dom Brown?  Tuesday’s game saw the normal 2 and 5 hitters, Polanco and Werth, hitting 3rd and 4th.  It was as if the heart of the line-up, Utley and Howard, were just ripped out and everyone else pushed together, with a couple guys that should probably be in AAA tacked on at the end.

It wasn’t a banner week for run-scoring, but these guys certainly deserve credit for finding ways to put runs on the board without their two top guns.  The hero of the week was definitely Ruiz.  Not only did Chooch hit .379 (11-29) with 3 HR and 3 doubles, but he delivered hits at key times.  He put the Phils ahead with a 2-out RBI single in the 9th on Saturday (only to watch Lidge blow it).  His 4-hit assault on Tuesday included another 2-out RBI single.  On Thursday, he stroked a two-run double to break a scoreless tie in the 6th, then delivered the game-winning home run in the 10th inning.

Polanco continued to produce, hitting .370 (10-27) and Raul Ibanez has been red-hot at the right time, hitting .474 (9-19) with a HR this week, raising his season average to .275.  Ben Francisco chipped in with a nice week, hitting .375 (6-16) with a HR.  The Dom Brown Watch:  he was just 5-23 with no extra-base hits, but he had a nice game on Wednesday, with an RBI single and a sac fly against a tough left-hander.  He also got to show off his arm for the first time, gunning down a runner at the plate with a bullet throw from right field.

On the negative side, Jimmy Rollins had a rough week, hitting .222 (6-27).  He fouled a ball off his foot early in the week, and it looks like it’s still been bothering him as he wasn’t running that well in the Florida series.  All in all, the offense responded well to all the tumult caused by injury.  We’ll have to wait and see what they do against quality pitching when they face Johan Santana on Saturday.

Grade: B+

Starting Pitchers:  It was a tale of two series for the starters this week: mediocre against Washington but excellent against Florida.  This was epitomized by the newly arrived Roy Oswalt, who struggled in his Phillie debut on Friday, but was excellent in shutting down the Marlins on Thursday.  Oswalt admitted after his debut that he was too “amped up” and “held the ball a little tight.”  No doubt, part of that had to do with all the Phillie fans in attendance in Washington.  But on Thursday he had his wicked curveball really working, and he left the game in the 7th inning, having not allowed a run, but J.C. Romero came on and allowed both inherited runners to score.

The Start of the Week goes to Mr. Halladay, who allowed 1 run, with 9 K’s, over 7 innings on Tuesday.  Kyle Kendrick had his 3rd straight impressive start since being briefly demoted, giving up 2 runs in 6 innings on Wednesday.  It was especially impressive because he had to warm up twice thanks to an hour rain delay at the start of the game.  Hamels and Blanton were unspectacular on Saturday and Sunday.

Grade: B-

Bullpen:  On Saturday, Lidge was as bad as I’ve ever seen him.  Coming in with a 1-run lead, the inning went: single, sac bunt, walk, 3-run walk-off homer.  Every pitch he threw was either way out of the strike zone or very hittable.  I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Ryan Zimmerman crushed one to dead-center to end it.  Lidge had three other save opportunities after that, and he converted all three, allowing just one hit.  But he still doesn’t look very good.

We came into this season wondering if we would see the ’08 or ’09 versions of Lidge.  We all expected it would be somewhere in between, and it has been, but the unfortunate truth is that he’s definitely been closer to the ’09 Lidge.  People smarter than me may have come to this conclusion months ago, but I’m just now ready to admit: Lidge can’t be trusted.  Of course, we have no other options to close, so we’ll just have to watch between our fingers and hope.

On the plus side, Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson have been good lately.  Both had unblemished weeks and each picked up a win.  Contreras has allowed just one run in his last 10 appearances, while Madson has allowed one in his last 8.

Grade: C-

Up Next:  Six games at home with the Mets and Dodgers.  Phils starters for the Mets series: Blanton, Hamels, Halladay.

Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #10

Record since last Report Card: 8-0

Overall Record: 56-46 (2.5 behind Braves, 1.5 behind Giants in Wild Card)

So, in this past week, the Phillies added one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past decade, arguably the top prospect in all of baseball, AND they didn’t lose a game.  Not bad, I guess.  When you consider that this came on the heels of a week that saw them win just one game and left them 7 games out in the division, it makes it all the more important, surprising, and exciting.  General baseball wisdom states that it takes a week to make up a game in a pennant race, and the Phils just made up 4.5 games in a week.

I don’t have much to add to the Oswalt deal.  I do really like it.  The Phils gave up J.A. Happ, a guy that gave them an incredible season last year but it was clear that the Phils front office never had a ton of faith in him.  The other prospects are both great athletes with speed, but they’re both 19 and have spent the season in A-ball, and not tearing things up there, either.  Plus, the Astros and good old Ed Wade agreed to kick in $11 million of Oswalt’s money, which could be the difference-making financial flexibility that has them adding a nice bullpen piece going into 2011.  Yes, the Cliff Lee deal was a disaster.  But hats off to Ruben Amaro, as Bry said yesterday, for staying aggressive.

Some key links for more reading on the deal: 

 On to this week’s grades:

ibanezPosition Players:  You didn’t think we’d actually get through one of these reports without a couple injuries, did you?  Nope.  Shane Victorino strained an oblique muscle and hit the DL.  The Phils have now seen 5 of their 8 everyday players put on the DL this season (not to mention 3 starting pitchers, 5 relievers, the backup C, maybe some I’m forgetting?).  Jimmy Rollins also has missed the last three games after fouling a ball off his foot.

Moving past the injuries, it was a bounce back week for the offense that they badly needed.  Probably a coincidence, but it really got started after hitting coach Milt Thompson was fired after last Thursday’s game, and replaced with former hitting coach Greg Gross.  Maybe the real turning point was when they pounded Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been the best pitcher in baseball this year, in a 10-2 win on Saturday.

The big individual story of the week was Raul Ibanez.  Give credit to Charlie for sitting him against lefties, because it seems like that might have helped him find his stroke again.  Raul hit .429 (12-28) with 2 HR over the past week, including a big homer off the lefty Joe Saunders on Thursday.  We haven’t seen him hit like this since before last year’s All-Star break.  Another guy that had been struggling, Jayson Werth, also had a great week.  He hit .407 (11-27) with a homer and five doubles.  Placido Polanco, who has started the past six games at second base, and Carlos Ruiz also chipped in with nice weeks.  And the bench continued its emergence, as Ross Gload and Ben Francisco combined to hit .421 (8-19) with 2 homers, and Brian Schneider had a big 2-run triple on Monday.

It was a nice week defensively, as well.  They were a little sloppy on Tuesday, when Ryan Howard had a throwing error (shocking) and Polanco missed a tag.  But they made just two errors (both Howard) on the week, and they had some big plays to save the 3-2 win on Thursday.  Ibanez made a great throw to nail a runner at second and Wilson Valdez made two incredible turns for double plays.

Grade: A-

Starting Pitchers:  Just a great week from the rotation.  Considering the injuries and uncertainty, the starting pitching has been pretty amazing this season.  There are some good candidates for Start of the Week, but we’ll go with the effort from Cole Hamels last Thursday: 8 innings, no runs and one hit, even though he took a no-decision.  Mr. Halladay had two vintage performances, giving up one run in 17 innings, and striking out 18.  If not for a minor mistake by Dom Brown in right on Wednesday, Halladay would have had another shut-out.

Kyle Kendrick was sent to AAA last week, but he never pitched there because of the injury to Jamie Moyer.  His up-and-kendrickdown season continued, as he looked great pitching 13.1 innings and allowing just two runs in his two starts.  Joe Blanton was solid, giving 6 innings, 2 runs in Monday’s win.  Finally, J.A. Happ closed out his Phillie career with a decent outing on Sunday.  We wish him well in Houston.  With Happ gone and Moyer probably done, the 5th rotation spot is once again Kendrick’s to lose.  The starters combined for a 1.82 ERA on the week.

