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Pitching, Defense and… Not Much Else

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Apr 19 2012 @ 11:08 pm In Philadelphia Phillies | No Comments

Nobody but nobody gets excited about the standings over the first two weeks of the regular season. Anything before Memorial Day doesn’t seem to have meaning though all 162 games are supposed to count evenly. April is the honeymoon month of the
long Major League season as fans are simply happy to get back to the ballpark
and enjoy the sights and sounds of meaningful baseball. Weather gets warmer,
school lets out and by the beginning of the sweltering summer, baseball is
moving at a full gallop but spring surprises can be as commonplace as MLB snow
delays (not including games in Denver). If you’re not happy with the baseball
season, you need only wait a week and see what changes.

At 5-7 the
2012 Phillies do not resemble their 102-win counterparts from 2011, but even
less so when the starting lineup features names such as Mayberry, Nix, Wigginton and Galvis.
Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have been just about as visible as Pete Mackanin while pitching of the remaining Three Aces have been
the defining characteristic of this young 2012 season. Baltimore (8-5) and
Washington (10-3) lead the American and National League East respectively while
Texas (10-2) and the formerly bankrupt Dodgers (10-3) rule the West. 10 other
NL teams sport better records than the Phillies while 8 AL teams have fared
better. When teams like the Mets (7-5) and Seattle (7-6) find themselves in
second place with 11,000 fans per game, either it is early in the season or
someone has held a mirror up to the standings.

Forecasts of
the apocalypse may have pervaded the Mayan calendar and clouded Philadelphia
media alike but this team had problems before the news that their third and
fourth hitters would be missing from the lineup for half the season. Ever since
the 2011 season ended with Ryan Howard
limping, wincing and collapsing on the Citizens Bank Park turf amid St. Louis
Cardinals odd NLDS celebration the Phillies organization has feared the worst. Chase Utley’s chronic knee and related
issues date back to 2008 and culminated when the stalwart second baseman missed
the first 40 games of 2011. Brad Lidge
and Ryan Madson departed along with Raul Ibanez and Roy Oswalt but the team payroll still ballooned to $178 million. That
financial bubble still doesn’t include a long term deal for Cole Hamels nor does it account for the
future of Hunter Pence or Shane Victorino. Perhaps $25 million
for Howard, $40 million for Roy Halladay
and Cliff Lee plus $12.5 M per year
for the combination of Jonathan Papelbon
and the illustrious alter-ego known as “Cinco-Ocho.”

Some change
and surprise can be a good thing. Who would have expected Freddy Galvis to be the Phillies RBI leader for nearly a week (5
led the team until Hunter Pence took
over the lead with 7, while Raul Ibanez
has 9 with the Yankees)? Who would have expected the Phillies 2012 rotation to
improve with the subtraction of Roy
Oswalt
and the re-insertion of Joe
Blanton
? Over 83 IP the Phillies starters sport a combined 2.96 and 1.10
WHIP – good for 3rd place in MLB. Of course the offense has been
struggling to support their pitching staff, netting a mere 35 runs (2.91 RPG)
in 12 games (29th in MLB). Last night’s 10-inning 1-0 loss to San
Francisco was emblematic of the Phillies season. Cliff Lee throws over 9 shutout innings and the starting eight
looks more like the Dead Ball Era than the five-time NL East champs. Only
Pittsburgh has a less productive offense while the Phillies lag two games worth
of runs behind Oakland (39).

Even the
least observant Phillies fan will tell anyone that may listen that this
Phillies team needs some offensive help. Even when Ryan Howard and Chase Utley
do return to the lineup they will not be at full force, meaning that Hunter
Pence, Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins will be asked to power the offense
along with contributions from a collection of Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Lance Nix, Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre. What to do? Ride it out?
Mix-N-Match lineup components for an entire season? Have fans take turns
batting cleanup? Domonic Brown looms
in AAA while the Phillies have a lot of personnel decisions to make regarding
Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and Polanco.

Could a
trade be possible? With whom? What self-respecting team would want to swing a
deal now that a second wildcard has been added? There may not even need to be
any deals made before the July 31 trading deadline because 20-25 teams will
have a realistic shot at postseason play. This means that trade partners will
be limited to teams such as Baltimore, Kansas City, Houston, Pittsburgh and
Oakland – and even then the needs have to match up. Will one of those teams
deal a slugger for Domonic Brown or
will it take a slew of the Phillies remaining few prospects to land yet another
Joe Blanton or Roy Oswalt? Would Jeff
Francoeur
or Ryan Ludwick or Josh Willigham be enough to bolster
this lineup? That plan works one year or maybe two but eventually it depletes
the farm system and creates a team of well-paid aging veterans. Sound familiar?

The season
is long and the offense will get better. Thankfully the Phillies head for Petco
Park in lovely San Diego. Not only have the Phillies gone 15-2 in Petco’s
luxurious confines since 2007 but their starting pitchers have the best ERA
there of any visiting staff over the same period of time. Look for the Phillies
to rebound from a tough San Francisco series by teeing off on the Friars over
the long weekend series.

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