Results tagged ‘ Phillies ’

The Old Big Piece in 2013?

Ryan Howard stood in front of his locker at Citi Field late last night and tried to explain why his swing became so compact and so quick in the ninth inning after it looked so long and so slow in his first three at-bats.

“I blacked out, I guess,” he said. “Maybe I need to black out more often.”

Howard crushed a 0-1 fastball from Mets left-hander Josh Edgin into the upper deck in right field for a two-out, two-run home run to propel the Phillies to a 3-2 victory. It kept the Phillies’ faint postseason hopes alive. They remain four games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card with 13 games to play, meaning even if they finish the season 10-3 the Cardinals would need to finish no better than 6-7 to tie.

But, hey, at least they still have a chance.

They can thank Howard for that.

Howard has had an interesting year. He opened the season on the disabled list following left Achilles surgery. He has played nearly every day since his return, but is hitting just .225 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .718 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Howard’s batting average, .303 on-base percentage, .416 slugging percentage and OPS would be career lows — by far — if projected over the course of a 162-game season, but his RBIs project to 123 because he is hitting .344 (21-for-61) with runners in scoring position.

Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel both believe Howard’s left leg has been a factor in his struggles this season. They also believe a full season of strength training and conditioning will get him back in shape.

They have to hope that’s all it takes, anyway.

Howard begins the second year of a five-year, $125 million contract extension next year. His numbers generally have been in decline since 2006, so unless he reverses that trend next season the Phillies are going to be in a bad spot in the future. Sure, the Phillies will try to add a bat or two in the offseason, but if it ends up being one of the guys most people mention (i.e. Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton) I’m not sure they’re going to be saviors. (I hear a lot about Upton’s tools and potential, but can somebody show me the production?) That means they need guys like Howard to continue to carry the weight.

Is it realistic to ask that of him? Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have no choice.

Charlie Wants A Big Arm; Bastardo’s Future

The Phillies continue their 2013 bullpen auditions, and with just 14 games to play every inning counts.

Obviously, Jonathan Papelbon will be in the bullpen next year, but who else is behind him?

“I think we have some real good pieces there,” Charlie Manuel said before Wednesday’s game against the Mets at Citi Field. “But I think we need at least one good piece. And when I talk about pieces, I mean someone that’s very, very good. First-class good. That’s what it takes to be a first-class team.”

Manuel wants at least one stud to come from outside the organization, which certainly must be on the Phillies’ to-do list anyway. But inside the organization, right-hander Josh Lindblom, who the Phillies acquired from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino trade, would seem to have an inside track on a job. Left-hander Antonio Bastardo would seem like an obvious choice, too, but he is 2-5 with a 4.63 ERA in 58 appearances this season and 2-6 with a 5.79 ERA in 66 appearances dating to last season.

Is it possible left-handers Jake Diekman and Jeremy Horst and maybe a left-hander somewhere on the free agent market could bump him out? The Phillies absolutely love Diekman’s arm, although his Achilles heel is throwing strikes. Horst has done the job. He is 1-0 with a 1.14 ERA in 24 appearances.

After all, this business is about results and for more than a year Bastardo has not had them.

“Oh, no,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “I think he’s part of our club. Obviously he’s going to have to continue to prove himself, but I believe he’s going to be part of our club. None of these things are slam dunks for any of the guys, other than maybe Pap. I think (Bastardo) has more experience. I think he’s a much better pitcher than he’s shown. He’s not as great a pitcher as he was probably for the bulk of the season last season, but … you’ve got to kind of get him back on track and moving forward.”

Lee On A Roll

From Elias: Cliff Lee has pitched at least six innings and not issued more than one walk in each of his last 14 starts, including Monday, when he walked one batter in eight innings against the Mets. That ties Lee for the longest single-season streak of that kind in modern (since 1900) major-league history. Christy Mathewson (1908) and Greg Maddux (1997) also made 14 straight starts in which they went six or more innings and didn’t walk more than one batter.

