Monday, August 08, 2005

Dog Days

Doesn't watching David Bell play third base every single freaking night really drive home the concept of what "dog days" are all about?

Really, the best part about the Phillies is they are not schizophrenic at all. They totally are what they are- a pretty okay team made up of enough good parts that nothing can ever go too wrong. That was on display yet again during this week’s homestand- a completely typical split of six games. This was made wearisome only by the fact that if the Phillies could only do just a bit better- say, gone 4-2 on the home stand and now rip off a solid west coast swing- they really, really could be in this to win this.

For instance, they are only 2.5 games back from Houston. And if you hadn’t noticed, the Phillies have crawled back in this due to, gulp, their starting pitching. Four guys going pretty okay. Tejada and Meyers are having very good, consistent years. After a brutal start, Padilla has six consecutive quality starts- and he's allowed just 10 earned runs since July 6th- really just about the time I began musing about the benefits of his outright release. If you take the game in Colorado out of the recent equation, Lieber is 1-1 with a 1.63 ERA in three of his last four starts. Even Lidle has been pretty okay for a fifth starter.

If they can keep pitching like that- and that is a huge if- well, you know something, the Phils are a hard-wearing club. As the Inky wrote yesterday, “every time it looks as though they have faded, they do something to stay in it.” Fuse this competent rotation on to an outstanding bullpen and make, say, 87 wins the standard. Well, in that scenario, they are going to be a tough nut.

The funny thing is the real cringing problem is now the hitting. They hit pretty okay in Philadelphia- the short porches transform guys with warning track power- Utley, Leiberthal, Bell, Rollins- into “better” offensive players. But on the whole, particularly on the road, you can candidly get the Phillies out. The lead-off guy simply does not get on near enough. There are too many easy outs: Leiberthal, Bell, the pitcher’s spot and- correct me if I’m wrong- but doesn’t seem like one of the core hitters (Thome, Abreu, Burrell) is always slumping badly? The experiments Manuel likes to run out there are largely stupid: Utley is a plus hitting sixth- but third? Worse, they can’t sort of "get by" at times- like the Braves do and Nats did- as they frankly don’t run effectively, hit “situationally”, play “small-ball” or hit left-handers well.

That lefty thing is huge- because a lot of times it does not help the Phils to get into other team’s bullpen. Instead of the normal resulting anarchy of middle relief, teams roll a mediocre situation left-hander out there- and the Phillies promptly surrender three to six outs late in games.

In short, they are an easy team to pitch against. Warning: If you are a student of the Phillies you will totally get my meaning, but this next sentence is going to sound ridiculous. Because you can get the Phillies out, I think that is why Philadelphia really seems to disproportionately struggle against quality starting pitching. They can’t generate any offense whatsoever against solid pitching because they can’t get guys on base cheap- or move’em once they get on.

The message of the week is clear! Follow the advice of the guy on the right: despite the Eagles being in camp, you still can’t run up the white flag on this bunch. Right now, the rotation, plus bullpen, is the best it has been all season. If you could add six weeks of solid production from Abreu, Utley and Burrell- I imagine the Phils are in this march to 88 wins with the rest of the mob.

Finally, I stole the pictures from a blog on the Phillies. Check it out.