Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23rd Update: A Stellar Two Weeks

This team is showing signs of life in a very weak NL East. They went 5-2 on the road trip and have the best record in the NL East dating back two weeks. Yeah, this team is not a contender in any other division, but the difference between first & last in the NL East is 5.0 games entering Monday (the smallest margin of all divisions in MLB). So, there's a chance. Before I talk about the performance of the Phillies, I will start by predicting the NL East race.

The Mets & Marlins have certainly made things interesting, but without their No. 1 starters this year - Matt Harvey & Jose Fernandez, respectively - because of Tommy John Surgery... it's probably impossible for them to sustain their recent success. The Braves got off to a hot start this year but loosing four pitchers to injuries & an offense dominated by high-K players have finally caught up with them. The Nats have a lot of good players but, like the Phillies, haven't put it together yet. The Nats are 17-13 vs. division opponents, but .500 against everyone else. I think that they will get things going soon, but how long until that happens & will Philly or Atlanta catch up to them before hand? We shall see.

Anyway, how good have the Phillies been the past two weeks? Very good but also somewhat lucky defensively. They've been doing better fundamentally (fielding with few errors, hitting better w/ RISP, starting pitchers going deeper into games, an improved bullpen, better baserunning, etc.), but balls in play have been hit at people the last two weeks. The Cardinals' batted balls found more holes this past series, so the bad luck appears to be coming the Phillies' way in that regard. Will that trend continue? Per the Law of Averages, it probably will - for a short period anyway. Let's look at other aspects of the game... offense & pitching.

The bottom half of the order, filled mostly with inexperienced hitters was the biggest problem for the Phillies this year with the bullpen (particularly the rookies & sophomores) a close second. The young guys in the line-up and the bullpen have finally started performing, the former providing protection to the veteran-filled top half of the line-up.

The bullpen appears to have finally come around. Performing well in the middle of the year, when the games matter more, is a lot different than what these guys are used to the last two years: the spoilers' role. The relief core, over the past 14 days, have pitched to a 0.93 ERA (best in MLB in that span), a 3.8% HR/FB rate (4th lowest in MLB), a 10.86 K/9 (best in the NL & 2nd in MLB behind the Red Sox), and an 8.75 K/BB ratio (best in MLB). That's not sustainable over the 88 reg. season games remaining, but certainly a good sign. A lot of the problems stemmed from a high workload, resulting in days in which at least one player (Papelbon, in particular) was unavailable. The rest certainly appears to be helping. Deikman, about three weeks ago, attributed more rest to reaching 100 mph.

If the team can build off of this momentum and take advantage of a weak division while it can, the more likely it is that this team will get more All-Stars and that the front office will keep this team together come late-July. As I said, we won't see this level of success for much longer, but in this division, anything can happen. For now, enjoy the recent success and go Phils!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Four Phillies Should Play in All Star Game

Before I make the case to send four Phillies to the All-Star Game, I would like to extend my condolences to the Gwynn family on the loss of Tony to salivary gland cancer at the age of 54. Mr. Padre enjoyed a Hall of Fame career with a .338 AVG over 20 seasons, all with the San Diego Padres. He became the head coach at San Diego State University... coaching players like Steven Strasburg & his son, current Phillies reserve OF, Tony Gwynn, Jr. Rest in Peace, Mr. Padre!


As of Monday's update, Chase Utley leads fan balloting at 2B by over 680,000 votes. He's currently in a bit of a funk, but has been one of the most consistent, if not the most consistent, hitter on the team this year. He currently holds a .303 AVG and leads all 2B in many offensive categories. If this stands, Utley would make his sixth career ASG, all starts from 2006-2010. It looks like that will happen.

Unfortunately, the Phillies' current performance is dismal and it looks like that will continue right on through to the All Star Game as every team they face between now and a week before the trade deadline has an above-.500 record (only the Pirates are under but by only one game). However, three other Phillies players are having very good years. They include closer Jonathan Papelbon, outfielder Marlon Byrd, and the newest franchise hits leader, shortstop Jimmy Rollins (congrats, man!).

