Phlop

Philadelphia sports fans have a well-earned reputation for being hostile.

Sometimes you can’t blame them, really.

The Phillies opened 2006 with four straight losses, and proceeded to win 22 of their next 33. which included a nine-game winning streak from April 30 to May 9. On May 14. they were 22-15, just two games out of first in the NL East. Their starting pitching was uneven—the Mets weren‘t much better off, with absolutely nothing behind Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine—but the bullpen was bailing them out, and the team for the most part was raking. It looked like a deal for a good starting pitcher was all that kept them from making a real run at the division crown.

Forty games and a mere 13 wins later, and the Phils look like sellers and not buyers. Their rotation is in tatters. Ace Brett Myers was arrested for assaulting his wife and is taking a leave of absence until after the All-Star break; Cole Hamels is struggling now that the league has seen him a few times, and is 0-4, 7.84 ERA over his last four starts. Jon Lieber is out until next month with a groin injury (probably the worst non-pitching arm injury a pitcher can sustain) and will probably struggle the rest of the year. Behind them is Cory Lidle and his five-plus ERA—the starting corps have the worst ERA in the NL, and is better than only Kansas City overall. The Phillies have lost their last seven which, included a Wednesday double-header sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles.

On May 16, a ninth-inning throwing error by Ryan Franklin at Miller Park allowed the Milwaukee Brewers to steal a game, and they’ve struggled mightily since.

The biggest culprit over this 40-game debacle has been the starting pitching. I’ll just let the numbers speak for themselves:

Pitcher         IP     Starts     ERA
Cory Lidle      55       10      5.07
Brett Myers     45.1      8      5.16 
Cole Hamels     32.2      6      6.34
Ryan Madson     31        6      6.97
Gavin Floyd     18.2      4     11.09
Jon Lieber      11        2      7.36
Scott Mathieson 8.2       2      9.35
Eude Brito      8.2      2     10.39
TOTAL          211       40      6.61

How bad has it been? Over those 40 games, Philadelphia starters haven’t thrown a single complete game. Only once has anybody pitched eight innings (Myers on May 30 against the Nationals), and excluding that start, only three other times has anybody gone seven innings or more (Myers again, Ryan Madson and Hamels ). Furthermore, 11 times a starter has failed to pitch deep enough in the game to qualify for a win, and in five instances never even reached the fourth inning. The starting staff has managed to average a scant 5.3 innings per start.

Probably the most consistent among them has been Lidle, who has pitched at least five innings in every start but one (May 10 against the New York Mets) and pitched at least six innings on seven occasions.

Suffice it to say this has put a great deal of stress on the relief corps who, to their credit, have hung tough.

Pitcher         IP     Appr.     ERA
Ryan Franklin   23.1    18      4.63
Geoff Geary     22      23      3.68 
Aaron Fultz     20.2    19      3.05
Clay Condrey    20.1    13      3.54
Tom Gordon      14      14      3.21
Rheal Cormier   13.1    17      2.03
Arthur Rhodes   12.2    15      7.11
Scott Mathieson 10.2     2      4.22
Ryan Madson     9.1      4      1.93
Brian Sanches   7.2      6      5.87
Rick White      2        1      0.00
TOTAL            156    132     3.81

Some random notes on the bullpen: Arthur Rhodes‘s bloated ERA is largely due to his four run/0 out performance against the Yankees on June 20; Franklin had three outings in which he gave up three runs (May 23 Mets: 1 IP/3 ER; May 27 Brewers: 1 IP/3 ER; June 23 Red Sox: 1.2 IP/3 ER). Geoff Geary had 12.2 consecutive innings over 12 appearances where he did not give up an earned run. Madson was sent to the rotation after a 7 IP/1 ER relief appearance against the Mets on May 23. Closer Tom Gordon has given up runs in four of his 14 games, and pitched more than one inning three times. One third of the earned runs given up by the bullpen were by Rhodes and Franklin—the other relievers posted an ERA of 3.05 over the 40 games.

As of right now, the biggest problem with the Phillies’ rotation is that they don’t have one. They’re to starting pitching what David Samson is to the slam dunk: Myers will hopefully be doing the jailhouse cha-cha with some guy named Mongo, Hamels isn’t quite ready yet, Lieber’s groin will likely limit his effectiveness when he returns, and Lidle, is well … Lidle.

It’s not time yet to punt on the season, but it’s getting close. Either some of the Phillies pitchers ratchet it up a notch, or general manager Pat Gillick does something drastic quickly, or the season is lost. They’re 12 back in the NL East, and while they’re just about half that in the wild card standings, there are seven teams to leap over, and the unbalanced scheduled guarantees they won’t get a lot of chances to knock off the competition.

Assuming they’re done for 2006, what should they do?

Well, if you’re going to have a bad year where you’re forced to be sellers, then this is the year. In the AL East, the Red Sox/Yankees/Jays are all in it. The Twins are trying to make it a three team race in the Central, and nobody’s running away with the AL West, with the Rangers and Mariners both within two games of the A’s. In the senior circuit, there are four teams in the Central with playoff aspirations, and there are three teams in the NL West within 1.5 games of the Padres.

If you’ve got something to sell then there will be plenty of buyers.

Right now I see two guys that I would consider completely untouchable: Ryan Howard and Hamels.

Obviously folks are going to want pitching, and gosh darn it, if the Phillies had pitching they wouldn’t be looking to deal it. However, some teams might find Lidle’s consistency attractive, and if somebody called to inquire about Rhodes or Gordon, it would be foolish not to listen—but what the Phils have got to deal is outfielders. They’ve got Pat Burrell and (.252/.376/.534, 19 home runs) and David Dellucci (.302/.351/.570, 4 home runs in 86 at-bats) as left fielders. Shane Victorino’s emergence (.308/.371/.485) makes ball hawk Aaron Rowand (.273/.319/.446) available, and to not be interested in Bobby Abreu (.287/.449/.474, 8 home runs), you’d have to be on whatever Bud Selig takes to explain baseball’s losses.

The following contending teams could use outfield upgrades:

The Minnesota Twins’ outfield corners are being manned by Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford, Jason Kubel and Rondell White.

The New York Yankees have both Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield on the DL, and Johnny Damon has had some health issues.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ outfield corners feature the exploits of Juan Encarncion, This Idiot Makes Outs Perez, John Rodriguez and So Taguchi.

The Oakland A’s could add to the Bobby Kielty, Jay Payton, and Mark Kotsay mix.

The Houston Astros could upgrade any of the three outfield spots (Jason Lane, Orlando Palmeiro, Willy Taveras and Preston Wilson).

Detroit could use some outfield insurance, and the White Sox could sure use Rowand back in center, as could the Mariners, to help plug the offensive black hole (defined as a phenomena where a player‘s hitting sucks so much that offense cannot possible escape) in their center field spot (Jeremy Reed and Willie Bloomquist). Both the Mets (short term) and Padres could use a big bat in left.

In short, the Phillies have some cards to play.

2006 might be done, but if Pat Gillick is savvy and patient, he could make a killing in the trade market this year, and position them for a nice run over the next few seasons.

Stay tuned.

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