Philedelphia Phillies: What Each Player Must Do to Help Continue Winning Ways
The Philadelphia Phillies are not a team built to play .500 baseball.
Yet that's exactly what they've done through the first month of the season. Sure, they have their excuses. Any team would struggle with the meat of its order shelved on the disabled list. But the Phillies have never been a team to make excuses.
For every All-Star player on the disabled list, the Phillies have an adequate replacement in some way shape or form. You can't replace those guys, but you can certainly hold down the fort until they return, and that's what the Phillies are beginning to do.
Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are on the disabled list? Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix have played well at first base. Freddy Galvis has lived up to every bit of his reputation as a sensational defender. Cliff Lee is on the disabled list? Kyle Kendrick has experience in the starting rotation.
The fact of the matter is that although this team can make excuses, they won't. They know that they shouldn't be playing .500 baseball.
Here's what they need to do to win ball games from here on out.
Mission: Prove that hot start to the season is not a fluke.
Coming into the season, the Phillies would have been happy with Carlos Ruiz as long as he was playing stellar defense. He's doing just that, but they have to be thrilled with the offense he has provided.
"Chooch" is among the team leaders in home runs and RBI, and with the way the rest of the lineup has been swinging the bats, the Phillies are going to need Ruiz to continue to excel offensively, as well as behind the plate.
Mission: Do not return until 100% healthy and be productive upon that return.
There's no doubt that the Phillies need Ryan Howard to get back into the lineup as soon as possible, but the caveat is that he needs to be completely healthy upon his return.
The last thing this club needs is to have Howard return from a torn Achilles only to find out that he came back from his rehab too soon. The club will be cautious with Howard because when he returns, they need him to start driving in runs immediately.
Mission: Make sure knees are strong and healthy upon return.
Before the team reported for Spring Training, everyone thought that Chase Utley was going to be in the lineup on Opening Day. Turns out that wasn't even close to being the truth as he missed his second straight opener thanks to his balky knees.
Utley has a chronic condition. That means it is never going to go away. The Phillies and the second baseman need to take the time this season to find a treatment that works and keeps him on the field for most of the season.
They need him to be healthy and productive.
Mission: Set the table at the top of the order.
Looks like the experiment where Jimmy Rollins hits third for the Phillies is over. Again. It also looks like it has failed. Again.
Rollins has the tools to hit in the middle of the order, but there is no doubt that he is more comfortable at the top. In just a few games, Rollins' numbers have jumped drastically, but more importantly, the Phillies are winning games.
Rollins needs to be at the top of the order, where he can set the table for the rest of the offense and give the Phillies a chance to score enough runs to win the game.
Mission: Continue to play above-average defense.
Sure, Placido Polanco has been killing the Phillies at the plate, but if we can be honest with ourselves for a moment, given the way the rest of the lineup has produced, it is kind of hard to hang the blame on the Phillies' third baseman.
He is a singles machine that was going to provide very little offense from the moment the Phillies signed him heading into the 2010 season. It would be nice to see him pick up the pace offensively, but it isn't his most important role.
That role would be defense. The Phillies are a pitching team first, with a staff that makes the opposition put a lot of balls in play. If you field those balls cleanly, you win ball games. It's as simple as that, and no one on this team does it better at third base than Polanco.
Mission: Continue to mash right-handed pitching, earn playing time.
Playing John Mayberry Jr. in left field didn't work out. Juan Pierre kind of, sort of worked out for the Phillies, but his offensive output is dramatically over-exaggerated.
Layne Nix, on the other hand, has proved to be one of the Phillies' most valuable additions over the winter. Charlie Manuel has found him plenty of playing time against right-handed pitching in the absence of Ryan Howard and the left field conundrum.
If Nix is able to continue to hit lefties well, the Phillies will be in good shape.
Mission: Produce at the plate; utilize speed more effectively.
Simply put, the Phillies need Shane Victorino to start swinging the bat.
When he's going right, Victorino is one of the Phillies' most valuable weapons. He puts the bat on the ball and can drive it out of the yard. The problem is, he's just not having good at-bats right now.
The Phillies drastically need Victorino to start earning his nickname once again by getting on the base paths and utilizing his speed. When he and Jimmy Rollins are doing that, the Phillies' offense can be tough to contain.
Mission: Change approach at the plate; improve on defense.
