It may sound a little early, but is it possible that this is the make or break point for the Phillies season?
Almost every single component of this Phillies team is not working right now. And if things don't start improving very soon, this roller coaster might be headed in the wrong direction. Last night's game against the Mets was a microcosm of the 2010 season:
The Phillies offense over the last couple of weeks has been virtually non-existent. In the last 12 games they have averaged just 3.16 runs per game with a team average of .214 (87-for-406). The Phillies offense is now a very average group that ranks 8th in average, 9th in homers, and tied for last in steals. Last in steals?!
Their starting staff ERA is 4.12, and if you take out Roy Halladay that number shoots to 5.03. Halladay has been even better than advertised, but he has been the only one. And one of the big questions entering this season has been Cole Hamels - we are quickly starting to realize that he is not close to the 2008 MVP world champ. Some folks had slight thoughts that Kendrick might have a presence. Let's face it..he's terrible.
I will save bullpen nightmares for later. Let's just say that aside from Durbin and maybe Contreras, there is nobody you can trust in that pen.
Another disturbing fact has appeared that we have not seen at all with this Phillies team: they aren't hustling.
"I'm always concerned when we don't hustle," Charlie Manuel said. "I'm always concerned when we start playing real sloppy."
Ryan Howard was thrown out in an embarrassing play in San Francisco. Last night, Shane Victorino did not run to first base on a dropped third strike. Although it is a possibly alarming trend, Victorino took full responsibility and maybe woke up the rest of the team.
"I was part of that situation tonight," Victorino said. "You'll never see me do it again. I'm not going to make any excuses. I'm part of that situation that Charlie is talking about. I know he didn't personally call out anybody, but I'm speaking about it, and I'm going to answer the question."
And to add insult to injury, Brad Lidge returned to give up two hits and run in just 1/3 of an inning. It is absolutely insane to base any assumptions on one outing in an 8-1 game, but it certainly opens your eyes. As bad as the pen looks and with Ryan Madson on the DL, we NEED Lidge to pitch well. A start like this does not give you good feelings.
It is time to forget how good we thought this team was and look at who they actually are. The 2010 Phillies have a good offense (no, they will not be this bad all year) with a very average starting pitching staff with one ace and a horrible bullpen. Sorry, but that is not good enough to win the World Series. It's just not.
Sounds good, doesn't it? Well, it happened. The Phillies are the 2010 World Champs. I recently purchased a copy of Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP), a baseball simulation program. OOTP is a pretty cool program that simulates the entire major league baseball season from start to finish.
I thought it would be a neat thing to use the simulation and see how the Fightins did. I promised myself that I would report on the first simulation no matter how it turned out. Fortunately, it turned out pretty darn well.
In fact, this was the best season in Philadelphia Phillies history.
It was an awesome year from start to end. I sat and watched the simulation and it was pretty cool seeing how the whole thing played out.
It was a battle between the Phils and the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The Phils had a decent start and battled for the top spot in April, finishing with a 13-9 record. Then they took off in May and had a big lead of 6 games in the NL East and the best record in baseball of 33-18 and .647 winning percentage.
By the middle of June they were 43-21 with a .672 winning percentage before hitting the skids and dropping 9 of their next 14 games. Meanwhile, the Braves were on fire and took over the lead in the East by a 1/2 game. The Phillies played slightly above .500 with a 31-24 record in June and July, allowing the Braves to take a 2 game lead over the Phils.
However, as is the case with most Charlie Manuel teams, the Phils finished strong. The Phillies would take over thanks to a torrid August in which they went 23-5 and pushed the Atlanta Braves deeper down in the standings. Increasing their lead to 4 games in September, the Phillies would hold on with a 13-12 September to take home another NL East crown, edging the Braves by 2 games.
The Phillies finished with 101 wins, which was the second best record behind the Yankees. Here were the final NL East standings and playoff teams:
Team | Record | Games Behind
Philadelphia Phillies | 101-61 | -
Atlanta Braves | 99-63 | 2
Florida Marlins | 77-85 | 24
New York Mets | 77-85 | 24
Washington Nationals | 72-90 | 29
NL Division Leaders:
St. Louis Cardinals | 92-70
Colorado Rockies | 89-73
AL Division Leaders:
New York Yankees | 103-59
Minnesota Twins | 86-76
Oakland Athletics | 92-70
Wild Card Teams:
Atlanta Braves | 99-63
Tampa Bay Rays | 99-63
The Phillies had another terrific post-season which was eerily similar to the last two years. They once again beat the Colorado Rockies in the first round and rolled over the Cardinals in the NLCS, then met the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series once again. This time needed seven games to take home the World Championship.
In the World Series, they took the first two games at home before losing the next two in St. Petersburg. They split games 5 and 6, then Joe Blanton got the win in game 7 and Ryan Madson saved it for the Phils.
National League Division Series
Defeated Colorado Rockies 3 - 1
National League Championship Series
Defeated St. Louis Cardinals 4 - 1
Defeated Tampa Bay Rays 4 - 3
It was a ridiculous year offensively. The Phillies finished 1st in every major offensive category in the National League:
1st in runs 861
1st in homers 209
1st in avg 275
1st in steals 160
The pitching wasn't too shabby, either. The combined staff ERA was 5th best at 3.96, starters ranked 3rd, and the bullpen ranked 8th.
