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.
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.
Second Base, Chase Utley (71), Wilson Valdez (9): After a great start, Utley went through one of the toughest slumps of 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.
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.
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.
Left 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.
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.
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.
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. His 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.
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.
It’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.
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.