The first month of the Philadelphia Phillies' 2012 season is in the books, and it hasn't been pretty.
All things considered, for a lot of teams, kicking off the season hovering right around the .500 mark isn't a terrible thing. There's still a lot of baseball left to play, and a .500 record means, more often than not, that said team is still in the hunt early on.
But this isn't a team built to play .500 baseball. This is a team with three legitimate aces. This is a team with one of the best closers in the game and a bullpen that has pitched well in front of him.
Sure, the Phillies have their excuses. Any team that has to play with their regular third and fourth hitters on the disabled list is at a disadvantage. People expect the offense to struggle, but this badly? Even without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, three members of the Phillies' offense—Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and Placido Polanco—were All-Stars last season.
The Phillies have their excuses, but this isn't a team that makes excuses.
So with a month of baseball in the books, it's time to grade each player's performance from the month of April. Which players played well, and who needs to step up his game to help the Phillies turn this thing around?
Jose Contreras hasn't been off the disabled list for long, but he certainly hasn't been very effective either.
The Phillies activated the big right-handed reliever with the hope that he would be able to step right into the seventh inning role and pitch as he did over the last couple of seasons, but that hasn't been the case. Contreras has struggled with his command, and when he is throwing over the plate, the opposition is shelling him.
If not for Chad Qualls, the Phillies' bullpen may have been in some serious trouble in April.
It's safe to say that Mike Stutes has been a disappointment early in the season.
After avoiding the disabled list as spring training ended, the Phillies were hoping to see the reliever who impressed during the first few months of his rookie season but have seen the return of the man who struggled at the end of 2011, especially with his control.
Now that he has landed on the disabled list with a shoulder issue, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Phillies option Stutes to the minor leagues if everyone in the bullpen is pitching well. His control could use some work.
Throughout spring training, I had Kyle Kendrick's back because I think he pitches in a valuable role for the Phillies, but after that shelling in Arizona, what good is pitching in that role if you can't do it well?
I've always said there is value in a versatile pitcher who can start games, pitch in a mop-up role or get a big out, but I'm doubting Kendrick's ability to do any of that effectively after watching him throw one flat sinker after another against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Phillies may have to explore other options if Cliff Lee is going to be out for much longer.
There's no doubt that bringing back Jim Thome was a great story, but now they need him to start producing at the plate, and the future Hall of Famer has not done that in April.
Signed to be a big bat off of the bench and make the occasional start, Thome hasn't done much of anything in his return stint with the Phillies, recording just a couple of hits and playing much less frequently than everyone thought he would.
Charlie Manuel is clearly going to need to find him at-bats to keep him sharp, but with Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix flat out outplaying Thome, where will those starts come from?
There may not have been a single player on the Phillies' roster with more to gain and more to lose coming into the season than John Mayberry Jr.
Had he gotten off to a good start, the Phillies would have rewarded him with an everyday job, either in left field or at first base. They wanted to see him play after his semi-breakout season in 2011, but that obviously hasn't been the case.
Mayberry fell flat on his face in the month of April after a horrid spring training, opening the door for guys like Juan Pierre and Laynce Nix to collect more playing time.
The fans have seen enough of Mayberry. They're ready for Domonic Brown, regardless of how bad his defense is.
A lot of people believed that, after the way the 2011 season ended, Placido Polanco was finished. He was dealing with numerous injuries and hadn't had a productive month at the plate since April of that season. So far, he's proving them right.
But that hasn't stopped Polanco from giving it his best shot regardless. After fully recovering over the offseason, he returned to the lineup healthy, but the production just hasn't returned.
He's still an above-average defender, but his complete lack of offense in a position that demands production is absolutely killing the Phillies right now.
Jimmy Rollins is another guy that the Phillies really needed to get off to a hot start, and that hasn't been the case.
With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on the disabled list, Rollins is the team's voice in the clubhouse and the field general at shortstop. His defense hasn't suffered, but his complete lack of production at the plate is a bit surprising.
With the way he has been hitting, it certainly looks as though Rollins' days as the three-hole hitter are nearing an end.
Shane Victorino was one of the Phillies' hottest hitters in the first couple of weeks of the season, but with the rest of the offense limping right along, Victorino too has fallen victim to inconsistency.
With the lineup in flux, Charlie Manuel has been hitting his center fielder all over the lineup, and that probably isn't good for Victorino's production. Some guys can hit anywhere in the lineup, but when you have Victorino's skill-set, there is certainly a difference between hitting first, second, third, fifth or sixth.
