How the Philadelphia Phillies Have Stayed Afloat Despite Injuries
To say the Philadelphia Phillies are having an awful year is, at this point, a gross understatement.
Granted, they aren't as bad as some of the worst teams in baseball. But based on the way they play some of their games, it sure seems like it. They did win two of three from the Minnesota Twins this week, but the game they lost was horrendous, and their win on Wednesday night that should have come easily was very close in the end.
Despite their struggles this season, the Phillies have managed to remain in striking distance in the NL East. Yes, they are dead last in the division, nine games out of first place with their 31-34 record. But even with their injuries and hitting and pitching issues, the Phils are still holding on.
With some of their most severe injuries coming to some of their biggest contributors, players like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay, there's a reason why the Phillies have struggled. In light of these injuries, though, the Phils have held their own, and they deserve credit for at least being able to do that.
Here's how the Phillies have managed to stay afloat.
Honorable Mention: Freddy Galvis' Glove
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Freddy Galvis wasn't expected to contribute much at the plate. He always struggled in the minors. Until last season, he had not hit better than .270 in a season.
What we did expect out of Galvis was Gold Glove-caliber defensive play, yet he has surpassed even that this season. Moving from his natural position of shortstop to second base for the first time, Galvis made it seem as though he'd been playing the position for years. With diving stops on ground balls to running into the outfield to track down pop flies, Galvis has impressed everyone who has seen him play.
Unfortunately, however, Galvis is now on the disabled list with a fracture in his lower back. He'll be out for at least six weeks, and his return this season is in jeopardy.
At least we can say this. Wth Galvis manning second base, there was no defensive black hole in the middle infield like there is now with Mike Fontenot and Michael Martinez.
Thanks, Freddy. Get better soon and hope to see you back fully recovered.
Jim Thome's Recent Offensive Explosion
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Not too long ago, some wondered whether Jim Thome's career was at an end.
He'd been placed on the DL after injuring his back playing first base. And when he returned to the team, it wasn't clear whether he'd get regular at-bats, and without those Thome wasn't hitting. Prior to returning from the DL, Thome was just 2-for-20 with 11 strikeouts.
Then Thome returned at just the right time—the beginning of interleague play. Since the start of the last two interleague series, Thome's hitting .458 with two doubles, three home runs and 13 RBI. This week against the Twins, for the first time in his career, Thome drove in nine runs in a three-game series.
Thome has shown that not only is he back, but with regular at-bats he still has a lot to contribute. Even if the Phils have to use him solely for pinch-hitting, Thome needs to be the go-to guy for that role.
If he wants to stay fresh, he needs the at-bats, and an at-bat a game, though not ideal, is the best the Phillies can offer Thome at this point. He's not only helped the team get three wins in its last six games, he's been the reason why they've won.
Here's to Jim hitting a few more bombs out in Toronto this weekend.
Jake Diekman's Emergence
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Since being called up from the minors on May 11, Jake Diekman has been great for the Phillies.
After getting the win against the Houston Astros on May 15 in his first major league appearance, Diekman has absolutely exceeded expectations. Despite a shaky second outing against the Chicago Cubs, in which he allowed four runs in just two-thirds of an inning, Diekman has been the Phillies' most dependable lefty out of the bullpen.
Aside from Jonathan Papelbon, he's been the team's most reliable reliever. So much for a guy who was expected to be no more than a LOOGY.
The advanced metrics show his success. His 4.50 ERA doesn't do him any justice. Diekman's FIP, according to FanGraphs, is 2.56, and his xFIP, though not stellar, is still an extremely solid 3.29. What's most surprising, though, is his SIERA, which is 2.92. In case you don't know SIERA, you don't see a lot of pitchers with one under 3.00. It just goes to show you how good Diekman's been.
Since that unfortunate outing at Wrigley Field, Diekman has only allowed one run in eight appearances. The only true blemish for Diekman might be that righties are hitting .318 off him, but he's holding left-handed batters to just .211.