Grade: A

Bullpen:  The week was an adventure for Brad Lidge, and ‘adventure’ is never a good word for a closer.  The trusty save statistic will show that he was 3-for-3 in save opportunities, but it wasn’t that simple.  Last Thursday, he came on with a 2-run lead and walked the lead-off batter (always encouraging), then ran a deep count to the next batter before getting three straight outs.  That was tame compared to what was coming.  With a 1-run lead on Sunday, he loaded the bases with two walks and a single, and squeezed his way out with a strike-out to end it.  He took it up another notch on Monday.  With a 3-run cushion, he surrendered a two-out, two-run homer to make it 5-4.  Then, just in case any fans watching were still breathing, he loaded up the bases by going walk, single, wild pitch, intentional walk, before finally recording the final out on a ground ball.

So, it’s no wonder that Charlie didn’t hand him the ball with a one-run lead in the 9th on Thursday.  Ryan Madson stayed on to face the first batter, allowing a double.  Then J.C. Romero came on and allowed the tying run to score.  Lidge looked great in the 10th inning, but who knows what that means.  If you look at the numbers, it wasn’t a bad week for the pen.  But there was definitely no confidence instilled, either.  Lidge just may be the key to this entire season.  Here’s hoping he can get the job done.

Grade: B

Up Next:  Friday night’s series opener in Washington will be must-see for Phils’ fans, as Oswalt makes his debut, and Dom Brown will be back in there in right field.  The Phils have three straight series within the division, with a trip to Florida next week before coming back home for the Mets.

Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #9

Record since All-Star Break: 1-6

Overall Record: 48-46 (3rd in division, 7 behind Atlanta)

This week can safely be considered a disaster.  The Phils went into the All-Star break with some good momentum thanks to a 4-game sweep of Cincinnati.  It seemed like they were in a good position to put the struggles of the first half behind them and come out ready to make a run at the Braves over the next couple of months.  Well, not so much.  The offensive struggles, which were evident even in that sweep of the Reds, are ongoing, and this week they added some starting pitching problems to go along with it.  They lost 3 of 4 in Wrigley Field, and have dropped the first 3 of their 4-game set in St. Louis.  Even their one win was basically handed to them because Carlos Marmol couldn’t throw strikes.

There’s been a flurry of roster moves, so let’s recap those.  Chad Durbin returned from the DL on Thursday; Nelson Figueroa was waived again to open a spot and he didn’t clear this time, as the Astros claimed him.  Placido Polanco was a welcome sight on Saturday, especially when he knocked in the game-winning run in the 9th inning.  Juan Castro was released outright to make room.  Following a lousy start on Monday, Kyle Kendrick was optioned to AAA, with Andrew Carpenter taking his roster spot briefly, but he’s now been replaced by Vance Worley, whoever that is.  Finally, our inevitable weekly injury came on Tuesday, when Jamie Moyer left his start after one inning, with an elbow injury.  He’s headed to the DL, and the word is that he could possibly be done for the season.

oswaltTrade Rumors

That Moyer injury is a nice segue to the trade rumor section.  Ruben Amaro made some unusal statements prior to Tuesday’s game, basically insinuating that a trade for a starting pitcher was imminent.  After Moyer was injured, it’s hard to believe that the Phils won’t make a deal for a starter before the deadline, but the quality of that starter is really unknown.

The strong rumor that has been swirling the last couple of days has the Phillies obtaining Roy Oswalt in exchange for J.A. Happ and prospects.  In a Cliff Lee-esque (but much more understandable) move, the Phils would then send Jayson Werth to Tampa Bay (most likely for young ML talent or close to ML-ready prospects), and put Domonic Brown in right field.  It seems that the deal was just about done, but Oswalt has a no-trade clause and has demanded that the Phillies commit to picking up his $16 million option for 2012 before he accepts the trade, which the Phils are unwilling to do, at least for now.  As much as I’d hate to see Werth go, I think I’d welcome this trade.  If we’re not re-signing Werth after the season anyway, then maybe it’s best to get some young, cheap talent for him, bring Oswalt on board for this year and going forward, and get Dom Brown some experience.  We’d still have a good chance to win this year, and would be in a great position heading into next season.  Dan Haren and Ben Sheets remain options if the Oswalt deal falls through.