Utley at Third? Could Happen Soon

It sounds like Chase Utley will play third base before the end of the season if two things happen:

  1. Utley feels comfortable enough to play there.
  2. The Phillies fall from contention in the National League Wild Card race. That could happen quickly. The Phillies entered Monday’s series opener against the Mets at Citi Field four games out of the second National League Wild Card with just 15 games to play.

“I think I’ve been out there three or four times,” Utley said, referring to his pregame workouts at third base. “Every time I get a little more comfortable. But I think there’s still a lot of work to be done. So far it’s going well. I feel like I’ve progressed a little bit, but there’s still more room for improvement.”

Utley is taking this potential move seriously. He spoke with Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel in Manuel’s office before batting practice. He later spoke with Mets third baseman David Wright behind the batting cage with Wright even crouching into a defensive position as he offered advice.

“I think he’s doing fine,” Amaro said of Utley.

Fine enough to play third base next season?

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Amaro said.

Asked if the Phillies can learn enough about Utley at third base if he plays just a couple games there before the end of the season, Amaro said, “Realistically, I don’t think so. But if he really dedicates himself to doing it, I think the probability of him being able to do it is much higher than it is with other people. I think more than anything else this is finding out if in fact he feels comfortable enough doing it. Having him play third base just gives us another option. And what’s wrong with giving us another option?”

Both Amaro and Manuel agree the Phillies are better defensively in 2013 with Freddy Galvis at second base and Utley at third base, despite the uncertainty of Utley’s ability to play there. Certainly if they feel Utley can play third base it would give the Phillies one less thing to worry about in the offseason, which would be a plus because Amaro said the market for third basemen via trade or free agency is “not very good.”

But here’s the big question: If Utley only plays a couple games at third base and Amaro does not think he can truly evaluate Utley’s ability to play there based on just a couple games, how do the Phillies go into the offseason knowing Utley is their 2013 third baseman?

“I don’t necessarily,” Amaro said. “It becomes riskier. Then you take a risk sometimes. Sometimes it’s OK to take a risk.”

Bad Weekend, Bad Signs

That couldn’t have gone much worse, huh?

The Phillies entered this weekend’s series against the Astros as the hottest team in baseball, but lost three of four to the worst team in baseball. They’re back under .500 and four behind the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card race with 15 games to play. I’m not going to say it’s impossible to make the postseason, but …

  • Even if the Cardinals finish just 7-8 they will be 84-78.
  • The Phillies would need to finish 11-4 just to tie. That means they would have to win two of three in four of their remaining five series, and sweep the fifth.
  • And that only works if the Cardinals stumble and the Dodgers, Brewers or Pirates (unlikely) don’t outplay them.

The Cardinals play their next nine games against the Astros and Cubs, while the Phillies have nine of their final 12 games against the Braves and Nationals. And again, don’t forget the Dodgers, Brewers and Pirates are between the Cardinals and Phillies in the standings.

Maybe a bad weekend against the Astros shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. The Phillies had been on a great run, but we saw many of the holes this team had showed the first four months of the season:

  • An inconsistent offense. The Phillies were 5-for-31 (.161) with runners in scoring position in their three losses against the Astros. Three of the top four hitters in their lineup are hitting no better than .254: Chase Utley (.254), Jimmy Rollins (.252) and Ryan Howard (.229). The Phillies have some offensive holes to fill in the offseason, but I’m sure they’ll be expecting Rollins, Utley and Howard to sit atop their lineup in 2013. That is not entirely comforting. The Phillies can talk about injuries and bounce back seasons for Utley and Howard, but it is far from a lock they will completely rebound. The numbers for those three players have been in decline the last few years anyway. Howard’s OPS has dropped every year since his MVP year in 2006, except 2009. Utley’s OPS this season (.815) is up from last year, but it’s still his second lowest since he became an everyday player in 2005. Rollins’ OPS (.740) is up four points from last season, but overall he hasn’t approached his numbers from 2004-07. Now, taking these players individually it doesn’t look that bad. Rollins ranks 7th out of 21 qualifying shortstops in baseball in OPS. Utley would rank third among qualifying second baseman. Howard has 46 RBIs in 61 games. That is 122 RBIs over a 162-game season, although his .715 OPS  would rank 16th out of 21 first basemen. But the Phillies are averaging just 4.11 runs per game since Howard rejoined the team July 6, which ranks 12th in the National League. Just because those three compare favorably with other players at their positions doesn’t mean this offense is in great shape. That’s because they don’t have a player to truly anchor the middle of the lineup, like Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, etc. Carlos Ruiz has a .949 OPS this season, but it would be dangerous to expect him to replicate those numbers next season and beyond. Plus, he has never had more than 410 at-bats in a season. If Utley had enough plate appearances to qualify, he’d have the second-best OPS on the team behind Ruiz, but it would rank just 64th out of 202 big-league players. It’s tough to score consistently when the three highest paid hitters in the lineup aren’t hitting .260.
  • A leaky bullpen. Phillies relievers had a 5.25 ERA against the Astros, allowing 12 hits, 10 runs (seven earned runs), seven walks and one hit batter in 12 innings. The Phillies struck out 13 batters in those innings, showing they have good “stuff,” but they still don’t have the consistency they need to be relied upon.
  • Starters. Roy Halladay is 4-0 in his last six starts, but also has a 4.70 ERA. That’s just not the quality one expects from Halladay. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said weeks ago it would take Halladay a long time to lose the bad habits he picked up while pitching with a strained right back muscle earlier this season. But considering the mileage on Halladay’s arm and his age, it is not unfair to wonder what kind of pitcher the Phillies will be getting next season. I would never bet against Halladay, but it also is tough to just say, “He’ll absolutely be the old Doc next year.”

Manuel: We’re In It

OK, so last week people asked if I thought the Phillies had a chance to win a National League Wild Card.

“Sure,” I said, “but it would take a miracle.”

I said that because the Cardinals had an eight-game lead over the Phillies, who only had 25 games to play. To put that into perspective, the Cardinals were on pace to finish 87-75, which meant the Phillies needed to finish 21-4 (.840) to tie, while the Cardinals needed to finish just 13-12. In other words, even if the Phillies finished a ridiculous 21-4, it would not matter if the Cardinals got on a little bit of a winning streak.

But then the past week happened.

  • Thursday: 8 games back
  • Friday: 7 1/2
  • Saturday: 6 1/2
  • Sunday: 6
  • Monday: 5
  • Tuesday: 4
  • Wednesday: 3

Now the Phillies are three behind with 19 to play. This weekend sets up nicely for the Phillies, too. I know everybody is going to say, well, they should sweep the Astros because the Astros stink. But allowing for the fact crazy things happen in baseball, let’s say they take 3 of 4. I think Phillies fans should be pulling for the Cardinals and Dodgers to split their four-game series this weekend at Dodger Stadium. And if that doesn’t happen you want the Dodgers to take 3 of 4. You definitely don’t want the Cardinals having a good weekend with their next nine games coming against the Astros and Cubs.

If the Phillies take 3 of 4 from the Astros and the Dodgers and Cardinals split, the Phillies would open Monday’s series in New York just two back with 15 to play. If the Dodgers take 3 of 4, the Phillies would be chasing the Dodgers, but still down 2 with 15 to play.

*

Jimmy Rollins got hammered late last month for not hustling on a pop up, but he has been on a tear since. Coincidence or not, he is hitting .314 (16-for-51) with two doubles, four home runs, nine RBIs and a .934 OPS since Charlie Manuel benched him in that Aug. 30 game against the Mets. His 19 homers lead the team. It looks like he will be the first Phillies shortstop to ever lead a team in home runs in a single season.