Victorino may round into form with a little consistency, but the last couple of weeks have not been encouraging.
I considered giving Hunter Pence an "F" for a simple reason: The Phillies needed him to step up more than anyone else, and he just hasn't done it.
That's really not fair, however. In his defense, Pence has never been your prototypical clean-up hitter, and with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on the shelf, it was always unrealistic that he would be able to pick up the offense's slack.
However, the Phillies did need Pence to live up to his potential, and he really hasn't done that in any area of his game this season.
Once thought to be the second best reliever in the Phillies' bullpen coming into the season, Antonio Bastardo has been nothing short of invisible in the month of April.
The left-handed reliever has logged just three innings, and they really haven't even been good ones. He has allowed four hits and walked three to offset his five strikeouts.
Yes, Charlie Manuel has used him in more situational matchups this season, but it is still surprising to see that only Jose Contreras and Michael Schwimer, neither of whom were with the club on Opening Day, have pitched fewer innings than Bastardo.
David Herndon hasn't made much of a stir this season, and for a guy in his situation, that's probably a good thing.
Often the target for angry fans, Herndon has not been sensational this season by any means, but he has been a quality reliever and there is value in that.
The Phillies keep Herndon around for a couple of reasons. He has a heavy sinker that he struggles to keep down in the zone at times, but when he is able to, he pitches very well. That's coupled with a breaking ball that has the potential to fool hitters.
With some younger guys struggling, Herndon is doing his best to stake a claim in the MLB.
When the Phillies re-signed Brian Schneider this offseason, they didn't do so with offense in mind.
While Schneider has held his own at the plate, he has done just what the Phillies wanted him to do: Play defense. Any backstop in the MLB should have a vast knowledge of their pitching staff and handle them well, and Schendier's ability to call a strong game is certainly a benefit.
Though he is certainly exciting to watch, Freddy Galvis' first month of being an MLB player went just as everyone thought it would.
On the defensive side of the ball, he is excellent. Playing most of the season at second base, he has tremendous range to both sides of his body, a strong arm and incredible instincts. The Phillies haven't missed a beat in the field with Galvis at second.
At the plate, well, there is still work to be done. For a player with little power, he needs to be more disciplined at the plate and start finding ways on base to be effective.
Say what you will about Joe Blanton, but the first month of the 2012 season has been kind to the big, right-handed starter.
Coming into the year, Blanton's biggest obstacle was staying healthy, and though he seems to have hurdled that challenge, his health becomes even more important with Cliff Lee on the disabled list.
Blanton hasn't just been taking the mound every fifth day, however. He has been pitching well. Using all of his repertoire effectively, Blanton has struck out 15 batters and walked three in 26 innings. Though his ERA sits at 3.81, his FIP remains at 2.76.
According to FanGraphs, he has already matched his WAR from last season at 0.6.
Though a lot of people expected him to make the club coming out of spring training, it wasn't going to be easy for Juan Pierre by any means. Not only did he make the cut, but he managed to steal a lot of playing time away from guys vying for that left field job as well.
Though some would argue that his days as a lead-off hitter are behind him (and that Charlie Manuel is in denial,) Pierre's .333 batting average was tied for the team lead heading into play against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.
Pierre has struck out just twice in the month of April and has swiped three bases, and while I'm not certain he should be hitting lead-off multiple times a week, he is certainly a solid bench player.
Pete Orr has done the best he can with very limited playing time.
Despite logging just 24.1 innings in the field, Orr has already collected three extra base hits and driven in three runs—more than Jim Thome and John Mayberry Jr., both of whom were expected to play much bigger roles this season.
He has been swinging somewhat of a hot bat lately, leading Charlie Manuel to play him against right-handed starting pitchers on some occasions in favor of the switch-hitting defensive whiz Freddy Galvis.
The Phillies didn't come out of the offseason expecting Carlos Ruiz to be the best hitter in their lineup at the end of April, but that has been the case in what has become a whacky 2012 season.
"Chooch," whose defense has been as good as ever, has been very impressive at the plate this season. Though his walk rate has dropped significantly, Ruiz has maintained an impressive on-base percentage at the bottom of the order, making up for it with a .311 batting average.
Perhaps what's most impressive is that his three home runs in the month of April have him halfway to his home run total from last season.
When the offseason came to a close in 2011, the back end of the Phillies' bullpen projected to look something like this: Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson, and Brad Lidge.