On to this week’s grades:

Position Players:  It must be after the All-Star break, because Ryan Howard is crushing long balls at a high rate.  The guy’s like clockwork.  Of course, it didn’t do them much good this week, but if it wasn’t for Howard, the team would have really struggled to get runs on the board.  Howard hit 5 homers on the week, along with 2 doubles, with a .370 BA and 10 RBI.  But the Hit of the Week has to go to Polanco, who came up with a two-out RBI single to tie the game at 1 in the 9th inning on Saturday, which led to three more runs in the inning and the team’s lone win of the week.  Placido was solid overall in his first week back.

The main culprit of the week was J-Roll, who bounced back and forth between 1st and 3rd in the order, and went 2-24 before being dropped to 6th on Wednesday night.  Also, Carlos Ruiz and Wilson Valdez were basically automatic outs at the bottom of the order.  Cody Ransom may start pushing Valdez for time at second base, especially after he made a fantastic play in the field Wednesday to start a double play.  It also appears that Charlie is starting to institute a straight platoon with Ibanez and Francisco in left field, as Francisco started all three games against left-handers this week.

With the offense still trying to get going, the last thing they needed was a 3 game stretch against Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Adam Wainwright, but that’s what they’re dealing with right now, with Wainwright taking the hill in the series finale on Thursday.

Grade: D+

Starting Pitchers:  On the positive side, Joe Blanton had two solid outings, allowing 3 earned runs in 7 innings in eachblanton, but he came away with just a loss and a no-decision for his efforts.  Also, Cole Hamels continued his remergence, holding the Cubs to one run in 7 innings and making that 9th inning comeback possible.  Other than that, it wasn’t pretty.  Halladay had a rough game, Moyer got lit up on Thursday, and Kendrick was beat up so bad that his next start will be for the Iron Pigs.  It will be interesting to see who the starting pitchers are on Saturday and Sunday.  Right now, it’s basically anyone’s guess.

Grade: C-

Bullpen:  Oh, the bullpen.  Let’s start with the positive: Brad Lidge saved Saturday’s win in his only appearance of the week.  The rest was pretty ugly.  Jose Contreras continued to regress, getting pounded for 5 runs in 2/3 inning on Thursday.  Ryan Madson took the loss on Friday, serving up a solo shot to Aramis Ramirez in the 8th inning of a tie game.  J.C. Romero and David Herndon were ineffective on Sunday, putting a somewhat close game well out of reach.  And Danys Baez was touched for 3 runs on Tuesday.  Charlie must be struggling to figure out the roles in his pen, other than Lidge as his closer.  He’s started to use Durbin in more key spots, but I imagine Madson will still be viewed as the main set-up man, unless he stumbles further.  On Wednesday night, Charlie let Blanton hit in the 7th inning with the bases loaded and two outs, in a 1-1 game.  You could argue that he did that because the Cards had a lefty on the mound and the only right-handed bat on the bench was Valdez, but it certainly doesn’t suggest much confidence in the pen, and can you blame him?

Grade: D       

Up Next:  The road trip comes to a merciful close against the Cards on Thursday afternoon.  Then the Phils come home to face Colorado and Arizona.  The trade rumors will be the main talk of the week, until something goes down.  There’s still over a week until the deadline, so it could be a drawn out process, but Amaro certainly sounds like he wants to make a move ASAP.

Phillies Mid-Season Report Card

halladay perfecto

For a take on the Lebron Madness, see Bry’s post below. 

Record: 43-40, 3rd in division (6 games behind Atlanta)

The Phils officially completed the 1st half of the season with a big win over the Braves on Monday night, but two losses followed and have left them 6 games back in the division.  The offensive woes continue.  They managed just 3 hits in 11 innings in the loss on Tuesday.  When you look at the depth of the Braves pitching staff, in the rotation and the bullpen, it’s pretty hard not to conclude that they have the better team.  Of course, the last time the Phils were this far out of first place it was September of 2007, when they were 6.5 behind the Mets.  We all know how that turned out, so 6 back in July does not mean the season is over, but let’s just say it’s not good.

