We're far from Thanksgiving, but this time of year in the sports world has me comparing the feast to current events. We're all now stuffed from the NHL Stanley Cup Finals and the tasty NBA Finals, relaxing while enjoying whatever is on television, such as World Cup action.
As for Phillies baseball, its course is still pre-heating in the oven. The All-Star Game is looming, and plenty of questions are barraging the defending National League Champions. Get your pot-holders ready.
Right now, the main question surrounding this hot-potato topic has been the offense. The usually tenacious hitting has been absent for stretches, costing the Phillies key victories. With a staggering scoring differential (93-43 from May 22 to June 12), tensions have been afflicting the organization, players, and fans. Doubters wondering how the club stumbled in that stretch from first place in the National League East to third have taken a toll on no one more than General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr.
He might not deserve all the blame. Injuries riddling the team have caused erratic changes to the team chemistry and consistency.
The most prevalent injury hurting the team has been that of shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Going down on April 12 with a calf injury, an absence extending to mid-May, and then a repeat of that same injury has put a damper on the offense because of the tempo Rollins sets. With a potential return to the lineup prior to the All-Star Break, there is hope for him to aid an underachieving group of hitters.
The other major injury concern has involved the young left-hander J.A. Happ. Going down on April 15 left the rotation dismantled at times when Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, or Kyle Kendrick struggled in their weakest games. At the same time, the one-two punch of Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels anchored the Phillies to their best performances. Happ's rehab and status, much like Rollins', gradually signals much hope if he repeats his 2009 rookie campaign.
Other injuries to closer Brad Lidge and setup men Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Antonio Bastardo depleted the bullpen of much of its firepower. But on the bright side, it has shown that the Jose Contreras pick-up paid dividends. As of June 18, he owns a 3-2 record, a 1.23 ERA, and 28 strikeouts in only 22 innings, which has earned him much praise as the most consistent setup man.
Although I mentioned the Phillies' hitters as an "underachieving group," that term may be too harsh. Still, when it comes to clutch situations, time in and time out fans have witnessed the struggles, especially from the bats of Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez.
Lately, though, they've fared well, after a matinee win over Boston and a hard-fought Yankees series. The fates of both outfielders, hazy as they are, depend on their performance the rest of the way. Werth's impending free agency and Ibanez's age have sparked trade rumors.
Struggles (aside from those of Werth and Ibanez) appeared in Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard's game as well. Victorino's 0-5 game against C.C. Sabathia may indicate his inefficiency from the leadoff spot, but Utley and Howard's struggles may have turned a corner after their strong outings against the Minnesota Twins in Friday night's series opener.
It is early to grade this team in 2010—the oven is still heating for my personal views. Let this team 'pre-heat' for a little longer, especially after the All-Star Break. Then, we will see if the roster is absolutely healthy and ready to compete with a resurgent Mets squad and a solid Braves team.