Coming into this season, the Phillies really needed Hunter Pence to evolve as a hitter and pick up the slack that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley left when they were sent to the disabled list.
In some ways, he has done that. Pence is finding ways to drive in runs, among the team's leaders in RBI. But the Phillies need him to be more dynamic. He showed last season that he could be a power threat and a good contact hitter, and that's what the Phillies need.
His shoddy work at the plate this season has also carried into right field at times, and that just can't happen at the MLB level.
Mission: Provide some late-inning power off of the bench; cut back on strikeouts.
Right now, Jim Thome is on the disabled list with a lower back issue—one of the big concerns when the Phillies brought him back this winter.
Luckily, it isn't a serious issue, but Thome's offensive output so far this season certainly is. Though it is a small sample size, the former designated hitter has struck out at an alarming rate this season. Nearly 50% of his at-bats have ended in a strikeout.
Charlie Manuel wants to get him sharp by playing him more, but I'm not sure that is a realistic option at this point. The Phillies need Thome to figure it out off of the bench or they could be in some trouble.
Mission: Continue to have quality at-bats.
Ty Wigginton is playing a lot more than the Phillies expected him to right now, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
He came into this season expecting to be a utility player, logging time at three infield positions. Turns out that Wigginton has been something akin to an everyday player, either at first or third base.
With the way he has been swinging the bat, that's probably a good idea. Wigginton is among the team's leaders in RBI and extra base hits. With the way the rest of the lineup is hitting, you need your run production to come from somewhere.
Wigginton has been that guy.
Mission: Continue to be "Captain Small-ball" for the Phillies.
Juan Pierre's role for the Phillies should be a lot smaller than it actually is. It is fairly obvious that his better days are in the past, and he hasn't done anything exceptionally well for the Phillies, neither offensively or defensively.
That being said, Pierre does still have a role on this team. He has been very efficient at doing the "little things," like laying down a bunt or stealing a base.
With that being said, "Captain Small-ball" should not be starting games more than once a week. Those days are gone.
Mission: Upon Chase Utley's return, play stellar defense at two positions.
Luckily for Phillies' fans, I'm not running this team, because if I were, I would send Freddy Galvis to Triple-A when Utley is ready to return from the disabled list. That doesn't seem to be the case, however, as Charlie Manuel has actively campaigned for him to remain with the MLB club.
The reason why is no secret. Galvis has played stellar defense at second base in the absence of Utley. If he is going to remain with the club, he'll need to provide elite defense at shortstop as well be an effective utility man, and I have no doubt he can do that.
The real question is, do you need him more now, or in the future? If you're going with the latter, his bat definitely needs more seasoning in the minor leagues.
Mission: Continue excellent relationship with pitchers, play solid defense.
Brian Schneider's role with the Phillies isn't a huge one, but it's a valuable one.
Schneider has the reputation of being able to handle a tough pitching staff with ease, and he and Carlos Ruiz are a great tandem.
The backstop will have success with this club so long as he continues calling a good game and playing at least average defense.
Mission: Pitch like Roy Halladay is capable of pitching.
His last start against the Atlanta Braves was an absolute mess.
His velocity was down, his location wasn't good, and he just didn't look like himself.
It's not time to panic yet, however. At the end of the day, Halladay is still one of the best pitchers in baseball, and the Phillies are going to need him to pitch that way if they want to have any sort of success this season.
With their offense sputtering along, this is a team that will rely on pitching. Without pitching, they will be doomed.
That's why they need Halladay to pitch like he's capable of pitching.
Mission: Pick up where he left off when he went on the disabled list.
Cliff Lee has been on the disabled list for nearly three weeks now, but luckily enough for the Phillies, his oblique injury isn't all that serious. He'll jump back into the starting rotation for his next turn, likely to face the New York Mets.
The Phillies really need him to jump back in and pick up where he left off—absolutely dominant.
Before he went on the disabled list, Lee had every hitter that stepped into the box against him off balance. Given the way Kendrick has pitched, they could use that sooner, as opposed to later.
Mission: Build off of his hot start to the season.
Cole Hamels has done everything the Phillies could have asked for so far this season, even if that means he's pitching himself into the stratosphere of free agents this coming winter.
He's been among the league leaders in strikeouts per walks for the entire season and is striking out hitters at one of the highest clips of his career.
