Roy Oswalt: Could the Phillies Win the World Series If Hurler Never Recovers?
Certainly, they still can win. There's half a season to go and in baseball, anything can happen.
But, will they win the World Series without one quarter of the famed Fab Four?
Now that's another question entirely.
And to answer it, we must take a look at this Phillies team as a whole, from caps to cleats. Losing a starter of Oswalt's magnitude will affect more than just the pitching staff. From the starters to the closers and everything in between, it won't just be Oswalt's back that is 'feeling the pain.'
The Fab Three?
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Oswalt's absence will have the most immediate impact on the Phillies starting pitching. Of the rotation that began the season, Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels and Blanton, two are now gone. (Joe Blanton has been out since May14 with an elbow injury.) The likely replacements are Kyle Kendrick and rookie Vance Worley.
Kendrick is 4-4 so far this season with a 3.23 ERA and is not new to the pressures of a stretch run.
Although Worley started this season in the minors he has handled the big stage quite well. He is 3-1 so far with a 2.57 ERA. His latest accomplishment? A 2-1 win against the hard-hitting Boston Red Sox.
The Phillies big three, even without Oswalt, are still the class of the league. If they continue their current dominance down the stretch and in the post season, the Phillies should still be considered strong contenders to win it all.
In fact, even before his injury, Oswalt was having a sub-par season with only a 4-6 record in 13 starts.
If Worley continues to pitch well, that would be an added bonus.
The Phils also hope to have Joe Blanton, an experienced arm with playoff and World Series experience, back by mid to late July.
Have the Bats Lost Their Bite?
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And then there's the case of the mysterious missing offense. Down in almost every hitting and scoring category year-to-year, only one member of the Phillies 25-man roster is hitting over .300 and he's not even in the starting line-up (Pinch hitter Ross Gload is batting .320).
Despite this decline, however, the Phillies still ended the first half of the season in first place, four and a half games ahead of the Braves and a whopping 21 games over .500!
How does Roy Oswalt's injury impact the offense? The team can overcome a lack of scoring when one of their aces is on the mound but without a fourth lights-out starter, the Phillies bats will need to find their stroke. In short, the Phils' slumping offense will need to step it up if they want to to stay on top.
Or GM Ruben Amaro may have to make another one of his trade deadline deals to get that right-handed bat the Phillies are missing.
Although the Phillies are down offensively, so is the rest of the league. In fact, the NL has scored fewer runs per game than in any year since 1982. Shane Victorino is having a strong year and Chase Utley is starting to hit his stride. Ryan Howard can always get hot and start hitting home runs in bunches.
But in the end, we'll find out if there is any truth to the oft-repeated baseball mantra: "Good pitching beats good hitting."
If that holds true, the Phillies World Series chances will remain strong.
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If someone told you that by the All-Star Break the Phillies eighth- and ninth-inning relievers would be Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo, you probably would have said, "Who???"
And you aren't the only one. But if their current performance is any indication, a lot of the leagues' hitters will soon know their names. Stutes, a 24-year old rookie who started the season in Triple-A, has a 3-0 record and a 2.81 ERA.
Bastardo, who has logged a little time with the big club the past couple seasons, is also sitting at 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA. With three saves in three save opportunities, you might call Bastardo the Phillies official back-up to the back-up to the back-up closer.
But how does all this get us back to Roy Oswalt's back? With one less ace on the mound, the bullpen should prepare for more work. Neither Worley nor Kendrick, even if they pitch well, are likely to pitch as deep into games as the three aces (or Oswalt would have) so the now often quiet pen should expect to get a lot busier in the weeks ahead.
Although Stutes and Bastardo have performed well so far, neither have yet experienced the pressures of a play-off run in their current roles. Long relief is also an area where the Phillies might run into trouble especially if Kyle Kendrick must remain a starter.
However if Ryan Madson is back by July 4 as expected, that will free up Stutes and Bastardo to provide relief earlier in games when needed.
Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras may both be back by mid- to late July. If everyone returns close to when expected, the bullpen should be able to do its job, but that's a big if!
Up to the Baseball Gods
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Of course, a baseball season never goes according to plan. There will always be the unexpected obstacles and surprising heroes, the relatively unknown journeyman who comes off the bench in a big spot and becomes a household name overnight. (Remember Matt Stairs?)
Then there's always that team that seems to have a little something extra going for it. Harder to quantify, it's what I call the karma factor.
Now you may say that you don't believe in karma, but every long-time baseball fan has heard stories about the baseball gods. (Come on, admit it.) And that brings us right back to Roy Oswalt.
Roy Oswalt is a veteran and a gamer. During his long and successful career he has always been known as a guy who would do anything to help his team win (including playing left field in an extra-inning contest last year) and his teammates love him for it.
He is a family man who always gives back to his small-town community both with his time and his money. This was in evidence recently when he returned home to Mississippi to help out after tornadoes hit his hometown.
Oswalt has been fighting back problems and playing through pain for many years now. He's turning 34 in August and there has been speculation that this season might be his last.
Although he has achieved a lot in his great career, there is one thing that has always eluded him, a World Series Championship. This might be his last shot at that prize.
I'm not touching this one. It's in the hands of the baseball gods!
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So, I ask again, "Can the Philadelphia Phillies go all the way without Roy Oswalt?"
To this, the answer remains the same. Yes, they can win.
But remember, about five slides ago, I said in baseball anything can happen? Well, since I started writing this piece, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels was hit by a line drive on his right, non-pitching, hand.
He did leave the game but x-rays were negative. It is being called a hand contusion. Word is he's day-to-day and may still make his next start.
I better finish this thing fast before something else happens.
So they can win but, will they win the World Series with only three of their four aces?
Having looked at the impact of the Oswalt injury from all angles it seems the Phillies are still the team to beat, to use their shortstop's favorite phrase. Even down one Roy, the Phillies' remaining three aces can dominate in a five- or seven-game series.
If the Phillies get key players back from the DL when expected (and don't lose any more!), the injury to Oswalt, though it does make things more difficult, does not take them out of the running. Philadelphia still might get a parade and both Roys may finally get the rings they've been hoping for.
And for anything more conclusive than that, you'll have to check with those baseball gods.