The month of April has not been kind to the Philadelphia Phillies.
It's been a container for the club's first month with a losing record since what feels like the year the Liberty Bell cracked.
As rough as it has been for the Phillies, it wasn't an entirely unexpected outcome. The meat of their order, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, are dealing with serious injuries. Cliff Lee has missed time with an oblique strain. Even Michael Martinez's broken foot managed to throw a wrench into their plans.
With all of that being said, this is a club ready to put the month of April behind them and focus on the road that lies ahead. Looking at the bigger picture, the month of May could be favorable to the Phillies if the pieces fall into place.
But will they?
Prediction: Carlos Ruiz's hot start at the plate carries over into May.
Sure, it isn't quite the way they drew it up, but if the Phillies are going to be pleased with anything about the month of April, Ruiz's hot start has to be right at the top of the list.
The catcher has batted above the .300 mark for nearly the entire month and is among the team's leaders in RBI.
"Chooch" has even flashed a little power. His three home runs in April are halfway to his season total from a year ago.
Prediction: Ryan Howard returns in the month of May.
A big piece of the reason (with all sorts of pun intended) that the Phillies have struggled at the plate during the month of April is the simple fact that Howard hasn't been in the lineup.
Howard is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon that he suffered back in October, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The slow-healing wound that kept him from doing any kind of baseball activities has finally healed, and Howard has made the trip to Clearwater, Florida to continue his rehab.
If I was a betting man, I'd bet that he is back in the lineup by the end of May.
Prediction: Chase Utley returns during the month of May.
For the second straight season, Utley's balky knees have forced him to miss the entire month of April, but as is the case with Ryan Howard, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Phillies' second baseman.
After spending most of the last month rehabbing with a specialist in Arizona, Utley appears poised to make his own trip to Clearwater, Florida sometime over the next week or so.
This is purely my own speculation, but I don't believe it will take Utley as long to prepare for the season as Howard, so I fully expect to see him at second base sometime this month.
Prediction: Now the lead-off batter once again, Jimmy Rollins continues to struggle at the plate.
Through his free agency saga over the off-season, it seemed as though a lot of people would be content with Rollins as long as he played stellar defense and provided at least "average" offensive production.
Well, the defense is there, but the offense hasn't shown up yet.
Rollins' batting average has been creeping towards the Mendoza Line recently and that's going to have to change if the Phillies want to have any kind of success at the top of the order. So far, there's just no reason to believe that a drastic improvement is on the horizon.
Prediction: Continued struggles at the plate lead to a drastic decrease in playing time for Placido Polanco.
Given how much Charlie Manuel loves his veteran players, I may be going out on a bit of a limb here, but when guys like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return to the field, someone is going to has to sit. With the way Ty Wigginton has hit, Polanco's playing time may be in some trouble.
With that being said, the Phillies have become a pitching-first team and Polanco's defense at third base is still excellent.
He'll make plenty of starts, but not nearly as many as in months past.
Prediction: John Mayberry Jr.'s days as a starter are over, and the Phillies seriously consider designating him for assignment.
Mayberry's playing time has been dwindling ever since Opening Day, so there first part of that statement is more fact than prediction—his days as an everyday player appear to be over before they ever really started.
The real question is: What comes next for Mayberry?
The impending returns of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could put Mayberry in a bit of a pickle. From a pinch-hitting standpoint, there is no doubt that Ty Wigginton has been better this season. From a positional standpoint, Juan Pierre has outplayed him.
Because he is out of Minor League options, the Phillies would have to risk losing Mayberry if they want to send him to Triple-A, and there is certainly enough potential there for some team to claim him. He wouldn't survive waivers.
What should the Phillies do with Mayberry?
Prediction: Shane Victorino proves to be one of the Phillies' best hitters during the month of May.
After a hot start to the season, Victorino has cooled down to the point where someone should check his vital signs, but if any of the players in this lineup are in a position to bounce back in the month of May, it's the "Flyin' Hawaiian."
At the present moment, Victorino seems to be struggling to adjust to a very fluid spot in the lineup. As things start to settle down in the month of May, I expect Victorino to rebound nicely at the plate for the Phillies.
Prediction: Hunter Pence goes on a tear in May.
April really wasn't kind to many players on the Phillies' roster, but Hunter Pence felt its sting both at the plate and in the outfield. He's a much better hitter and defender than he showed during April, and I predict that he'll show that during the month of May.