The next few weeks will be very interesting.  If the team falls further back in the division, Ruben Amaro may have to call it quits and look to move Jayson Werth for prospects.  If they stay within striking distance, Amaro will almost certainly add a piece or two.  I don’t see him giving up Domonic Brown though, which means I don’t see Dan Haren or any other high impact player joining the team.

For this Mid-Season Report Card, we’ll go position-by-position as usual, but because of all the injuries we’ll list any player that has started 5 or more games at that position, with the number of starts in parentheses after their name.   

Catcher, Carlos Ruiz (48), Brian Schneider (21), Dane Sardinha (9), Paul Hoover (5):  We start with a position that epitomizes the season so far, as four players have started at least 5 games at catcher.  Ruiz got off to a really hot start but, not surprisingly, cooled off before missing an extended period of time with a concussion.  His OBP still sits at an impressive .398, with a solid .275 BA, but Chooch has just 10 extra-base hits in 153 at-bats.  Schneider has been as expected when he’s been in there, but his inability to stay healthy, even in limited action, has been a disappointment.  The most interesting stat for the catching corps: at the halfway point, Dane Sardinha leads all Phillie catchers with 3 home runs.  That’s probably not a good thing.  Schneider returns to action on Thursday night vs. the Reds.

Grade: C

First Base, Ryan Howard (81):  Good news: Howard has arguably been the best Phillie hitter in the 1st half.  Bad news: His slugging percentage is over 70 points below his career number, and he’s on pace for just 30 home runs, after averaging 50 over the last 4 years.  Good news:  His career slugging percentage is over 100 points higher after the All-Star Break than before it.  Howard has cut down on his strike-outs and his batting average is up (.295), but the question is whether or not the adjustments he’s made are at the expense of his power.  Personally, I like what he’s doing.  The team has committed a TON of money to him, and if he can figure out how to combine the new approach with the power we’re used to, he’ll have a much better shot at justifying that contract.

Grade:  B-

Second Base, Chase Utley (71), Wilson Valdez (9):  After a great start, Utley went through one of the toughest slumps ofvaldez his career in late-May and early-June, then started to rebound just before going down for two months with a thumb injury.  It was probably a fluke, but Chase’s errors have been up this year.  Valdez has taken over the job, and he’ll remain there for the next few weeks, until Polanco returns or the team makes a trade.  Valdez has made a really nice contribution, with excellent defense at second and short, and some sporadic offensive outbursts.

Grade: C- 

Third Base, Placido Polanco (59), Greg Dobbs (17):  Placido’s return to the team has been a success, as he’s definitely lived up to his expectations when healthy.  His .318 BA ranks 3rd in the NL, and playing half his games at the Bank has given him the expected small bump in slugging %.  His transition back to 3B has gone pretty smoothly as well, with just 4 errors so far.  Dobbs wasn’t very productive last year, and things have gotten even worse this year.  The injuries to Utley and Polanco are the only reason he’s even on the team right now.  He hit a big homer against the Braves on Monday, but that .182 BA is very ugly.  He’s also pretty terrible defensively at third.

Grade: B

Shortstop, Valdez (30), Juan Castro (27), Jimmy Rollins (26):  They really had to piece things together here for a while with Rollins out.  Castro’s numbers are ugly (.216, no homers), but he did have a handful of big RBIs in the first couple weeks after Rollins went down.  He was a little dissapointing defensively, which was supposedly the reason he was signed, and that’s mainly why he eventually gave way to Valdez.  J-Roll has come back and done most of the things we expect of him, with two notable exceptions.  On the negative side, he only has 3 steals, which can be chalked up to the calf injury he’s had to deal with.  On the plus side, he’s taking walks at a higher rate than he ever has in his career.  Now, Jimmy has notoriously refused to change his game and become more patient over the years, so maybe this is just a small sample size fluke, but here’s hoping he used that time when he was sitting out injured to try a new mindset with his hitting.