Here are the individual offensive highlights:
1st in runs - 117
2nd in OBS - .429
4th in hits - 179
5th in OPS - .960
5th in total bases - 311
2nd in HR - 41
2nd in RBI - 123
1st in total bases - 333
2nd in hits - 195
2nd in stolen bases - 52
4th in total bases - 317
Shane Victorino: 3rd in stolen bases - 41
Placido Polanco: 5th in average - .310
And they had some notable pitching figures:
3rd in innings - 225.1
3rd in strikeouts - 201
4th in ERA - 2.91
4th in WHIP - 1.17
Joe Blanton: 2nd in wins - 17
Ryan Madson: 1st in saves - 45
Other notable awards:
Charlie Manuel wins Manager of the Year
Chase Utley awarded the Gold Glove
Major MLB awards:
Manager of the Year: Charlie Manuel (NL) and Joe Maddon (AL)
Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward (NL) and Scott Sizemore (AL)
Cy Young: Francisco Cordero (NL) and Brett Anderson (AL)
Most Valuable Player: Albert Pujols (NL) and Kendry Morales (AL)
After watching Jamie Moyer last week create a new major league record as the oldest pitcher to ever pitch a complete game shutout, fans must wonder more than ever, how the heck does he do it?
In a nutshell, it simply comes down to control, location, and smarts. Moyer has been so great for so long because he has amazing command of the strikezone and superior control. He does what every pitcher tries to do: hit your spots, mix your pitches, and move the ball in and out, up and down. He combines that with a game plan of how to approach hitters. There's not much more to it than that.
If you watch Moyer on any given night, he continually moves the ball around in the strikezone. Even though he only throws in the low 80's, he's not afraid to come in, he will occasionally throw one high out of the zone, and he continually mixes his pitches between his fastball, changeup, and some curves.
Throwing as slow as he does, Moyer has to be nearly perfect with his control. Where most pitchers can get away a pitch down the middle, Moyer can't. If he is slightly less than perfect, he gets smashed. So Moyer needs pinpoint control to have any chance whatsoever. With that control, he needs hitters to swing at balls just a smidgen off the plate and an umpire with an "untight" strikezone.
Jamie Moyer proves that if you have a good game plan, excellent control, and a willingness to come in, any pitcher can be successful in the big leagues.
And Moyer has been successful for a very, very, long time. Check out this graph that shows Moyer's ERA in his of 23 seasons prior to this one.
One of the biggest worries with this 2010 Phillies team in the off season was easily Cole Hamels. We have been waiting and hoping all year long that Cole would resemble his former self. But it just hasn't happened.
Every time Cole would pitch a great game he would follow it up with a bad one. Until Hamels strings together a bunch of good starts, nobody will really have any faith in him.
Until now. In his four starts in May, Hamels is 3-0 and has an ERA of 2.36. Not only that, but he has averaged 6 2/3 innings per start.
It seems like he finally has a grasp on his cutter and curveball. He doesn't use either of them too much, but he is starting to have command of each. Now that he has confidence in those pitches, he seems to be focusing more on his fastball. Ask just about any baseball guy and they will tell you that in order for a pitcher to be successful, they need to establish their fastball.
It seems pretty clear that Cole was still learning his two "other" pitches all season long at the expense of his changeup and fastball. It looks like maybe, just maybe, Cole has finally figured it out. If that happens, look out!
Now that Cole has dropped his ERA beneath 4.00 for the first time this year, I thought it might be a good time to look at Cole's ERA in a little more detail.
The chart below tracks Cole's ERA in every month he's been in the bigs prior to May. What it says to me is that it is clear Hamels has not just "lost" his stuff. But there is a clear slight up tick to his ERA. It is that slight rise that caused Cole to get a couple new pitches. Hopefully at the end of the year this graph will have a much different look to it.
We've seen the Phillies get completely embarrassed by knuckleball pitchers over the last two days. We see the terrible swings guys have at the ball. We see even the best of catchers look foolish trying to simply catch the knuckleball.
We know it's coming very slow and it doesn't look like the ball moves that much, so why the heck is it so hard to hit?
To answer that question, I will explain it the best way I know how: with Wiffle Ball. Those of you who have been following Phils Baseball know by now how much I love Wiffle Ball. In fact, I probably enjoy Wiffle Ball a little too much for a 31-year-old. But in this case, Wiffle Ball actually is the perfect tool for learning about knucklers. I'll show you why.
I played the other day with my brother and it was so cool to stand up there with a bat and swing at a Wiffle Ball with absolutely no spin. If you throw it right, the ball will have zero spin and will behave exactly like a real baseball.
So what makes the knuckleball so tough to hit?
The best way I could describe it is that ball seems to bounce around kind of like the Cookie Monster's eyes. The knuckler seems so good to hit at first because it is slow and appears to be just hanging up there and begging for you to hit it. Yet when you try to swing, the ball starts to bounce around slightly in all directions at once.