Papelbon has bounced back nicely from a rough opening series in Arlington, Texas. In 25 games (25.0 IP) since the blown save on April 2nd, he is 2-0, 0.36 ERA, 15/15 in Saves, 0.80 WHIP (doesn't include three hit-batsmen), 21 Ks to 7 BB for 3:1 K/BB & 7.56 K/9.0 ratios. He has recently earned his 300th & 301st career saves and is the 2nd fastest to reach those marks. I hope he gets to celebrate that in Minnesota.

Marlon Byrd was brought in via free agency to stabilize the RF situation and he has done just that. Offensively, he is hitting a slash line of .261/.316/.470 w/ 10 HRs, 38 RBIs, and a 28.8% K/PA rate. He is on-pace for 24 HRs & 92 RBIs. Defensively, he's fielding at a .993 clip and has two OF assists. Offensively, his high K-rate (28.8% season vs. 18.6% career) is a sign that he's been playing too many consecutive games, which Sandberg acknowledged a couple of weeks ago. Still, a great season so far for him.

Jimmy Rollins definitely has been bouncing back from the worst offensive season of his career. Last year, he hit .252/.318/.348 w/ 65 R, 22 SB, 6 HR, and a .667 OPS. This year, he's hitting .249/.343/.400 and on-pace for 80-90 runs scored, 25-30 SB, 20 HRs, and his .743 OPS would equal his 2001 near-ROY campaign. What better way to celebrate taking sole possession of 1st place on the franchise hits list in a bounce-back year than an All-Star nod?

I'd also like to add that Ryan Howard is holding his own. He has a slash line of .231/.302/.401 and is on-pace for 30-31 HR & at least 105 RBIs. He's striking out in 30.9% of his PAs, which is higher than his career K-rate of 28%, but he's in-line for a bounce-back year with those numbers. Yes, we'd love for him to mash 40+ HRs & 150+ RBIs, but this production, combined with Utley & Byrd, is certainly enough from the 3-5 hitters to win games.

With performances like these, why can't the Phillies send more players to the Mid-Summer Classic? Well, the team, overall is not doing well. If I had to choose one of these players to join Utley in the festivities, it'd be Papelbon with his 301 career saves and 100% save-percentage since the Texas series.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Twenty-Game Stretch, 2014 Draft

Well, 20 games in 20 days have told me one thing: non-contenders. The Phillies have a -54 run differential and have fallen to ten games under .500. You can't win more games than you loose with that run differential and that is exactly what's happening. For me, the biggest problem with the team is the inconsistent offense, then the bullpen, which lost Mike Adams (shoulder) the other day. A lot of this falls on the shoulders of Ruben Amaro, Jr. and his poor roster decisions. Now, he was right this past off-season about one thing offensively: if healthy, the veterans will produce... and that is coming to fruition w/ Utley a near-lock to start at 2B in the All-Star Game, Howard on-pace to hit 31 HRs & 115 RBIs, and Rollins near a career high in OBP. The problem is the under-30-yr-old players, especially Dom Brown. They haven't torn the cover off the ball yet. Another problem with the offense is the bench... except for Nieves' ~.260-hitting production & Mayberry's seven pinch hits (three HRs). These guys fail at even getting on-base. Unfortunately, Amaro gave big contracts out, limiting his ability to sign players to even moderate contracts. Another problem... the minor league system. While it has improved slightly over the past few years, it still is filled with mostly busts, forcing the Phillies to select college players with 63% of their picks this year with LSU righty & former 22nd round pick (2011) Aaron Nola taken at #7.

What's next for the Phillies? Time to rebuild. See what your top prospects can do. Unfortunately, some of them are now injured.

And would David Montgomery please fire Ruben Amaro, Jr.

The Phillies will begin (on Tuesday) a stretch of 21 games in 20 days. HELP!!!