Diekman should be able to fix the right-handed issue, and his interesting windup and delivery should continue to baffle hitters for quite some time. No wonder pitching coach Rich Dubee had so much praise for Diekman during spring training—he's been better than advertised.
Juan Pierre's Consistency
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When the Phillies signed Juan Pierre to a minor-league deal this past offseason, I thought he'd be a good pinch runner and base-tealing threat. I didn't expect him to be second on the team in batting average.
To date, Pierre has hit .326 with a .365 OBP and has stolen 11 bases. His slugging percentage isn't worth mentioning since he's not a power threat, but I will say that his OPS of .739 is 30 points higher than his career number of .709, which is always a good thing.
Pierre was signed to be a backup outfielder to John Mayberry, Jr., who had had a breakout year in 2011. But Mayberry has struggled, and Pierre, taking advantage of his opportunity, has become the starting left fielder.
Pierre's unexpected contributions have been a big reason why the Phillies are even within striking distance of a .500 record. He's been the best leadoff hitter this team has had in years. That he isn't hitting leadoff instead of Jimmy Rollins is a problem. Rollins doesn't get on base and doesn't steal. Pierre does both.
So, a 34-year-old Pierre who was seen as being at the end of his prime seems far from it. And, hey, the Phillies will take it.
For just $800,000 this season, Pierre might be the biggest steal in all of baseball.
Carlos Ruiz's Offensive Prowess
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Over the past couple of years, Carlos Ruiz has improved at the plate. In 2010, he hit .302. Last year, Ruiz his .283, but played more games. Better known as Chooch around Philadelphia, Ruiz has put it all together to be arguably the best catcher in the National League.
So far this season, Chooch is hitting .361 with a 1.000 OPS, eight home runs and 35 RBI. He's third in the NL in average (fourth in baseball) and third in the NL in OPS (sixth in the majors). Among major league catchers, he either leads or is in second in most categories.
His pitch-calling is also impeccable. There isn't a stat that measures a catcher's pitch-calling ability, but if there's anything that the underrated Chooch is known for, it's that.
He called both of Roy Halladay's no-hitters and has received praise from both Doc himself and the rest of the pitching staff. In fact, not too long ago, Chooch was also on the cover of Sports Illustrated. True story.
Chooch deserves to be the NL starting catcher at the All-Star Game in Kansas City, no doubt about it. Yet he's not in first place. So, please, help him get there and cast your votes.
(Yeah, I know I shouldn't be doing this, but Chooch needs votes, so please vote for him here. You can vote 25 times. Voting ends in less than two weeks, so vote as soon as possible) for the NL's best catcher this season!)
But seriously, Chooch has long deserved to be credited for his success. An All-Star nod should be in his future.
Jonathan Papelbon's Reliability
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Cinco Ocho has gotten the job done.
Needless to say, the Phillies' bullpen has been rough this year...save for Jonathan Papelbon (no pun intended). Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo have been good, but they haven't been fantastic. Papelbon has been.
At this point in the season, Papelbon is the majors' only closer who can say that he hasn't blown a save. He's 17-for-17 in save situations and, though 0-2 on the year, has a 2.10 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. He's also racked up 29 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. Pretty good if you asked me.
The issue at hand, though, is that manager Charlie Manuel's philosophy is not to use the closer other than in save situations. He's come under fire for this throughout the season, especially in times where it's been a tied game and the Phillies have gone on to lose it either in the ninth or in extra innings. I tend to agree, but that's a conversation for another day.
Maybe Papelbon is overpaid, but so what? He has arguably been the NL's best closer and is the Phillies' only sure-fire bet to make the All-Star Game.
If there's one signing that's gone right this season, it's Papelbon's. Even if he's making more money than he should be, his ability to close out games is something the Phillies haven't seen on a consistent basis since 2008. It's helped the team hold on to some close victories that otherwise might have been losses.