Friday, July 08, 2005

Phillies Make Us All Sick

I have been meaning to write a Phillies mid-term review- and accordingly I have been wracking my brains trying to think of insightful things to say. But be honest, don't the 2005 Phillies seemingly repel insight? They are the most easily understood team in Philadelphia in, like, forever.

It is just that they feel weird. You know in your gut they obviously aren't horrible- but your visceral reaction is different. Watching the club play night after night suggests that they ought to be ten games under, rather than right around .500.

The Phillies lost last night, now are on pace to win 82 games- not exactly a far cry from the 88 I anticipated. Back in March, I wrote that the Phillies featured enough quality offensive players to score, a veteran rotation featuring five pitchers who could win around ten, and a quality bullpen once an arm was added. I think that is still exactly what they have- and the utter absence of Thome’s production and a more difficult division than projected- have put them 2-3 games behind the estimated pace.

Clearly, the trend has been down- mainly as two-fifths of the rotation (Leiber and Padilla) has frankly not been competitive in about the past month. Accordingly, I still don’t think the Phillies are a serious threat to make the play-offs. The rotation is just not capable, even adding another arm, of rolling out the three or four cycles of quality starting pitching needed to make up ground. And they are simply not good enough to justify bringing a pitcher in here- as even adding a Zito probably is not enough to get them over the hump.

I doubt they can completely give up either. First, if the team does not qualify for the post-season, the GM, the manager and some of core players are gone. For the past three years, the Phillies have not been bad (86 wins twice- about .500 the other year), and really are not bad now. But: Factum est illud, fieri infectum non potest. Thus, as to not compound the problem, clearly this is the current collection’s last try. If they fail again- I cannot believe there is a great anticipation in the organization to see how it goes with this group again in 2006.

Second, the Phillies are only five games out of the wild card- and I think only “four games” behind the team that will win the division: Atlanta. Washington could complete the miracle- but I don’t think so. The Nats have very cleverly used their ball park to become the best “win 3-2” team in the league. There is no doubt they have some smart baseball people there- who simply flat-out get how to win with their mediocre roster. But really, they don’t hit all that much. Amazingly though, they have like nine pitchers with ERAs under 4.00- and that probably cannot continue. A 100-win team ultimately looks like the Cardinals- not this. If the pitching wobbles a little, the Nats absolutely have an 12-18 stretch in them. Basically, the Nats need a lot to go right: health, pitching, etc. Right now, it is. Candidly, the longer the season goes- the more and more problems the Nats face.

Third, since the presence of Thome was simply killing this club- it almost has to be better with him out of there. In the second half, I promise they'll get more than .210 and seven HRs out of the all-important four-spot. The team is already better on offense as a result. If Leiber and Padilla revert back to any kind of form, you cannot tell me the Phillies aren’t as good as, say, Atlanta.

I still think the Phillies will finish a few games over .500- maybe not 88- maybe 83. They just aren’t that bad. The late-inning bullpen is solid, they’ll hit more in the second half, and the rotation cannot possible by worse. I doubt they’ll ever fall out of it enough to be able to quit- so you’ll never get a talent-dumping caused swoon. But it looks like you’ll need something near 93 to win the division- and 90 to get the wild card- and the Phillies simply aren’t that sort of club.