Now, this lack of drama is no fun at all in September, and it's nigh-unacceptable in the playoffs. So rather than just let things play out like they will, which is to say "predictably," we're going to try to throw a wrench into the hopes and dreams of fans of each of the aforementioned playoff probables. Because none of them are the Braves. AND SO: onward with the hating. Up next: the WFC.
Biggest Strength: the middle of the order. Chase Utley deserves to be at least mentioned in the MVP talk this year, even though Albert Pujols is the runaway winner. He's played an excellent second base while mashing to the tune of a .296/.414/.542 line that's good for a .420 wOBA and making him already worth eight wins. Jayson Werth has had a breakout year, slugging .519 and parking 33 HR - 2nd best on the team. The leader in dongers, of course, is Ryan Howard, with 38. His power production is actually down a little bit, but he's become a more balanced hitter, hitting .272/.350/.556 as compared to last year's .251/.339/.543. Raul Ibanez, as everyone probably knows, hit something like 54 homers in the first half of the season and has come down a bit since, but he's still been good for a .382 wOBA, one point behind Howard. And Shane Victorino, the Flyin' Hawaiian, has added a potent bat (.300/.367/.460) to complement his excellent speed. Those five have powered the Phillies to where they are right now.
But Wait A Minute!
Didn't we forget someone, you might ask? Well, no, we would tell you, because we're never wrong. We would assume you're referring to former MVP Jimmy Rollins, and, well, he just hasn't been right all year. He's going steal 30 bases, but he's actually cost the Phillies a run this year with his poor hitting, proving that while speed may never slump, it may suck. Or something.
Rollins' tough year isn't the only thing that's going to submarine the Phils, though. Far from it! For one thing, they don't have the lineup depth that, say, the Yankees do - after Utley, Werth, Howard, Ibanez, and Victorino, there aren't what you would call a lot of "quality" hitters on the roster. Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz have hovered around an .800 OPS, but Francisco's only been around for 61 PAs, and Ruiz's contribution really only looks good because it comes from a thorougly mediocre group of guys - to wit, Eric Bruntlett, Matt Stairs, Chris Coste, John Mayberry, Greg Dobbs, and Paul Bako all have at least 85 PA.
So if the Phils can't reliably outhit their opponent - admittedly a large logical leap considering the skill of their their five-man gauntlet - they're going to have to step it up in run prevention. But can they? Cliff Lee's a stud, and a recent rough patch (9+ ERA in his last couple starts, excluding last night) doesn't mean that he's in trouble, just that he had to regress from his utterly dominant first few starts as a Phillie. So they've got themselves an ace. After that, there's some quality to be had, but nothing overpowering. Pedro Martinez has looked good since he joined the club* (5.67 K:BB, 3.65 FIP), but a high strand rate (86%) and a high age (38) hint at some regression. Cole Hamels was great in last year's playoffs, but he's coming off of a career high in innnings (227), and has gone through some rough patches this year that have some wondering whether he's been focused enough on the season at hand. Of course, that's the worst criticism we can find for the guy, since he's actually having essentially the same season as last year. This surprised us, but it's true; check out the table.
His hit rate has gone up significantly, but that's partly due to a .343 BABIP. That accounts for the increase in WHIP despite improved control, and his FIP of 3.77 is only five points higher than last year's. So in reality, he's not as bad as he seems superficially, and he's not as good as he was in the playoffs. Good enough guy to have as a number two starter, we suppose. And the last spot will go to Joe Blanton, who's basically a league-average kind of guy. He's learned how to strike guys out this year, posting a career high 7.38 K/9 that easily bests his career total of 5.57. The increase in strikeouts has come along with a large increase in the homers he gives up, though; his HR/9 of 1.51 is a tidy .5 greater than last year. We'd say more, but, well, the talk of pitchers who give up lots of home runs reminds us of another Phillie that we're just chomping at the bit to write about.
*Did you know that in 1999, Pedro Martinez's banner year and arguably the greatest pitching season of all time, he had a .343 BABIP? Jesus. Let's revisit his line from that year.
And he did that with batters getting absurdly LUCKY. That sort of boggles the mind, no?
We hope you guessed that we're talking about the one, the only, Brad Lidge. Which gives us a great excuse to use this picture again!
Teeeheeheeheeehee. Sorry. In any event, after Lidge blew his like 38th save this year, Charlie Manuel finally stopped running him out there and depriving us of much glorious schadenfreude. Seriously, the guy's been historically awful; his -2.5 WXRL is the lowest of any pitcher EVER who got as many save opportunities as Lidge has this year. Which is absurd considering that he's pitching for a division champion. Fortunately for the Phils, Ryan Madson is there to...well, blow more saves. Yay! When you consider that Chan Ho Park leads this unit in WXRL at 1.996, you have to figure there's some reason for concern here. If the pen keeps handing back leads, the offense and starters are going to have to compensate, and they're going to have little room for error. When one or two of the big bats goes cold, when Joe Blanton starts serving up gopher balls and Pedro Martinez reverts to Mets form, when Eric Bruntlett fails to convert an unassisted triple play...the Phillies will blow it.