You can't swing where it is like you would with a fastball. You can't swing where it's going to be like you would a breaking pitch. The fact is, you don't know where it's going because it could break down, cut in, or dive away. All you can do is pick a spot, swing, and hope you hit it.
It seems like such an easy pitch to hit, yet you JUST CAN'T HIT IT.
However, like most pitches, if you leave the knuckleball up it is a completely different story. Now I understand the saying, "If it's high let it fly, if it's low let it go." High knuckleballs don't like to dance much, and a knuckler with no movement is like a slow pitch softball and you can just hack away.
So back to real baseball. Hopefully now you can understand why knuckleball pitchers can be so hot and cold. If they keep the ball down and can get it over the plate, there's almost nothing a player can do except swing three times and head back to the bench. But if they keep the ball up, it's gonna be a quick shower for Mr. Knuckleballer.
They say there is a silver lining to even the darkest clouds. The same goes for the Phillies during one of the worst offensive stretches we have seen. There is one major thing that has been lost in the shuffle of three straight shutouts and 4 shutouts out of 5 games, and 30 straight innings of scoreless baseball. That one thing is the pitching.
This Phillies team is clearly a team based on offensive. The Phillies have led the league in runs scored in the National League for the last two seasons. The only major question mark of this team is the pitching. Despite having sustained injuries to Joe Blanton, JA Happ, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and JC Romero, the Phillies have the 5th best pitching staff in the league with a team ERA of 3.72.
Let's first take a look at the starting rotation. The Phils' starting staff has an ERA of 3.77. Here are the ERA of each of our starters:
Roy Halladay - 2.22
Cole Hamels - 3.82
Joe Blanton - 5.63
Jamie Moyer - 4.55
Kyle Kendrick - 5.04
We all know how good Halladay is, but the big worry has been with Hamels, Moyer, and Kendrick. We've talked a lot about Hamels in recent articles, but he is starting to really take on the role of a legit #2. His ERA in May is 2.45 and he's averaged 6.6 innings per start. And Jamie Moyer has been really good this year and is by no means the liability he was last year. If he can keep his ERA below 5 like he has, that is a huge boost to the rotation.
Then there's Kendrick. You gotta respect what this guy has done. After being blasted in his first few starts and seemingly destined for Lehigh Valley, yet now he looks like he might actually belong in the Major Leagues. Kendrick had a 7.61 ERA in his five starts through April. Since then, he has an ERA of 3.13. Obviously the Phillies hope to have Happ back to replace Kendrick, but the way the injuries have gone this year we may need Kendrick down the stretch.
The real worry for the team during the beginning of the season was certainly the bullpen. Guys like Baez, and Herndon were pretty awful to start the season. You had to wonder if Danys Baez was worth a loaf a bread to start the season, but he has really picked up the pace and has his ERA down to 4.15. David Herndon has been alright also, with an ERA of 4.41 now.
But its Durbin and Contreras who have been the most impressive. Chad Durbin quietly has been a stud in the pen and he has an ERA of 2.38 in 22.2 innings. Contreras has obviously been huge. This dude has only given 1 run all season.
The bottom line is this: the hitting will come around. Everybody knows that. It's not like the entire team all of a sudden stinks.
Everybody also know that we need Cole Hamels and the bullpen to pitch well if we want to win it all. Let me ask you this: would you rather lose a bunch of 10-8 games this week or get solid pitching and get shutout for an entire week with a bunch of all-star hitters who you know will come around?
I might actually be more confident in this Phillies team today than I was a week ago. Think about it.
Is it just me, or does it seem like Carlos Ruiz has really dropped off in the past week or so? Chooch's numbers have declined slightly, but despite a terrible offensive performance by the team over the past week, he actually hasn't dropped that much.
I for one have been worried that eventually Ruiz would fall back into his old habits and just hide away at the bottom of the lineup, but the number show that at least for now he does seem to sticking with his more patient approach.
Here are Chooch's splits over the last month:
Last 7 days: 5-for-15, .333 average, .375 OBP
Last 14 days: 11-for-36, .306 average, .390 OBP
Last 28 day: 22-for-78, .282 average, .370 OBP
Those are still decent numbers, and the best part is that his on base percentage has remained fairly steady, which means that he is still patient at the plate and drawing walks.
Here is a chart of Ruiz's average and on base percentage throughout the year.
In case you haven't noticed, Raul Ibanez has been making a bit of a statement for quite a while now. I know a .253 average with 3 homers and 21 RBI's doesn't make you stand up and cheer, but his numbers aren't nearly as horrifiying as they were in the beginning of April.
Remember how bad Ibanez was in April? His numbers were pretty nasty: .221 average with 1 homer and 9 RBI's. Not only that, but he was late on fastballs and frankly starting to look like an old man.
But Rauuuul told Charlie he would right the ship, and that's exactly what he did. His May numbers prove it: .280 average with 2 homers and 12 RBIs. The power numbers aren't there yet, but he is starting to hit the ball hard and the power numbers should follow. I don't think we will ever see him hit anywhere near what he showed at the beginning of last season, but he is showing signs the hasn't completly lost it. At least not yet...