A ninth consecutive winning season is already secured, a 90-win campaign is a mere formality, and 100 wins looks more and more likely. So what’s left for these Philadelphia Phillies?
A little fine tuning, that’s what.
The goal for the rest of the regular season is clear: Stay healthy and secure the best record in the National League.
Ignore what head-to-head history or gut tells you, the Phillies would much rather play whatever weakling comes out of the NL West than the presumptive NL Central champs from Milwaukee. First place in the division would all but guarantee a showdown with the Diamondbacks or Giants.
After that it’s a crap-shoot; so if I’m the Phillies I do what I can while the sample size is still big.
With that goal in mind, let’s look at the five key areas of concern as the Fightin' Phils wind their way toward October.
If it’s not Chase Utley, it’s Placido Polanco. If it’s not Polanco, it’s Jimmy Rollins. Even the typically sturdy Ryan Howard limped a bit this past week. When all four of those guys are healthy, the Phillies have a productive infield.
Problem is all four have rarely played together. With Rollins now out until September with a groin strain, one has to entertain the idea that either Wilson Valdez or Michael Martinez will see significant action in the playoffs.
No offense to either of those two, but that’s not an appetizing proposition. Sure, we can admire their scrap and hustle, but combined the duo have accumulated a -0.7 WAR (wins above replacement) in their 420 plate appearance. Don’t fall in love with the rare pleasant surprise, neither is a big league quality player at any one given position.
Their value is in their utility, and if either started a playoff game they would most likely be the worst player on the diamond.
The Phillies’ infield is a strength when it’s at full capacity, but the unit certainly lacks depth.
I hate to cite small sample sizes, but the evidence grows more convincing by the day: John Mayberry, Jr. can play. Even when he’s not getting hits in bunches, his raw power and defensive prowess make him a valuable addition to the Phillies lineup.
Also, the stats smile favorably on the young outfielder. Mayberry leads the entire team in ABs per HR, setting a pace nearly 11 ABs better than fellow corner outfielder Raul Ibanez. Mayberry’s .270 average is a bit of surprise, subject to regression sooner or later, but his power is nothing new.
He averaged a HR per 23 ABs over his minor league career, and a player’s HR numbers tend to peak in the major leagues.
With Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence slotted into center and right field respectively, Mayberry’s only chance for consistent time will in left field. Although manager Charlie Manuel has shown a fierce loyalty to veterans, Ibanez in particular, we’ve seen more and more instances of the Phillies resting Ibanez against lefties and starting Mayberry.
Like another lanky left-fielder of Philadelphia past, Mayberry has the kind of sweeping, Pat-Burrell-type swing that plays very well against left-handed breaking pitches and Manuel has recognized that strength.
So is this a platoon yet? Or is Manuel simply stroking Ibanez’s ego while resting him for the postseason?
I’ll be watching with interest to see how Manuel manages the surging Mayberry down the stretch. At the very least Mayberry is a great fourth outfielder and potential replacement for Ryan Howard when he needs a spell.
But stay tuned, because there might be more.
Count me among the folks who thought Vance Worley would crash back down to earth before year’s end. The rookie right-hander was walking too many hitters early on and his impossibly low average on balls-in-play seemed like a harbinger of doom.
Now, I still think his 2.65 ERA is fundamentally unsustainable, but thanks to strong peripherals over the last handful of starts, his 2.59 SO:BB ratio and 3.15 FIP suggest that Worley has legitimate big league stuff.
He’s gone from fringe rotation candidate to potential third-or-fourth starter.
Though he lacks an overpowering repertoire, Worley has 42 Ks versus just eight walks over his last seven starts. Pair that with a solid minor league resume, and Vance has earned his time in the rotation.
So what do the Phillies do with him now that the big four are (relatively) healthy? Roy Oswalt looked very strong in his last start against the Nationals, so it’s hard to envision Worley taking his place in the postseason rotation.
But will the Vanimal even make the postseason roster?
For whatever reason the Phillies have carried Kyle Kendrick as their long man in postseasons past, and Charlie loves him some experience. Still, it’s hard to ignore how much better Worley has been than Kendrick in 2011. Vance also has experience out of the pen and the sort of swing-and-miss stuff Kendrick lacks.
I would hope Worley gets a spot on the 25-man roster heading into October, but we’ll have to wait and see.
What takes precedence, Roy Halladay’s pursuit of another Cy Young or the ace’s health heading into October?
I should preface this by saying that much has been made of Roy Halladay’s workload these last couple of seasons—he led the NL in innings pitched last year and drives the pace in 2011—but to this point nothing in his performance suggests fatigue.
Even then, he is 34-years-old and a cornerstone of the Phillies’ success. He did injure himself in Game 5 of the NLCS last year, and some questions still linger surrounding that scare.
On the flip side, Halladay has a legitimate shot at a second-straight 20-win season and a second-straight NL Cy Young award. In order to assure himself those honors he would likely have to keep pitching deep into September.
Charlie Manuel has to decide if that’s best for the team. Halladay will tell you he wants team success above personal recognition, but it would be tough to deny such a great player and great worker the opportunity to achieve something historic.
By all accounts, 2011 has been a breakout year for Cole Hamels. He was a great pitcher before this season, but since the midway point of 2010, the cutter-equipped lefty has been truly elite. He’s keeping the ball out of the air and in the ballpark like never before—a 1.17 GB/FB ratio versus 0.79 for his career—resulting in a noticeable leap in more standard metrics such as ERA.
The good news wagon ground to a momentary halt on August 12th when Hamels threw a stinker against the Nationals and then announced he had a sore shoulder that would require 15 days on the disabled list.
When Hamels returns on Monday against Cincinnati I’ll watch to see if his command and arm strength have returned. Don’t worry about results, focus on those two measures for the long term.
A healthy Hamels gives the Phillies the best playoff rotation in baseball. Without Hamels the Phillies could be looking up at the Braves or Giants in that category.
On Monday we’ll know if this is a temporary setback or a real cause for concern.
The Phillies haven't popped up too often in the waiver wire conversation (save some talk on Jim Thome), but never count out Ruben Amaro, Jr.
The Phillies GM is always active, and I'd think if the right relief pitcher or utility infielder came along the organization might jump.
One name to watch: Marlins middle infielder Omar Infante. He seems like a good waiver wire candidate considering the Marlins' poor record and usual tendency to swap veterans for talent or cash. Infante, who just recently came off the DL, would provide insurance at third base and second base and represents an upgrade from either Michael Martinez or Wilson Valdez.
And we know Charlie Manuel likes him since the skipper made Infante an unlikely All-Star selection in 2010.
For more waiver speculation check out Matt Boczar's treatise on the topic on this very website.