Cody Asche is a similar favorite to be the team’s Opening Day third baseman in 2014.
“The leader, for me,” Sandberg said before tonight’s series finale against the Marlins at Marlins Park. “He’s the leading candidate right now. He’s proven he can play third base, if in fact that’s the spot that’s there. He’s proven defensively he can play third base. And I think his bat has played. He’s shown a good steady bat. I think down the stretch it’s turned into a little bit of a long season for him possibly. I understand that. But the work ethic and the quality swing for a young guy like that is pretty good.”
Asche is hitting .248 with eight doubles, one triple, five home runs, 22 RBIs and a .735 OPS in 166 plate appearances. He started his career 1-for-17 and currently is in a 1-for-18 slump, which Sandberg attributes to a long season for Asche, who has played 149 games after not playing more than 130 in a season in the past.
In between, he has impressed the front office, coaching staff and teammates.
“I’ve been impressed,” Sandberg said. “I think he’s really settled into the Major League atmosphere and this level. I think he’s over that part of it. He doesn’t seem to be in any awe of the Major League atmosphere. And that’s another thing that’s good about this team he’s spent here. And really with a lot of the guys. That’s a big thing, getting a taste of this.”
So will Sandberg tell Asche he is the favorite for the job when they have their season’s end exit interview?
“I’d say come in and be ready to win a job,” Sandberg said. “You’ve shown you can play here. You’ve shown you can play at this level. Come in and be ready to take the job. I might say that to 25 or 35 guys in the locker room. They might all get the same message. He’ll be one of the guys to hear that.”
This season, yes.
Ever, quite possibly.
He faced just three batters in the shortest start of his career in tonight’s 4-0 loss to the Marlins at Marlins Park, sweating profusely, struggling to find the strike zone and never throwing harder than 83 mph in the process. He barely resembled the former Cy Young winner that once threw a perfect game and postseason no-hitter for the Phillies.
Halladay said he is suffering from “arm fatigue” following right shoulder surgery in May, but he also revealed he has been battling a recently diagnosed illness related to his diet, which runs in his family.
He said it is under control.
“I thought there was something serious going on,” he said.
He memorably called the Phillies the team to beat in the National League East in 2007. He even maintained they were the best team in the division last season, despite an 81-81 finish, 17 games behind the first-place Nationals and 14 games behind the second-place Braves.
“With us being healthy, you know, they’re a second-place team,” Rollins said about the Nationals. “But we weren’t.”
But asked following yesterday’s 4-3 loss to the Mets if he still felt the Phillies were the best team in the NL East when healthy, Rollins said, “There’s a lot of talented teams in the division. The team that we had in the past definitely was. The team going forward, we’ll figure that out. There are a bunch of new pieces. We haven’t had that around here for a long time. I’m excited about them. They’re good, young players. Big eyed. A lot of hopes and wishes, it’s our part to make sure they come true. It’s fun seeing the energy and excitement every single day. The world is still theirs and it’s at hand. They can change it. I was that guy. Now it’s up to me, Chase (Utley) and Ryan (Howard) to make sure they do change it.”
The Phillies already have lost 84 games with seven games remaining. Anything can happen next year, but as the Phillies get further and further removed from their 102-win season in 2011, it gets harder and harder to picture them winning 90 games and competing for a championship.
Especially because at this moment you pretty much know how this team is going to look next season. The everyday lineup is almost set, although the Phillies have to resign Carlos Ruiz or find somebody to replace him. They also have to decide if Darin Ruf is going to be the other right-handed bat in the lineup. The rotation has plenty of ‘ifs’ behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. The bullpen has shown some promise lately, but the Phillies were feeling the same way about their bullpen at the end of last season.
The Phillies entered this season with countless ifs. If the majority of those ifs turned out OK, they could have competed for a postseason berth. But very few did. So is there any reason to think those countless ifs will be any easier to achieve next season?
The Phillies will announce at an 11:30 a.m. news conference today at Citizens Bank Park they have removed the “interim” label from Sandberg’s job title to make him Phillies manager. Sandberg becomes the 52nd manager in franchise history.
Sandberg replaced Charlie Manuel on an interim basis Aug. 16, but Sandberg has impressed the organization in that time. The Phillies are 18-16 under Sandberg, no small feat for a team that is 25th in baseball averaging 3.84 runs per game, 26th in baseball with a 4.30 ERA and 27th in run differential at minus-121.