As long as Hamels pitched the way he has been so far in 2012, the Phillies will be perfectly fine in that regard.
Mission: Continue to grow and develop as a starting pitcher; build off of hot start to 2012.
Vance Worley has been excellent this season, but a lot of people expected him to go the other way after looking at some of his advanced stats from 2011.
The Phillies didn't. They put him right back into the starting rotation and have been rewarded with an excellent season thus far. In fact, it isn't wrong to suggest that Worley has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season.
Can he keep it up?
Probably not, but if Worley has taught us anything so far, it's that he isn't a fan of being told there is something he can't do. He'll usually just go out and do it.
Mission: Continue to log quality innings at the back of the Phillies' rotation.
Now that Joe Blanton is fully healthy, he is starting to look like the quality pitcher that the Phillies paid $8 million a season for a couple of years ago.
Blanton is never going to be top of the rotation starter, but if he's able to log quality innings at the back end of the rotation, that's something the Phillies should be happy with.
Don't expect many more complete game shutouts, but you can expect an average start out of Blanton every time he takes the hill. There's value in that.
Mission: Stay out of the middle of the plate; work in lower half of strike zone.
That's a mission that most pitchers try to accomplish, but something that is becoming absolutely necessary for Kyle Kendrick.
The fact of the matter is that he just doesn't have a repertoire that he can throw by hitters. He doesn't throw hard and isn't deceptive, and the result of that is an 83.2% contact rate—and that's down a little bit this year.
It is crucial for Kendrick to work the lower half of the zone with his sinker and get ground ball outs if he wants to be successful.
The Middle Relievers
Mission: Pitch with some consistency.
This is somewhat of a blanket slide because the mission for all of the middle relievers on this club has been the same: Pitch with some consistency!
Guys like Mike Schwimer, Brian Sanches, and Joe Savery have come up to the MLB club and have had next to nothing on the impact scale.
They need some of these guys to get big outs from time to time to spare the guys at the back of the bullpen.
Mission: Start pitching up to his talent level.
Right now, Mike Stutes is on the disabled list.
When he is activated, the Phillies are going to need him to start pitching up to his potential. Stutes has a good fastball and an improving breaking ball, but he has to locate his pitches in order to be effective and he really hasn't done that early in his big league career.
With the way the rest of the bullpen has been pitching, no one is going to take his spot. He'll have to figure things out at the MLB level in a hurry if he wants to stick around for the future, however. Guys like Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont won't be in the minors for long.
Mission: With the arm injury behind him, start pitching like the late-innings reliever that made him so valuable.
Jose Contreras hasn't been very effective for the Phillies since returning from the disabled list, and it is starting to become a huge concern for this bullpen.
The right-handed reliever has allowed six earned runs in four innings pitched, walking nearly as many batters (three) as he has struck out (five), while the opposition tags him with a .353 batting average.
The Phillies really need Contreras to step up and provide that late innings boost to the bullpen, especially with an air of uncertainty around Antonio Bastardo.
Mission: Prove that he is not dealing with an injury by working more and increasing fastball velocity.
Antonio Bastardo didn't pitch much in Spring Training because he was dealing with a tight forearm—a side effect of dehydration.
However, he insisted that he was not injured beyond that and broke camp with the team, but has pitched very sparingly since, causing some to wonder whether or not he is (or was) dealing with a different injury.
Charlie Manuel believes that the key to righting Bastardo is to work him more, and he has certainly done that recently. The Phillies need him to prove that he's healthy, but moreover, prove that he can be an effective set-up man moving into the future.
Mission: Build off of hot start.
Chad Qualls has done everything the Phillies could have asked him to do so far this season.
They brought him aboard off the scrap pile over the off-season and the right-handed reliever has pitched well enough to become the club's set-up man, with Antonio Bastardo and Jose Contreras struggling.
Asking him to pitch at this pace for an entire season may be a stretch, but the Phillies will be happy as long as Qualls is a valuable reliever.
Mission: Continue to convert saves.
I was tempted to put, "Continue to be perfect," as Jonathan Papelbon's mission, but that seems a little bit extreme, no?
The Phillies' new closer has been everything they wished for so far this season, converting each and every save opportunity that the Phillies have given him.
It would certainly be nice to see him put together a perfect season, and as long as he is pitching this way, he is certainly capable of that. But the Phillies will be happy as long as he converts almost all of his opportunities.