I am happy to say that I may have been wrong in writing off the Phillies.
Since I wrote that, the Phillies play improved greatly, and they fought their way back into contention. As September begins, they find themselves leading the wild card standings and trailing the Braves in the National League East by three games. With six games yet to play against the Braves, it is clear that the Phillies control their own playoff destiny.
Of course, just because they’re in a position to make the postseason, it doesn’t mean that they actually will. So how do the Phillies’ chances look heading into this stretch run?
Right now, the team’s biggest strength is their starting pitching. The rotation, bolstered by the addition of Roy Oswalt, has been performing very well. Oswalt, Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels give the team an edge in just about every game they start. Joe Blanton has improved over the past month, and seems a good bet to at least keep the team in the game when he pitches. While fifth starter Kyle Kendrick has been much less reliable, he’s also pitched well enough at times to keep his starts from being automatic losses.
The bullpen seems to have stabilized somewhat recently. While he hasn’t been at the elite level of 2008, closer Brad Lidge has at least not been the disaster that he was in 2009 either. He seems to be an average major league closer at this point. He’ll get the job done the majority of the time, but he’ll blow a few saves along the way.
RYAN MADSON!!! has once again been excellent in his eighth inning setup role. The other relievers are less reliable, but considering how well the starters have done, there hasn’t been much need for them to pitch too much. They should be able to piece together enough successful innings from JC Romero, Chad Durbin, and Jose Contreras to get the job done.
Basically, the Phillies can count on their pitching giving them at least a chance to win on most nights. Which means that it is up to the offense to do it’s fair share.
The lineup has underachieved throughout the season. The Phillies have been one of the best offensive teams in baseball over the past few years, and most expected them to be a high scoring team again. Instead, they have struggled mightily, going through long stretches where they have had trouble scoring runs. They’ve been shut out 11 times so far, and on three different occasions, they’ve finished the game with only one hit.
Part of the problem has been injuries. Just about every regular player has spent time on the disabled list, and they’ve only had their expected lineup together for a handful of games. But as of September 1st, all of their regulars are back in the lineup.
Despite having a full roster, it might be a stretch to declare the team healthy as a few of their players don’t appear to be at full strength. Placido Polanco has admittedly suffered elbow pain for most of the season, and it might be wearing on him a bit.
Something definitely seems to be wrong with Chase Utley. There was hope that the time he spent on the DL might actually help him, since he tends to wear down as the season progresses. But his hitting stroke doesn’t seem to be there. He seems to be hitting a lot of pop ups to the left side of the field, something that I don’t recall him ever doing much of before.
And Ryan Howard looks completely lost at the plate right now. Considering he’s typically a slow starter, it was to be expected that he might need some time to round back into shape after his stint on the DL. Still, he has looked unable to hit major league pitching since his return. Perhaps his home run on Tuesday night is a sign that he’s getting back on track. Since he’s carried the Phillies’ offense in September of recent years, they’ll need him to start hitting again quickly.
But despite their possible ailments, if these guys are playing, then they should be expected to perform at their usual high level. If they aren’t healthy enough to play well, then they shouldn’t be in the lineup.
The bottom line is that while injuries might have kept the Phillies from dominating up until this point, that is no longer a valid excuse. As manager Charlie Manuel recently said, “The lineup we have on the field tonight, that’s our lineup. If that lineup doesn’t hit, we’re in trouble.”
A postseason berth is waiting for the Phillies. If they can’t take it, they have no one to blame but themselves.
Originally posted in my blog: Stranger in a Strange Land