Four Back, 20 to Play

Roy Halladay recently changed his warmup music from Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick/Good Times Bad Times to Tears for Fears’ Mad World.

Mad World seems fitting because the Phillies woke up this morning four games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card with 20 games to play. Remember when the Phillies were 14 games under .500 on July 13? Remember when they traded Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton? Crazy how quickly things change. Now, that said, the Phillies still face incredibly long odds to make the postseason. They need to keep up their torrid pace — their 14-4 record since Aug. 22 is tied with the A’s for the best record in baseball — and they need the Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates and Brewers to continue to lose.

But a postseason berth looks a little more realistic with every Phillies victory and every Cardinals loss. I mean, the Phillies were eight games behind St. Louis just last Wednesday.

Now let’s say the the second Wild Card gets in with 85 victories. Here is how the Wild Card contenders need to finish to reach that mark:

  • Cardinals: 10-10.
  • Dodgers: 11-9.
  • Pirates: 13-8.
  • Brewers: 14-6.
  • Phillies: 14-6.

The Cardinals finish their three-game series in San Diego this afternoon before opening a big four-game series this weekend against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. I guess the best thing for the Phillies is those teams split, while the Phillies take care of business in their four-game series this weekend in Houston. The Phillies play their next eight games against the Marlins, Astros and Mets. You have to think they need to go at least 6-2 to have a shot going into the final 12 games of the season because the Phillies play nine of their final 12 against the Braves (three at home) and Nationals (three at home, three on the road). If the Phillies go 6-2 over this upcoming stretch they would need to finish 8-4 to finish with 85 wins. And that means they could not lose a series the rest of the way, unless they work in another sweep somewhere.

Once the Cardinals finish their series against the Dodgers, they play their next nine games against the Astros and Cubs, who are the two worst teams in baseball. So these next eight games are where the Phillies can really take a run and put some pressure on the Cardinals and the other teams in front of them.

There’s not any wiggle room for the Phillies, but there wasn’t any last week either. And they’ve responded. Can they keep it up?

Five Back, 21 to Play

So the Phillies beat the Marlins last night to move within five games of the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card race with 21 games to play.

The Phillies are 16-6 (.727) since Aug. 17, which is the best record in the National League. The Brewers, who also have moved within five games, are 16-7 in that stretch, while the Cardinals are 11-11. St. Louis has 21 games to play. If they finish 11-10 they will be 86-76.

The Phillies would need to finish 16-5 (.762) to tie.

So they’re in it, but they’re still pretty far on the outside. They still need to continue to play really well, and they really need the Cardinals to continue their stumble. The Cardinals have lost 9 of their last 15 games. It would be a huge help (obviously) if that continued. If the Cardinals finish 9-12 for an 84-78 record, the Phillies could then go 14-7 to tie.

Check out yesterday’s post for a look at the contenders’ remaining schedules.

The Phillies have the right attitude right now. Don’t worry about the Wild Card standings. Just worry about tonight’s game. Again, like I wrote yesterday, for the Phillies to finish 16-5 they essentially need to win every three-game series the rest of the way and sweep the Astros in their four-game series this weekend. Lose just one series and the Phillies are forced to sweep another three-games series (or two).

It’s going to be tough, but at least baseball is relevant again.

Keeping Things Interesting

The Phillies swept the Rockies this weekend, which is exactly what they had to do to give themselves a shot at a National League Wild Card.

A wild card remains a long shot, but it is better than no shot at all.

The Cardinals currently hold the second Wild Card. They are on pace for 86 wins. The Phillies would need to finish 17-5 (.772) to finish 86-76. Possible? Sure. But keep in mind the Phillies are 32-20 (.615) since July 13, 24-14 (.632) since the July 31 trade deadline and 12-4 (.750) in their last 16 games. They would need to play even better than they have played recently to reach 86. Yes, every one of the teams ahead of the Phillies in the Wild Card standings could struggle the rest of the way, meaning the Phillies would not need to win 86 games to make the postseason, but the odds are stacked against it.

