|Brad Lidge has been dazzling this year. (Icon/SMI)|
Heading into August, the Phillies sport a 1.5-game lead on the Marlins and a two-game lead on the Mets. It’s a bit of an unfamiliar feeling for them considering that the only time they had at least a share of the division lead last season was between September 27-31. Their success can be attributed to three factors.
One everyone is familiar with is the offense. Even though it went through a dry spell recently, the Phillies are second in the NL with an average 5.01 runs per game and trail only the Chicago Cubs in that category. Pat Burrell has been great all season and Chase Utley, save for a bit of a slump in July, has been MVP-caliber. Ryan Howard, despite a very slow start to the season, is second in the majors in home runs (31) and leads the NL in RBI (96).
The second factor comes as a bit of a surprise, especially when you think back to the offseason when no one was confident in Brad Lidge (inexplicably).
Yes, the Phillies’ bullpen until very recently led the National League in ERA, which now sits at 3.05. The Dodgers have overtaken them with a 3.03 ERA, and the two are all by themselves, as third-on-the-list Cincinnati has a 3.54 bullpen ERA.
Aside from Tom Gordon, who is now injured, everyone in the Phillies’ bullpen has a great ERA+. Brad Lidge, Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Clay Condrey, and Rudy Seanez (now also injured) have posted an ERA+ of 212, 270, 197, 127, 123, and 124 respectively. Lidge is a perfect 27-for-27 in save opportunities, and he and teammate Durbin are third and fourth among all NL relievers with a 2.11 and 1.65 ERA respectively.
General manager Pat Gillick searched for a left-handed relief pitcher that he could use in the late innings as a set-up man or as a LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy), but was unsuccessful as the price tags on Brian Fuentes, Damaso Marte and others were high. The Phillies should be fine though.
One alarming note is that the Phillies have used Durbin for 60 innings and Madson for 56 and a third. Going back to 2005, manager Charlie Manuel used the trio of Billy Wagner, Ryan Madson, and Aaron Fultz much more than the rest of the bullpen and as a result, they were cooked by the end of August. We all remember the September home run that Wagner gave up in 2005 to Craig Biggio. Madson posted an 8.56 ERA in September.
The third factor in the Phillies’ success is their pinch-hitting. Overall, Phillies pinch-hitters have a slash line of .280/.341/.464, which is best by far in the National League. The bulk of that is coming from Greg Dobbs, whose pinch-hitting slash line looks like .417/.442/.625. He leads in RBIs (14) and hits (20), and is in a three-way tie for the lead in home runs (2).
Most teams would love to have such a left-handed bat off the bench on their roster. The Phillies got Dobbs cheaply off waivers from the Mariners in January ’07. The Dobbs acquisition ranks highly on the list of great moves on the general manager’s part.
Looking ahead, the Phillies have a few important dates on the schedule to pay attention to: a seven-game West Coast road trip between August 11-17 when they face the Dodgers and Padres; five more games against the Mets Aug. 26-27 at home and September 5-7 in New York; four games in Chicago against the Cubs Aug. 28-31; and six games against the Braves and Nationals each in September. The Phillies are 10-2 against the Braves and 6-3 against the Nationals this season.
For the Phillies to have success the rest of the way, they need to tread water in a tough August (conversely, the Mets have an easy August) and get the starting rotation figured out. Brett Myers, as everybody knows, is a huge question mark, and the Phillies can’t waste too many starts on him trying to figure things out. He was very impressive in his last start against the Nationals, but then again, it’s the Nationals. If Myers can’t figure it out, the Phillies need to quickly get J.A. Happ in there.
Jimmy Rollins is going to need to figure things out as well. Traditionally a second-half player, Rollins is hovering around his career averages this season with a .334 OBP and .437 SLG, but he’s nothing like the player he was last season.
While unlikely to happen, the Phillies need to get Carlos Ruiz off of the major league roster and call up either Jason Jaramillo or Lou Marson. Ruiz has a slash line of .214/.307/.277 and is just a black hole offensively. Jaramillo isn’t that much of an offensive improvement with a line of .266/.332/.381 in Triple-A this season, but it would be an improvement. It might be better not to call up Marson, but his line in Double-A is .319/.434/.423. Both are above-average defensively.
Looking to the offseason (which hopefully follows a Phillies World Series championship and a parade down Broad Street), general manager Pat Gillick is stepping down. The likely replacement is assistant general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., as he has been Gillick’s mouthpiece on most occasions. If Amaro is not the replacement, then another assistant general manager, Mike Arbuckle, could take the job.
Elsewhere, Pat Burrell will be a free agent, and given the Phillies’ lack of outfielding prospects, it’s highly likely they will try to re-sign him. Burrell has stated multiple times that he loves the city of Philadelphia even though he was a punching bag for the fans until very recently.
Jamie Moyer will also be a free agent and could retire. However, he’s been extremely productive at age 45 with an ERA+ of 118 and a WHIP of 1.33. In his tenure with the Phillies, he’s never spent a day on the DL nor has he missed a start. If Moyer decides not to retire, it would behoove the Phillies to get him to pitch in red pinstripes in 2009. Moyer has not only been great on the field, he’s been a mentor to a lot of young players on the Phillies’ roster, especially Cole Hamels. And if Moyer hangs up the spikes, the Phillies should do everything in their power to convince him to become a pitching coach. Rich Dubee hasn’t been that good anyway.
Other Phillies free agents include Chad Durbin and Tom Gordon. It’s obvious which of the two is needed.
Due to the fact the Phillies’ minor league system is so weak, they need to be in “win now” mode, so signing a big name free agent or two, and/or pulling off a couple of trades for impact players is almost a requirement.