Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Stoop to Conquer

Myers strikes fear in the heart of the NL East!

Thankfully, this weekend the Phillies clearly took some stout steps to salvage the season. An optimist can cheerily point to the fact that in a space of two weeks, the Phils have moved back up into third, cut their deficit in the loss column from ten to five games, won five of seven against two pretty good teams in their division, and got a pretty solid pair of “rotation turns” from the starting pitching. A pessimist might mention that even a dead cat bounces.

I don’t know myself. But I know some other things. Atlanta is going to win this division easily. The Nats are increasingly looking pretty much done- now they’re losing home games to Colorado. That is not good. The wild card is going to be fought out between Florida, New York, Houston, Chicago and Philadelphia- and certainly the Phils are literally right with those clubs. I guess you have to put the Nats on that list- with a five game lead- but I don’t see Washington playing much better than .500 ball here on out. But clearly, this decent stretch has pushed the Phillies back to the “buyer at the trading deadline” side of the equation- as opposed to selling.

Of these five teams, I actually have the least amount of faith in the Phils and Cubs- as I have zero confidence in their respective front offices to manage the roster and rent talent down the stretch. Ed Wade has failed eight years in a row. If Ed were a horse, like Mr. Ed, he'd be glue.

The only reason the Phils might not screw it up is that their need is real and painfully clear: a solid starting pitcher. Not a converted reliever taking some emergency turns- the Phils already have one of those. Not a scuffling veteran- got two of them. Not a bloated contract- got some of them too. A real pitcher in the 12-13 wins-a-season category to help stablize this mess.

And I guess a bench bat might be a plus too- Chavez and Perez don't move me. But right now, the Phillies offense seems to have found its legs- largely by moving the hurt Thome out of the offense’s engine room. This had all sort of beneficial effects. First, they now are getting more than .209 and very spotty power from the clean-up spot. Second, it moved Howard’s bat off the trading block (where it did no good) and into the sixth/seventh spot of line-up- turning that part of the order into a real plus- particularly since his routine fly-balls find the seats at Citizens.

Without Howard included, I doubt the Phillies can make that big trade, so they probably cannot majorly screw up my quest for a solid rotation filler. Again, I actually would prefer they not trade for a second-level pitcher. Instead, take their chance that the apparent Padilla revival is for real. Frankly, Padilla has a good a chance to win seven from here than anyone they bring in. Add in the fact they are stuck with him already- so the experiment doesn't cost anything in terms of prospects and funds- and Padilla becomes even more attractive.

The temptation is absolutely going to be there- other than Myers, the Phillies rotation features four guys who absolutely would not shock you if they went out there and were horrible three starts in a row. But I am not sure if Jason Schmidt is the answer either- and I ain’t willing to trust Ed Wade, and then to pay prospects and eat a bad contract to find out if he is right.

Listen, the Phils have actually done a pretty good job this year of restoring the talent core to younger players: Utley, Howard, Rollins, Abreu, Burrell. All these guys are young, other than Burrell have realistic deals, and have 6-7 years at least of productive ball in them. Let’s not add to the contract woes that Thome and Leiberthal present to add a grade B arm.

The only other strategy I might suggest is Worrell has to be given every chance to have two or three semi-decent outings in a row- and then get him out the hell out of here. Seriously, that is the level of need for relief pitching in this league. If he pitches three scoreless innings in a row, there will be a line around the block for him. And his upside is candidly still "closer"- would it really shock you if he sobered up and saved thirty somewhere next year? Almost by virtue of this competition, I bet the Phillies can get a decent prospect for him. At the very least, they dump a couple million dollars. He isn't ever going to pitch a big inning here again with the Phils bullpen depth- so he needs to go.

Without a number one starter, the Phils can never be a true superior club- but I argue that is not the goal for now. The goal currently is to sneak in this tournament and to try to get lucky three series in a row. Plus, that top pitcher is either not obtainable right now or would cost them Ryan Howard- who frankly they need to play today. They cannot trade him and Gavin Floyd for Zito- who would play first, like, tonight? Perez? See, it would just defeat the purpose of trying to win now. If they decide to trade Howard to make room for Thome, then do it in the off-season.