Grade: C-

ibanezLeft Field, Raul Ibanez (75), Ben Francisco (8):  Just as many Phillies fans feared, Ibanez’s lackluster second-half last year has carried over to this season.  In Raul’s last 152 games, going back to the start of July 2009, he’s hitting just .239.  This season, he’s on his way to career lows in almost every category.  Over the past week, with Utley out, Charlie has put Raul in the 3-hole, presumably hoping that he’ll see more fastballs with Howard behind him, and find his swing again.  I like the idea, but if he doesn’t respond soon, he needs to be dropped down again.  They can’t have him struggling in such a key spot in the order, and it’s not like he runs well, either.  After a really bad start, Francisco has picked it up, hitting .288 in 52 ab’s since the start of June.

Grade: D

Center Field, Shane Victorino (80):  The season Victorino has had would look better if he had been hitting 7th, like he was on Opening Day, rather than spending almost all of his time at the top of the order.  He’s already 1 home run shy of his career high, and on pace for 25 homers.  However, his .251 BA and .319 OBP are just not good enough for a table-setter.

Grade: C+

Right Field, Jayson Werth (74):  Werth’s season has been very similar to Utley’s (with the obvious exception of an injury).  He looked like an MVP in the season’s first quarter, but has gone into a lengthy slump since.  All in all, though, that first quarter was so dominant that it’s hard to not consider this first half a success.  He’s already tied his career high (and is second in the NL) with 26 doubles.  Largely thanks to all those doubles, his slugging percentage is actually higher than it was last year, when he mashed 36 homers.  He also has continued to play Gold Glove defense in right.  His stolen bases are worth keeping an eye on, as he has just 4 on the season, after stealing 20 each of the previous two seasons.

Grade: B+

Starting Pitchers: Roy Halladay’s current ERA (2.33) would be a career-best, which is not surprising considering he’s in the NL for the first time.  He’s on pace for 14 complete games, which would be the most in baseball since 1998 (when Curt Schilling had 15 for the Phils).  Recently, teams have started swinging at the first pitch against him a lot, because he loves to get ahead in the count.  Chipper Jones hit a first pitch fastball for a home run in the 1st inning on Monday night.  Halladay recognized that and used it to his advantage.  He went away from the first pitch fastball, the Braves stuck with their game plan of swinging early and often, and it resulted in a 93-pitch complete game win, with that homer being the only run he allowed.  The guy is the complete package.

The Phils’ #2 starter and erstwhile ace, Cole Hamels, has pitched more like a #3 or 4 for the second straight season.  I’ve never really hidden my dislike for Cole, but I have to say that I do see the possibility of him putting it together soon.  Hishamels fastball has been consistently hitting 94-95, which is probably about 3 mph faster than he averaged last season.  That’s important for any pitcher, but even more so when you rely so heavily on the change-up.  Cole will never reach his potential until he gets a reliable third pitch, but the tools are there this season for him to be a legitimate #2, he just has to avoid the occasional mistake pitches he’s been making.

Although the numbers don’t show it, Jamie Moyer has probably been the Phils’ second best starter, but his inconsistency is cause for concern.  Over his last 8 starts, he’s allowed 2 runs or fewer in 6 of them, but 16 runs combined in the other 2.  Certainly, Jamie has pitched some great games this year, but I still wouldn’t feel too confident sending him out there for a playoff game. 

Kyle Kendrick has been in the rotation all season long, and after a rough April, he actually has a solid 3.75 ERA since the start of May.  The one dissapointment in the rotation has been Joe Blanton, who’s been consistently not very good, allowing at least 3 runs in all 12 of his starts and has an ERA of 6.27. 

The Phillies made a somewhat surprising move when they optioned J.A. Happ to AAA last week.  I can’t say whether or not it was the right move, because I haven’t seen him pitch in his rehab assignment, but apparently the Phillies front office felt like he wasn’t ready to get big leaguers out, though Happ disagreed.  I just feel bad for Happ, because he’s really been jerked around by the team over the last few years, bouncing back and forth between the minors, then being relegated to the bullpen to start last year.   All he’s done when given the chance is get outs, but it doesn’t seem like the team has really rewarded that by showing confidence in him.  Obviously, the best-case scenario is that he pitches well for the Iron Pigs, then comes up to help the team in the 2nd half.

