Pondering The Phillies

Written by Colin on May 1, 2008 – 12:13 pm

Erik of PhilliesFlow.com was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions about the Phillies yesterday. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s a great blog full of stats and good insight on the Phillies. Great way to keep track of what’s going on up in the City of Brotherly Hate. I also answered some great questions he had about the Braves, so check out his blog for that Q&A session.

BravesBlast: With Jimmy Rollins on the DL until at least next Monday, how are the Phillies picking up the slack?

Erik: Eric Bruntlett gets the call at short now and forever until the Phils get Rollins back. After a miserable start he’s been good defensively, but the Phillies have no chance to replace Rollins’ offense at the position. One of the things that has Phillies’ fans excited early is that the team is playing well without Rollins. Basically they’ve been managing to win games paced by unbelievable hittting from Utley, who hit seven home runs in seven days, and Burrell, who set a team record by driving in 24 runs in April. The bullpen has also been other-worldly, far better than just about anyone had expected.

BravesBlast: The Phillies’ bullpen has been very successful this year – introduce us to the key pieces and tell us what your thoughts are.

Erik: Brad Lidge is the biggest story for the Phils, not allowing a run in his first 11 appearances for the Phils as he knocked down six saves. Coming into Wednesday night’s game, Lidge, JC Romero and Rudy Seanez had combined to allow one earned run in 31 1/3 innings. Seanez doesn’t see as many of the pressure situations that Lidge and Romero do, but the trio has been impressive.

Tom Gordon is another guy that Manuel feels comfortable going to with the game on the line. He got bombed for five runs in a third of an inning on opening day but has been lights out since. In his ten appearances after his first time out, Gordon threw to a 1.80 ERA with a 1.00 ratio and struck out 12 in ten innings.

Chad Durbin generally gets the call in long relief and he’s been very good as well, throwing to a 1.56 ERA coming into Wednesday night’s game. He leads the pen in innings pitched with 17.

Seanez, Ryan Madson and Clay Condrey make up the rest of the pen and most often fill out when the game is out of reach one way or another. I’m a little surprised we aren’t seeing more of Seanez given how effective he’s been early, but we’ll see if his role evolves. Madson has struggled early, but will likely find himself in a bigger role as the season progresses. Condrey will give the Phils innings until the next time they DFA him, but it probably won’t be pretty.

A big issue for the Phils pen is the lack of lefties. Romero is their only southpaw and it puts a lot of pressure on Manuel to keep the Phils’ left-handed starters (Hamels and Moyer) in the game, especially if the Phils’ opponent has big lefty sticks in their lineup. We saw that in a game last week when Hamels stayed in to throw 121 pitches against the Brewers and lefty Prince Fielder lit him up for his second home run in the eighth. The Phils will put another lefty in their pen before too long and it may be Steve Kline.

BravesBlast: Where are the spots in the lineup opposing pitchers can hope to get a break from the offense? And how good is your offense when you’re not hitting BP in the launching pad that is your home field?

Pretty much everyone except Utley, Burrell and Jayson Werth haven’t done much with the bat this month. Utley and Burrell have just been ridiculous. The lineup is weak at the bottom where you’ll often find Feliz, Ruiz and Bruntlett all in a row. Those three are all righties, too, so the bottom of the order is especially vulnerable to a good righty reliever. The Phils also pretty much can’t hit for Bruntlett cause if they do they have to move Feliz to short, and that’s not what you’re looking for.

In 2007 the Phillies scored more runs in their games away from home than any other team in the NL (if memory serves, the Mets and the Braves were both in the NL last year (could be mistaken, we could probably get someone to look that up if need be)). Primarily due to the extended loss of Rollins and the miserable start by Howard, the Phils’ offense is down across the board in 2008. It may be down all season, the Phils scored nearly 900 runs last year, but by the end I expect they will be among the league leaders in runs scored both overall and on the road if not at the top. Citizens Bank Park is a great place for hitters, but the Phillies’ hitters would be really good without it.

BravesBlast: Let’s Mets bash. Can they keep it up? How tight is the race going to be in the final months of the season, and who’s in on the chase?

Erik: Fraid so. On paper they’re the best team in the division. On the other hand, they were last year as well and that didn’t end up helping them much. The Mets certainly seem like they could implode at any time in some spectacular fashion, but even if they do I can’t see them not being in the picture down the stretch. I think the Phillies and Braves are going to be in striking distance when September rolls around, so it may come down to who plays the best at the end of the season.

The Fish have been fantastic in the early going, but even with all their impressive young talent they may be a couple of years away from being a legitimate contender for the division.

BravesBlast: One of my good friends (sadly a Phillies fan) told me the starting rotation scares him. Tell us who pitches behind Hamels and Myers, and whether or not they’re decent and who we can tee off against.

Brett Myers got the start for the Phils on opening day, but Cole Hamels is without a doubt the Phillies’ ace. The Phils are counting on Myers and Hamels to carry the load when it comes to the rotation, cause they’ve got a lot of question marks behind them.

Sadly for the Phils, only one of the duo is getting it done so far. Myers has struggled to find his velocity, often working in the mid to upper 80’s, and been banged around a bit. After six starts his ERA is over five and he’s allowed ten home runs over his last 32 innings.

Myers and Hamels are the guys the Phils are really counting on, cause there are some big potential problems looming behind. Jamie Moyer is amazing. He’s 45 years old and a treat to watch when he’s on. He has come up with huge performances in big games for the Phils, but he also gets bombed every so often. Even when he doesn’t he can’t go real deep into games, so it puts a burden on the pen.

Adam Eaton pitches behind Moyer, looking to rebound from a season where he threw to a 6.29 ERA in 30 starts for the Phils. He started off the season strong, throwing to a 4.12 ERA over his first three starts. He’s struggled more his last two times out — in both games he seemed to be cruising but then got lit up quickly in a big inning that chased him out of the game.

Kyle Kendrick rounds out the rotation. The 23-year-old is coming off of a fantastic surprise of a rookie season in which he went 10-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 20 starts. Kendrick is a guy that just about everyone expects is going to slump this year. His numbers overall with the Phils last season were better than his minor league numbers, he doesn’t strike anyone out and lefties kill him. He’s been hit pretty hard this year and sports a 5.13 ERA after his first five times out.

Overall I’d say there’s good reasons for concern when it comes to the Phillies rotation. At least one of the guys behind Hamels and Myers won’t make it through the season, but Myers is the real problem for the Phils if he doesn’t start to pitch better. The Phillies are counting on Myers to stabalize things, and if he can’t get his problems figured out the Phils don’t have anyone in the organization with the talent to replace him. It will be interesting to see where the Phillies go when they have to make a move at the back end of their rotation. Giving Chad Durbin some starts may be the first choice. Kris Benson is rehabbing, I don’t think there are many people who think there’s any chance he can help the team before June, if that soon. The Phils do have some touted (at least by the Phils) arms in the minor leagues — if they have to go there my guess is that Josh Outman might get the first call.

Thanks once again to Erik from PhilliesFlow for his insight and willingness to share his opinions. I answered some questions from him about the Braves – don’t lose the opportunity to go check out his blog.

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