What a difference a year makes.
Contreras missed nearly the entire season. Madson and Lidge signed with new teams as free agents. One of the Phillies' best relievers in 2011, Bastardo has struggled mightily since last September.
Now I'm not saying that the Phillies' 2012 bullpen necessarily needed saving thanks to the addition of Jonathan Papelbon, but man, Chad Qualls has come close to being the bullpen's savior.
The right-handed reliever emerged as the club's set-up man, throwing a big, heavy sinker in the low to mid-90s and mixing in a very good slider with a lot of break. He has walked two and punched out five in 7.2 innings of work.
Jonathan Papelbon has been as advertised in the month of April—excellent.
What is there to say about the Phillies' closer that hasn't already been said? He offsets an electric fastball with a slider that almost seems to be getting better under the tutelage of Carlos Ruiz, who worked with Brad Lidge for years, and a splitter with ridiculous movement.
Papelbon has converted all seven of his save opportunities entering play on Sunday, and the lone run he has allowed this season—a solo home run surrendered to Omar Infante of the Miami Marlins—came in a non-save chance.
A couple of weeks ago, I would have graded Laynce Nix's month of April a big, fat "F." His bat looked slow, and it seemed like the Phillies had made a huge mistake by guaranteeing him two years on his contract.
Now with the entire month of April in the books, Nix has been one of the club's best hitters. His bat speed is much better, leading most people to believe that a sore ribcage had carried over into the season, but he is finally feeling better.
Nix is among the offense's leaders with five extra base hits, including a home run, and he has driven in six runs. Though it won't last, his 1.054 OPS entering the month of May is certainly impressive.
He was supposed to have a small role entering the season, but he has been one of the club's best hitters in the first month of the season.
If there's anyone out there who predicted that Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton and Carlos Ruiz would be the Phillies' top three leaders in OPS after the month of April, I'd be interested in hearing your take on this week's lottery numbers as well.
The Phillies acquired Wigginton with the hope that he would be able to step in and play off of the bench, providing a little right-handed pop, but he has done much more than that.
Wigginton has played a much larger role than anticipated thanks to a slew of injuries, but he has hit surprisingly well. He has collected five extra base hits, including two home runs, while playing at first and third base in the field.
Pitching in Philadelphia isn't easy by any means, and though the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are a tough act to follow, any pitcher willing to be a sponge and absorb some of what makes them great has a good chance to succeed. So far in 2012, Vance Worley has done just that.
"Pitching like an ace" can be a generic term, but Worley is certainly proving that he can hang with the big pitchers in the Phillies' rotation. In four starts, he is 2-1 with an ERA of 2.16.
He is allowing fewer hits per nine innings than both Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton. He is striking out more batters per nine innings than Blanton, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
The bottom line is simple: I think it's safe to say that Worley is the real deal.
Cliff Lee made just three starts in April before going on the disabled list, and one of them wasn't all that great. However, Lee really turned things up a notch against the San Francisco Giants, en route to a bit of history and wound up having an incredible month.
Capped off by his 10 shutout innings against the Giants, Lee tossed 23 innings before going on the DL, posting a record of 0-1 and an ERA of 1.96. He logged an incredible WHIP of just 0.696, striking out 18 while walking two.
Anyone who had doubts about whether or not Cole Hamels is worth a contract north of $100 million is probably starting to change his mind following the month of April.
Hamels made four starts in the first month of the season, posting a record of 3-1 with an ERA of 2.73. He has posted an incredible strikeout to walk ratio of an even 10, spurred on by just three walks and 30 strikeouts.
An impending free agent, his change-up looks better than ever, and if the Phillies were wise, they'd get him locked up soon, regardless of the state of their offense.
Roy Halladay has created a bit of hoopla this season. During spring training, it was speculated that, because of a dip in his velocity, the Phillies' ace may have been dealing with an injury. That's not true, but he certainly is evolving as a pitcher.
The big, right-handed starter's velocity is down. That's an undeniable fact, but his results remain similarly outstanding.
Though his record has dipped to 3-2, Halladay has posted an ERA of 1.95 and has logged a WHIP of 0.946. He has struck out 24 batters but walked a surprising 10.
At the end of the day, the Phillies have a strong chance of winning every time Halladay takes the mound. What more could they want out of their ace?
For news, rumors, analysis and game recaps during spring training, check out Greg's blog: The Phillies Phactor!