Grade: B-

Bullpen:  This group is really difficult to get a handle on as we hit the midway point.  The gut reaction is to say that they stink and can’t be counted on.  There’s no doubt that the back-end remains a concern, with Brad Lidge still pretty inconsistent.  But, I’m going to go on record as being cautiously optimistic about this bullpen, if they can keep healthy, which is a big ‘if’, of course.

romeroIt’s a pretty solid collection of arms.  Jose Contreras hasn’t been as good lately, but he still has great numbers on the season, and with his high-90’s fastball and good splitter, he’ll keep getting people out.  Chad Durbin is on the DL and wasn’t as sharp in June as he had been, but he’s proven himself to be a useful relief pitcher over his 3 seasons with the club.  J.C. Romero has somewhat quietly been one of the better left-handed relievers in baseball over the past decade, and he’s been strong this year, with a 2.12 ERA. 

Danys Baez and David Herndon haven’t been as good as the three above, but they’ve both been solid since sluggish starts.  Baez has a good track record, and Herndon is the type of guy you want at the Bank because he keeps the ball down and hasn’t given up a home run yet in his 28.2 innings.  Also, Mike Zagurski has looked good since coming up a couple weeks ago, and he could stick as the second left-hander.

When it comes to bullpens though, it really all comes down to closing out close games.  One of the guys who could possibly help do that, Ryan Madson, struggled before going down with a broken toe.  But he’s another guy with a strong track record, who might never make it as a closer, but he can be a great 8th inning man when he’s on.  And then there is Lidge.  Like Hamels, he looks more like the guy we saw in 2008, even if the results aren’t there yet.  His fastball velocity has been good, and his strike out rate is through the roof, with 19 K’s in 13 innings.  He’s given up two 9th inning game-tying home runs over the last few weeks, but other than those two games, he’s been really effective.  We can’t say for sure that he can get the job done, but there’s definitely reason to be optimistic.

Grade: B

Overall Team:  Injuries can’t be used as an excuse at this level, but they can be factored into grades like this.  It’s interesting to look over these grades and see all those C-level grades for the offense.  We’ve become very accustomed to watching the best offense in the National League, and they have been far from that in the 1st half of 2010.  Given the solid performance of the pitching staff, you would’ve though the Phils would be 6 games ahead, rather than behind, in the division.  Can Charlie Manuel find the right buttons to push once again?  Will Ruben Amaro weaken the farm system even further to push for another title?  Will the bats that have disappeared return to form?  These are just some of the questions that will determine whether or not the 2010 Phils can win their 4th straight division title, and 3rd straight pennant.  With this 1st half, they’ve put themselves in a hole.

Grade: C-   

Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #8

Record since last Report Card: 3-4

Overall Record: 41-36, 3rd in division (4 games behind Atlanta)

utleyWell, it has been a bleak day in Phillie Nation.  The big hit came with the announcement that Chase Utley will need surgery on his injured thumb and will miss at least the next two months.  It’s a devastating loss for a team that has already been scuffling for the past month and find themselves in third place as the midway point of the season approaches, after back-to-back NL pennants.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the team then went out and got beat by the NL-worst Pirates, and a pitcher who had an ERA of 11.00 (not a typo) over the course of his 4 starts coming into the game.  And just to rub a little more salt in the wounds, Brian Schneider left the game with a thumb injury.  With Carlos Ruiz and Paul Hoover already hurt, that means the Phils could be using their 4th and 5th string catchers if Schneider has to miss any time.  That’s the point it’s reached with the injuries: I’m wishing Paul Hoover was healthy. 

Over the last few years, us Phillie fans have been continually surprised and amazed by the toughness of the team, and their ability to will themselves to wins.  It’s July 1st, and the Phils are down 4 games in their division, they only have one starting pitcher they can completely count on, their bullpen is shaky at best, and they have 7 players on the DL, including their best player out for a long stretch.  If they can find their back into the postseason this year, it might be their most unlikely feat yet. 