It is not a surprise Sandberg got the job. Everybody in the world seemed to know it would happen. The only mystery remained when the Phillies would make the announcement.
They decided today would be the day.
Sandberg, who spent six seasons managing in the Minor Leagues to get a big-league opportunity, has received high marks from players in the clubhouse.
“Ryno is positive,” Phillies second baseman Chase Utley said Wednesday. “He’s always talking during the game. He’s definitely into the game, and guys respect him for that. He’s given a lot of guys an opportunity to play, which is nice. So far he’s done a great job.”
“There’s definitely a way he wants to do things,” Roy Halladay said earlier this month. “He’s set a tone early, and my guess would be that’s going to continue. He may even have more changes come Spring Training that he wants to see and that he wants to do. I think sometimes that can be a good thing, just to shake things up and make things different to where it’s not the same everyday routine. But he definitely has a way he wants to do things. It’s good that he’s not afraid to do it the way he wants to do it. If you’re going to do something, whatever job you do, you do it to the best of your ability and the way you want to do it and let everything take care of itself. I think he’s done that.”
First, he explained why Ryne Sandberg will be a good manager.
Second, he talked about possibly taking a job on Sandberg’s coaching staff.
But then he talked about Jimmy Rollins, whose .666 OPS is the lowest of his 14-year career. Bowa is a big Rollins fan. The two have a good relationship. One of my favorite Rollins-Bowa stories happened in the clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park in 2004. Bowa was walking through the clubhouse past Rollins’ locker, when Rollins’ blurted, “Hey, Bo, you’ve got to pimp that walk. Drag that back leg.” Bowa didn’t miss a beat and responded, “I’d like to see you drag that back leg across home plate every once in a while.” Both men laughed.
“Jimmy still has a lot of baseball left in him,” Bowa said Wednesday. “You have to keep the volume up. Sometimes he likes to lower the volume. The volume is definitely turned back up (recently). I can see a big difference.”
Rollins is hitting .385 (15-for-39) with two doubles, one home run, two RBIs, seven walks, three stolen bases and a .991 OPS in his last 11 games. It’s a small sample size, but it’s something.
“I don’t even know if they talk,” Bowa said about Rollins and Sandberg, “but I see a difference in the way Jimmy has played lately. Ryno hasn’t said a word whether he’s talked to him, but I just watching Jimmy and see a difference in Jimmy. … “(Rollins is) lucky. You don’t play on winning teams every year. To me, the mark of a good player is – what, they are 18 games out? – you still have to post up. It’s hard to play like that, but you still have to do it. It’s easy to play when everything is going good. He’s been very lucky. Even when I was here, we were .500 or above. It’s fun to play like that. When you’re 18 games out, you have to kick it in, and it’s hard sometimes.”
Last night could have been Roy Halladay‘s final home start for the Phillies.
He allowed four hits and one run in six innings against the Marlins, although you should not look deeply into the results. The Marlins have a .627 OPS, which is the lowest mark in baseball since the Blue Jays had a .617 OPS in 1981. It also ranks 34th lowest out of 2,042 teams since 1920. And the Marlins have averaged 3.21 runs per game, which is the third-lowest mark in baseball since 1980 and 29th lowest in baseball since 1920.
If you watched the game last night you watched one of the worst offenses in baseball history.
But the big question is this: Should this be Halladay’s final home start or should the Phillies bring him back next season?
The trick is finding the magic number, if they think there is any chance he can get out big-league hitters consistently. It would be asinine to sign him to a one-year, $10 million contract, considering his struggles, health issues and age. But what about a one-year, $2.5 million contract with incentives? What about a one-year, $4 million deal? There is a number where the Phillies can bring back Halladay and feel the risks are worth the salary.
And there are plenty of risks. Halladay has hit 10 batters in 61 2/3 innings this season after hitting 71 in 2,687 1/3 innings from 1998-2012. He also issued three walks to increase his season total to 34. He is averaging 4.96 walks per nine innings after averaging 1.86 walks per nine innings from 1998-2012. Halladay has made 12 starts this season. Of the 178 pitchers that have made 10 or more starts, his 6.71 ERA is 174th. Of the 143 pitchers that have made 30 or more starts the past two seasons, Halladay’s 5.12 ERA is 137th.
