What a difference a week makes. Last weekend the Phillies were enjoying a four-game sweep of the San Diego Padres while Monday and Tuesday smacked them square in the face with surprising losses to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Perhaps there is not as much difference as might be apparent on the surface. The Phillies literally own the Padres at Petco Park (21-4, 23 of 27 in San Diego including 10 straight) and San Diego was a welcome change after facing the Bash Brothers from Brewers Country but offense has not been the strong suit of the Phightin’ Phillies.
Over the four game set in San Diego, the Phillies pitching and Petco Park itself provided a perfect combination of maximum effort and maximum clearance. While the venue proximity to the Gas Lamp District, gorgeous beaches and San Diego Zoo is most agreeable, the park also offers amenities such as The Park at The Park and a grand view of the Western Metal Supply Company. What is not terribly inviting are the dimensions of the cavernous ballpark, featuring 402 feet in left and right center alleys, 382 and 367 to right and left respectively and 402 to dead center. This place is where home runs go to die and the series was not a surprise in that regard. Phillies swept the Padres amassing a grand total of 12 runs in 4 games. Good pitching wins ballgames especially when it is augmented with 400 foot fly ball outs. Game. Set. Match. Phillies.
Relocate to Arizona where the 7-12 Diamondbacks seem to struggle finding reasons to be optimistic. A new regime in front office and dugout are positive changes toward the future. The groundwork has also been laid to reduce the number of team strikeouts (Mark Reynolds now plays for Baltimore) and the proverbial arrow is pointing up on this franchise – but success is still 2 or 3 years away (especially pending the decision regarding Justin Upton). For now hosting the All-Star Game could be the pinnacle of the Phoenix baseball season. With the Phillies in town, the Diamondbacks have taken the first two of three games by a combined score of 11-5. Not only did this include a 4-0 shutout in Game One but a 12-strikeout performance by Cliff Lee was outshined by Kennedy’s 10k complete game shutout. Lee makes $120M, Kennedy $423k. Advantage Diamondbacks.
Lee made two early mistakes and that cost the Phillies the ballgame, allowing homers to Chris Young and Gerardo Parra. On the upside, Lee lost for the second time in 4 decisions, going 7 innings to equal his season strikeout high. Lee whiffed 12 on April 14 in a three-hit, shutout of Washington. His career high (13) came last July 27 against the A’s as a member of the Texas Rangers. There has been a dichotomy to Lee’s season which has not gone unnoticed. Since he returned to Philly as a free agent this past winter, Lee has allowed 3 runs and 7 hits in his two victories over the Astros and Nationals. In contrast, he was touched for 10 runs and 15 hits in his pair of losses. The other loss came at Atlanta on April 8. In the middle, Lee struck out only one the previous time out against the Brewers (resulted in No-decision).
Then Roy Oswalt experiences a meltdown after retiring Arizona in the first, surrendering 6 hits, a walk and five earned runs on 57 pitches in THREE INNINGS before exiting for an early shower. It was also made clear that Oswalt has left the team for undisclosed person reasons (later revealed it was due to rampant tornado warnings in Mississippi). Oswalt came into the game with a sparking 1.88 ERA and had only allowed five earned runs in his first four starts (notching three victories and a no-decision in the April 15 game vs the Marlins when he came out because of the back problems). After suffering his first loss of the season, his record now stands at 3-1 and his ERA at 3.33 – and no ETA for his return (he is due to start on Monday). The Phillies came into the game with the best record in baseball and on a five-game winning streak. The loss left them at 15-7, tied with Colorado.
During the week it has also been learned after an MRI and further examination in Philadelphia on Tuesday, right-hander Jose Contreras will be out for three to four weeks, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. The MRI substantiated the diagnosis that Contreras has a flexor pronator strain on the inside of his right elbow. Amaro said he will be shut down from throwing for 10 days and then a program of rehabilitation will be determined after that period. Contreras was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Monday and right-hander Michael Stutes was elevated from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. This leaves Ryan Madsen as the only choice to assume the closer’s role – a role Charlie Manuel was reluctant to cast Madsen in due to previous unsuccessful efforts. With Lidge and Contreras both shelved, it has to be Madsen’s chance to prove that either he can do the job or he can’t. Madsen has the ability to perform the job but his mental toughness has been called into question. There were similar concerns when Madsen decided he wanted to be a starting pitcher in 2005 and 2006 and it bears resemblance to Brett Myers desire to become a closer in 2008. Circumstances created those needs and taking one for the team is all well and good but show us what you can do. Simply stated, it is time to either put up or shut up.
Phillies blue chip OF Domonic Brown will begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Wednesday. Brown broke the hook of the hamate bone in his right hand on March 5 during a Spring Training game. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. suggests that Brown has been scheduled to begin his rehabilitation assignment at Class A Clearwater in May. Brown, projected as the Opening Day right fielder, had also been projected after surgery to be out 3-6 weeks. Currently, Brown is closing in on two months and his hand rehabilitation should last between 4-6 weeks in order to be realistic. That’s still better news than Chase Utley. Utley has been taking limited infield practice and very limited batting practice but still has scheduled neither a return date nor a medical course of treatment besides rest and a “wait and see” approach.
Placido Polanco provides some good news as he leads the Phillies with a torrid .372 batting average. Unfortunately, the second man on that list is Shane Victorino with .276. Ben Francisco, Raul Ibanez and Carlos Ruiz have all been slumping while Jimmy Rollins has just 2 RBI from the #3 spot. Phillies are collectively batting .255 (ranked 11th in MLB) and an OBP of .311 (19th in MLB) on the season with 3 days to go in the month of April. If that doesn’t tell you how effective the pitching staff (3.25 ERA, 7th in MLB) has been (or how timely the hitting has been), right behind them are the Arizona Diamondbacks batting .254 but with a 9-12 record on the season. Phillies are 15-8 as opponents are batting just .236 against them. The team is also 9-0 in day games and have been victorious in every series finale (8-0) this season (including the 8-4 finale vs. Arizona featuring 3 HR for the first time in 2011). Take from these numbers what you will but I would suggest that the team is very fortunate to have 15 wins on the month. I might also suggest that it is time to seriously start looking for some offensive help outside the organization. John Mayberry, Ross Gload, Chase Utley and Domonic Brown are not helping the team right now but bringing in a thumper now instead of waiting for July could be the difference between a 5th division crown and the highest payroll south of the postseason!
Question is… what do the Phillies have to offer another team and who could they target? Carlos Quentin? Nick Markakis? Justin Upton? BJ Upton? Grady Sizemore? Alex Gordon? Troy Glaus? Jeff Francoeur? Andre Ethier?
Split the 30 MLB teams into contenders and pretenders and start drawing names from among the more salaried on pretender teams. Very few of these come at no price (even Glaus who is a free agent will cost money) but most teams want prospects in return and that is one area in which the Phillies are basically bankrupt. Trading deadline deals and offseason swaps have garnered Four Aces but they have emptied the farm system and front-loaded the Phillies payroll. Now more changes are needed and the team is handcuffed. Time to see if they can pull another rabbit out of the hat!
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me email@example.com