With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on the disabled list, a lot of people are getting the feeling that Pence is trying to do too much at the plate, so with those two set to begin the road back to the MLB, the weather getting warmer, and a lot of baseball left to be played, I expect big things out of Pence in May.
Prediction: As players return and roster decisions need to be made, Juan Pierre survives the cut.
Position player wise, the Phillies' disabled list features a trio of names that could impact the MLB club upon their return: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Michael Martinez.
Though the last could easily be sent to Triple-A, the point is that the Phillies are going to have to make some decisions about their roster and Juan Pierre could be impacted the most.
The way he's playing right now compared to some other guys, it is going to be hard for Charlie Manuel to part with Pierre. I'm betting he stays throughout the month.
Prediction: Injured and struggling, the Phillies and Jim Thome seriously consider parting ways, though he ultimately remains with the club and continues struggling as the club's big pinch-hitter.
The Phillies kick off the month of May without the benefit of having Thome on the bench as he deals with a lower back injury and he still remains a candidate to land on the disabled list.
With the way Thome has been playing, it isn't as big a loss as it seems. He has just two hits in 21 plate appearances this season, striking out 10 times. He just hasn't looked good.
You have to imagine that with Ryan Howard right around the corner, the Phillies seriously consider parting ways with Thome. It would have to be a mutual decision, but the end might be near for the future Hall of Famer.
With Interleague Play around the corner, I'll be he sticks around a little while longer.
Prediction: Ty Wigginton's success at the plate earns him significant playing time at third base (and first base) during the month of May.
Wigginton and Placido Polanco are going in opposite directions as the calendar turns into May.
Polanco has struggled to do anything at all at the dish this season and Wigginton has emerged as one of the club's best hitters, playing a lot at third base.
With Ryan Howard's return looming, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Charlie Manuel decide to play Wigginton more at third base. He may not be as good a defender as Polanco, but his bat has dictated that he should be in the Phillies' lineup everyday.
Prediction: Laynce Nix success at the plate earns him significant playing time in left field (and at first base) during the month of May.
A lot of the things that I wrote on Ty Wigginton's slide apply here as well.
Because he has never hit left-handed pitching well, Nix is never going to play everyday, but he deserves to play against every right-handed starter the Phillies face with the way he has been swinging.
Nix has posted an OPS of .826 against right-handed pitching this season, which should earn him significant playing time at first base and in left field this month.
Prediction: Upon the return of Chase Utley, Freddy Galvis moves on to the bench as the club's utility man.
A lot of people, myself included, wouldn't mind seeing Galvis optioned to Triple-A to play every day once Utley returns, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
Charlie Manuel has been surprisingly outspoken about just how highly he values Galvis' defense, so much so that he wouldn't mind having him on his bench as a utility player to rest Utley and Jimmy Rollins on certain days.
The right move is probably sending him to Triple-A, but I bet he stays with the MLB club.
Prediction: Roy Halladay wins all of his May starts.
Halladay has now dropped two straight decisions. I'm willing to be that he is not too happy about that.
Granted, the Phillies' ace hasn't gotten much run support to speak of, which could potentially derail this whole prediction, but you get the feeling that Halladay will certainly live up to his end of the bargain.
Through the month of April, he posted ERA+ at 146 and posted a WHIP of just 0.946.
Prediction: Cliff Lee is on the disabled list longer than anticipated, but returns during the month of May.
Oblique injuries can be tough to read, and the Phillies' modus operandi with injuries this season has been to give players more time than they need to make sure that they are operating at 100% when they are activated, so don't be surprised to see Lee get the same treatment.
He'll be back during the month of May though, and with the way that he was pitching in April, it will be interesting to see if he can pick up right where he left off. (192 ERA+, 0.696 WHIP)
Prediction: Cole Hamels strikes out at least 30 batters in May.
Hamels was impressive in the month of April.
After his first start of the season proved to be less than stellar, the lefty went on an absolute tear. His fastball / change-up repertoire has been more impressive than ever through the first month of the 2012 season as he's been striking out batters with ease.
He's posted a strong ERA+ and a similary strong WHIP of just above one, but the most impressive thing Hamels has done this season is post a strikeout to walk rate of right around 10, tops in the MLB.
I'm predicting that Hamels strikes out right around 30 batters in May, but he may actually do that with relative ease if he was just getting warmed up in April.
Prediction: Vance Worley's hot start carries over into the month of May.