His command isn’t there.
His velocity isn’t there. His fastball topped at 87 mph in the first inning.
We keep hearing about arm slot and how it will take time to relearn. We keep hearing how it’s remarkable Halladay is back from right shoulder surgery in three months, and how he will benefit from the offseason. But this is a production business, so the Phillies must move past the warm feelings they have for Halladay and make some cold decisions.
If the Phillies decide Halladay isn’t worth the risk, how do they fill his spot in the rotation? We know it will include Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Miguel Gonzalez, but the final two spots are up in the air. Kyle Kendrick could be back, although he has struggled the last two-plus months and has a right shoulder issue. Do the Phillies think highly enough of Jonathan Pettibone to just hand him a spot? There are free agent pitchers out there. Starters like A.J. Burnett (36), Tim Lincecum (29), Bronson Arroyo (36), Matt Garza (29), Phil Hughes (27), Scott Kazmir (29), Paul Maholm (31) and Ricky Nolasco (30).
I only take a shot at Doc on a very low-risk contract filled with incentives because if he pitches poorly you can release him and move on. But bringing back Halladay at any price only adds one more question mark to this team’s roster in 2014: if Ryan Howard can come back from knee surgery … if Jimmy Rollins can come back from the worst season of his career … if Chase Utley can continue to produce and stay healthy … if Domonic Brown can replicate his All-Star season … if Mike Adams can come back from shoulder surgery … if Cody Asche can succeed in his first full season … if Gonzalez can pitch … if the youngsters in the bullpen can carry their success into next season … etc. Maybe the better risk is spending more money on a pitcher with a better track record over the past two years. It would be one less question for the Phillies entering Spring Training.
So what’s your magic number for Doc? Or is that number zero?
If you look at the projected Opening Day lineup you see many of the names you see today: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and Cody Asche. That’s five left-handed hitters. You also have Jimmy Rollins, who is stronger from the left side of the plate. That has had a few people wondering if the Phillies could take a run at Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu.
But one source said yesterday it doesn’t seem to be a fit because Abreu is a hulking first baseman and is not a candidate to play the outfield.
In other words, Ryan Howard is in his way. He has three years and $85 million remaining on his contract.
But so is Darin Ruf and Maikel Franco. Ruf has pop and can play first base. Franco is the organization’s top hitting prospect. He came up as a third baseman, but the Phillies are trying him at first base to give them more options. If Franco becomes what the Phillies project him to be they already have a right-handed first baseman with pop. And at a whole lot less money.
Of course, nothing has been finalized and anything could happen in the coming weeks, but Sandberg reiterated this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park he has no expectations regarding a decision from the front office.
“There hasn’t been any indication or any word or anything,” Sandberg said before their series opener against the Marlins. “No, I’m just focused on what I’m doing here and the games to be played, getting the players in there as much as I can, making up a lineup to win a baseball game. I want to win as many games as we can, finish strong, finish on a positive note, a good note, all those things.”
The Phillies are 16-13 since Sandberg replaced Charlie Manuel on Aug. 16. Reviews from players inside the clubhouse and around the organization have been positive.
If Sandberg lands the job, he might have decisions to make regarding the coaching staff. Asked if he is evaluating the coaching staff in the event he might get the job, he said, “No, I’m not doing that at all. I’m just taking it a game at a time and focused on the game and the season at hand here. That’s not part of what I’m doing right now.”
Imagine what it could have been if he had not been sidelined the past few weeks with a right Achilles issue?
Brown has had just 12 plate appearances since Aug. 23, but he still entered tonight’s series finale against the Padres at Citizens Bank Park hitting .274 with 18 doubles, four triples, 27 home runs and 88 RBIs. Incredibly, despite the missed time, Brown still ranks fourth in the National League in home runs and eighth in RBIs.
He said he hopes to play before the end of the season, although he offered no timetable for his return.
Brown took batting practice Thursday afternoon, which he said would be a good test for him.
“I’m just trying to finish the season being healthy,” he said. “If I’m feeling it, if it’s bothering me, then I’m not going to play around with it. But I feel good right now. I feel like I’m close to 100 percent.”
They open the season on the road against the Rangers. They finish the season at home against the Braves.