Trade Rumors

We’re 30 days away from the trade deadline, so it’s time to start really tracking the rumors that are flying around.  Theharen rumor du jour surrounding the Phillies revolves around Diamondbacks ace Dan Haren.  David Murphy of the Daily News has a good breakdown of a potential Haren deal.  To summarize, Haren’s pros: he’s very, very good, he’s made 3 straight All-Star games, he’s already signed through 2012 with an option for 2013, his contract is reasonable, he’s averaged over 220 innings in his 5 full seasons, his name starts with H-a, which would fit great with Halladay, Hamels, Happ. His cons: he’s currently having the worst year of his career (4.56 ERA), the asking price will be steep, most likely requiring Domonic Brown.

Ruben Amaro will also be looking for an infielder that can help offset the loss of Utley for the next two months and add some power from the bench when Utley returns.  The most common rumor has been journeyman Ty Wigginton, who’s having a solid season for the Orioles.  I’m not sure how good he is defensively at second, but presumably he could play third, with Polanco at second, as long as Polanco isn’t out for a long stretch himself.  And with that, onto to this week’s report card…..

Position Players:  It was a fairly average week production-wise for the offense, but the odd thing was where much of that production came from: bench players.  Ross Gload started it off with 3 hits and 4 RBI in a rare start on Friday night.  Ben Francisco got a start on Sunday and responded with 3 hits, including 2 doubles and 2 RBI.  On Tuesday, the day Utley and Polanco were placed on the DL, Schneider and Wilson Valdez stepped up by each stroking 3-run homers.  In fact, over the last four games, Valdez is 6-13 with two homers.  Finally, on Wednesday, Dane Sardinha accounted for the only Phillie runs, with a 3-run homer of his own.  Notable among the regulars, Ryan Howard had a hit in all seven games, but just one multi-hit game.  It was also a somewhat sloppy week defensively, with 6 errors committed.

Grade: C+

Starting Pitchers: Roy Halladay faced his old team, the Blue Jays, on Friday night and they surely weren’t surprised to see him pitch a gem.  Halladay’s 7 shutout innings earn him Start of the Week honors.  It was almost sad to hear the Blue Jay announcers calling that game and having to watch Halladay dominate for a team other than their own.  In Halladay’s other start of the week, he pitched solidly against the Reds but surrendered a two-run homer in the 8th inning and took the 4-3 loss.  Jamie Moyer posted his third straight excellent start, giving up two runs in 7 innings to beat the Jays on Sunday.

The lowlights came from Kyle Kendrick (not a surprise) and Cole Hamels’s first start of the week.  Kendrick gave up 5 earned runs, including Scott Rolen’s 300th career home run (ugh).  Hamels went just 4 innings, giving up 5 runs, in a loss to the Jays.  It’s sad to say, but Hamels has been nothing more than an average pitcher ever since the ’08 World Series ended.  It would’ve been hard to believe that would happen at the time.

Grade: B-

Bullpen:  If you take away the 9th inning of Tuesday night’s game in Cincinnati, the pen had a fantastic week.  Aside from that inning, the pen pitched 12 innings and gave up just one run.  However, relief pitchers have a different job than starting pitchers, and runs allowed don’t tell the whole story.  It’s all about being able to get the most important outs, the ones in the late innings of close games.  The pen was only presented with that situation once this week, and Brad Lidge blew it.  He came in with a 6-3 lead and quickly retired the first two batters he faced, before disaster struck.  A walk, a single, and long Joey Votto homer followed, tying the game at 6.  Luckily, the Phils put up 3 in the 10th and Jose Contreras was able to put it away.  But, the questions remain, of course.  Lidge has looked great at times this season, but he’s hitting a rough patch right now, giving up 6 runs in his last 4 innings pitched.

Grade: B

Up Next:  The Phils have 3 more games in Pittsburgh and it’s really important that they win at least two of them.  Following the Utley news, they could really use some positive momentum heading into a big series with the Braves on Monday.  It looks like the starters for that Braves series will be Halladay-Hamels-Moyer.