Here is a look at the remaining schedules for the Wild Card contenders:

  • BRAVES (nine games at home, 12 on the road): home vs. Nationals (3), Marlins (3) and Mets (3); road vs. Brewers (3), Marlins (3), Phillies (3) and Pirates (3). They play six games against teams with winning records, but six against the Brewers and Phillies.
  • CARDINALS (nine games at home, 13 on the road: home vs. Astros (3), Nationals (3) and Reds (3); road vs. Padres (3), Dodgers (4), Cubs (3) and Astros (3). They play 10 games against teams with winning records.
  • DODGERS. (10 games at home, 11 on the road): home vs. Cardinals (4), Rockies (3) and Giants (3); road vs. Diamondbacks (2), Nationals (3), Reds (3) and Padres (3). They play 13 games against teams with winning records.
  • PIRATES (nine games at home, 14 on the road): home vs. Brewers (3), Reds (3) and Braves (3); road vs. Reds (3), Cubs (4), Astros (3) and Mets (3). They play nine games against teams with winning records, but three against the Brewers.
  • BREWERS (12 games at home, 10 on the road): home vs. Braves (3), Mets (3), Astros (3) and Padres (3); road vs. Pirates (3), Nationals (4) and Reds (3). They play 10 games against teams with winning records.
  • PHILLIES (nine games at home, 13 on the road): home vs. Marlins (3), Braves (3) and Nationals (3); road vs. Astros (4), Mets (3), Marlins (3) and Braves (3). They play nine games against teams with winning records.

Only the Pirates finish the season with more games on the road than the Phillies, although only the Braves play fewer games against teams with winning records.

Let’s say it takes 85 wins to win a wild card. The Phillies would need to finish 16-6. That means they would need to take 2 of 3 in every remaining three-game series, plus sweep this weekend’s four-game series against the lowly Astros in Houston. If the Phillies lose just one three-game series (certainly possible considering they play the Nationals twice), then obviously they’d need to sweep another one of those three-game series.

The Phillies have almost no margin for error, plus they need the continued cooperation of the team’s ahead of them in the standings. It’s a long shot, but the games should be meaningful. And meaningful games in September is always better than the alternative.

Chooch Is Back

Carlos Ruiz is back, but it remains to be seen how much he will play.

Ruiz had been on the disabled list since Aug. 3 with plantar fasciitis in his left foot before the Phillies activated him today. The Phillies plan to ease back Ruiz slowly, using him as a pinch-hitter this weekend before working him in as a defensive replacement. He could start once or twice a week once he gets comfortable.

“We definitely want to be careful with him,” Charlie Manuel said. “What he’s got is something that if he’s on his feet for a long time, if he’s moving a lot, he gets real tight.”

But the Phillies said there is little risk playing Ruiz the remainder of the season.

“If it was going to hurt him, we wouldn’t do it,” Manuel said. “But they feel like it’s not going to hurt him.”

Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock concurred.

“I think we’re very comfortable with the fact that I don’t think he’s going to do any further damage,” he said. “But he hasn’t played so I think it’s just something that we’re going to … hopefully he can come out and contribute a little bit and get back in a rhythm and be ready to go for next year. I think it’s important that he gets back out on the field.”

And why is that?

“I think for him, and I think he still has a chance to help us,” Proefrock said. “As long of a shot as it is, we’re not out of this. He can contribute. He’s an important part of our offense.”

Said Ruiz: “I know everybody was concerned that maybe I was done for the year, but I was thinking that I would try really hard to come back because I want to finish. Now I’m happy that I got activated. I’m ready to go. I want to finish the season. I want to go home happy. I told myself I have to finish playing and then relax and be ready for next year. I was really sad in last six weeks. Now I have the chance to get back in the lineup.”

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