A lot of people expected Worley to regress back to the mean this season, but the right-handed starter has done just the opposite.
Often left out of the conversation when people talk about the Phillies' "aces," Worley has pitched himself into that category in the month of April.
The "Vanimal" has posted an ERA+ of 190—just behind Cliff Lee—and a WHIP of 1.188 in five starts for the Phillies.
There is zero evidence that his hot start won't carry over into May.
Prediction: Though nothing more than average in results, Joe Blanton proves to be one of the Phillies' most valuable players during the month of May.
Blanton didn't do anything spectacular in the month of April, but the Phillies don't need him to be spectacular. As the fifth starter, they need him to be average, and he was certainly average, at the very least, last month.
Blanton won two games for the Phillies, posting an ERA+ of 98 and a WHIP of 1.308. Throw out his relief appearance from the first week of the season and those numbers are slightly better.
Don't expect anything different from Blanton in May. He'll be effectively average—nothing more, nothing less.
Prediction: Kyle Kendrick struggles in the starting rotation until Cliff Lee returns from the disabled list, upon which Kendrick struggles in his return to the bullpen.
With Lee still not ready to come off of the disabled list just yet, Kendrick is going to get at least one more start, and that isn't a good thing for the Phillies.
Kendrick has struggled mightily as a starting pitcher. He doesn't throw hard. He doesn't get a ton of movement on his pitches. He isn't deceptive. He just wasn't built to be a starting pitcher.
The real prediction here is that Kendrick will struggle upon his return to the bullpen as well. He just hasn't been sharp.
Prediction: Jose Contreras shakes the rust off in May to become a solid reliever for the Phillies once again.
Speaking of guys that haven't been very sharp, how about Contreras?
After missing nearly the entire 2011 season, the "Big Truck" hasn't been himself early in 2012, but unlike Kyle Kendrick, I think it's safe to say that Contreras' stock is going to be on the rise in the month of May.
With Bastardo pitching below his talent level, the Phillies really need Contreras to step up to the challenge this month, and I believe that he will.
Prediction: The Phillies continue to use Antonio Bastardo sparingly, and only in certain match-ups / situations.
Charlie Manuel has gone on the record stating that he wants to get Bastardo into more ball games, but I don't think he will.
The lefty has struggled mightily early in the season, not only with inconsistency, but with an unexplained drop in his velocity as well.
He'll get into games, but not nearly as frequently as he was getting into them at this time a year ago.
Prediction: Chad Qualls proves that his month of April was no fluke, making an argument to be one of the best free agent signings of the off-season for the Phillies.
The Phillies signed Qualls hoping that he'd be a solid veteran in their bullpen. You can never have too many of those. But Qualls has been so much more for the Phillies early in the season.
The right-handed reliever has emerged as the club's set-up man as Antonio Bastardo continues to struggle. He's had one real blemish in the month of April and has pitched very well for the club.
Bargain relievers usually don't get much credit, but if he keeps this up, and I'm predicting that he will, Qualls will have proven to be worth every penny the Phillies are paying him.
Prediction: Jonathan Papelbon continues to be perfect through the month of May.
There's really no way to justify the contract that the Phillies gave him, but realistically, where would the Phillies be without Papelbon?
He is a perfect nine for nine in save opportunities so far this season, having saved nine of the Phillies' 12 wins.
Papelbon has been absolutely filthy. He brought his explosive fastball and devastating splitter to the City of Brotherly Love and came to play. What more could you ask for?
The opposition just hasn't looked comfortable against him, and I'm predicting another perfect month for the Phillies' closer in May.
Prediction: The Phillies post a winning record for the month of May.
May is going to be a big month for the Phillies. They open with nine straight games against three NL East teams ahead of them in the standings: the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, and New York Mets.
The Nationals will make their first trip to Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies will host the Boston Red Sox this month.
It is a big month for baseball in Philadelphia, and with reinforcements on the way, a great time for the this club to start playing well.
I think they will.
Here are some miscellaneous predictions too small for their own slide:
- Michael Schwimer, Joe Savery, Brian Sanches, and Pete Orr are sent to Triple-A.
- The Phillies at least consider promoting Trevor May (5-0, 2.40 ERA, 0.947 WHIP) to Triple-A.
- The Phillies win both of their series against both the Nationals and Mets this month.
- The Phillies are not only in first place by the end of the month, but have their regular lineup on the field.