Nearly two weeks prior to my writing questions and a ballot for a midseason report for the Philadelphia Phillies, the team was playing terrible baseball. After an 1-8 home stand, I set up a series of questions and a voting ballot for four members of the Phillies community to answer.
Yet, because of a few setbacks and other blocks in the road, the article was delayed. When all was cleared, only three of the writers had been able to contribute.
It got to a point where I doubted that posting the article would make sense, since the questions became outdated, largely due to the Phillies' improved play. Yet, I had a change of heart tonight and decided to go through with the article, even if a few of the issues in the questions have been solved.
So without further ado, here is the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies' Community Midseason Report. The report entails five questions, answered by a total of four writers, and a ballot, also filled out by each contributor.
The group of writers consists of myself, Shay Roddy, Scott Eisenlohr, and Flattish Poe. Any kind words or questions shall be directed to them, not just myself. Without them, this wouldn't be possible.
Just keep in mind that these questions were constructed sometime near the end of June.
1. The Phillies began the season the same way they have for years now—with mediocre play. Yet, as April progressed, the team gradually improved until May came around, when the Phillies hit their stride.
It wasn't until mid-June that the wheels started to fall off. Evaluate their current position in the standings, their record, and whether or not they have exceeded your expectations.
Scott Eisenlohr: The Mad Dog, Chris Russo, on Sirius radio, said that the Phillies' season was perhaps disappointing to Phils fans as they should have put some distance between them and their rivals.
I don't see it that way.
The Phillies won the NL East in 2007 on the last day of the season and last year on the second to last day. This was supposed to be a dog fight between the Phils and the Mets, but the Marlin and Braves have joined the race.
I think the Phils are right where they should be and will play better ball in July.
Shay Roddy: The Phils have been above average. Despite their poor play as of late, their record is above .500, and they have maintained a comfortable lead atop their division. Every team will go through their slumps, and the Phils will eventually get hot again—they're too good not to.
They've been plagued by injuries, which is something they did not experience a lot of last year. That seems to be the most concerning thing right now. All things considered, the Phils currently sit about where I expected right now—with a comfortable lead atop the NL East.
Flattish Poe: The Phillies have fewer total wins than any other division leaders in the MLB at 39, and they tie the Nationals for fewest wins at home at 13. And despite losing 11 of their last 14 games, they still lead the majors in road wins and have managed to stay atop the division thanks to the Met's misfortune.
And some people think things aren't going well.
Since I'm not a fan of expectations, I'll just venture to guess the consensus among Phils fans is the team has failed to meet anyone's, except maybe their rival's.
Christian Karcole: I have never been a fan of looking too much into a slump. When I see a team go on a tear and move into first place in their division, I always know their play will level off and other teams will catch up, and vice versa.
I had faith that the Phillies would quickly put an end to their poor play.
Have they exceeded my expectations?
Well, since I'm writing these answers during the middle of this home stand, I have to say they are exactly where I thought they would be. A four game lead over the Marlins, and a 6.5 game lead over the Mets is a great sign, so as long as the Phillies keep their consistent play up, they shall be fine.
2. Jimmy Rollins has been disappointing, to say the least, as has Brad Lidge, and the starting rotation is one of the worst in the league.
Which of the three is most crucial that it is fixed sometime in the near future?
SE: Jimmy Rollins has gotten four hits in the last two games after going something like 0-28. Both were wins. This team absolutely needs Rollins to hit, play defense, and steal bases to win.
That is the most important.
If you don't have the lead, you don't need to save games.
SR: Rollins' attitude is particularly frustrating. Being the leadoff hitter is a spot that is extremely important to him, yet he takes the complete wrong approach. His job is to be a speed demon, and beat out ground balls, and then use his speed on the base-paths.
But instead, Rollins continues to pop balls up.
The rotation is something that should eventually work itself out. They've been plagued by injuries in that area, but have, by in large, proved their depth. Lidge has certainly struggled as well.
However, since his return from the disabled list, his velocity has been up, with his fastball hitting the 94-95 MPH zone, which sets up his slider. I think that the issues in all three areas will be resolved with time.
The only thing that could possibly speed up the process would be a July trade for a high-profile starter.
FP: It's no secret that when Jimmy's hitting, the team is winning. And Charlie Manuel's concerned about the team getting beat late. Last year, late beatings weren't the norm, thanks in part to Brad Lidge.
But even in 2008, Brad threw his share of nail biters. Personally, I think Rollins is tired of the front-runners who fill the stands and he feels trapped, but he's not willing to chew off his arm to escape.
Lidge came with a bum knee and a confidence problem, but a little luck at just the right time last year got him through. Rollins is one guy—someone else needs to step in to lead the herd. Brad needs to get his mind right. But the starting rotation is a whole flock of trouble.
That has to be fixed first.
CK: Is there much you can do here?
With Rollins, it's more of him working himself out and getting into the right mindset. Before his recent streak of quality baseball, J-Roll was swinging with an uppercut, causing him to hit the ball in the air as opposed to line drives.
Now that he has somewhat corrected that, you can see it in his play. Hopefully he can continue playing this way.
Lidge is the same way. He just needs to work himself out. A pitcher or two is definitely needed, but instead of a Roy Halladay or Pedro Martinez, I'd target a lower level No. 3 or 4 starter to fill the role. The price will be much less, in dollars and prospects.
Overall, the most crucial of the three is none. They all need to be worked out. The Phillies go when Jimmy goes, the Phillies need that shutdown guy at the end of the game, and another starter is needed.
3. Every hitter in the lineup has seen some inconsistent play. Even Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez have fallen victim to a slump.
Excluding Jimmy Rollins, which batter concerns you the most so far this season?
SE: All the hitters, with the exception of Rollins, is where they should be. Shane Victorino is hitting in the .290 range, and I might have expected him to be more consistently near .300 or above.
Greg Dobbs, hitting in the .230 range, is a bit of a concern, but he is not a starter.
SR: Ryan Howard. Normally, his 200 strikeouts don't bother you once you see his power numbers, but this year his power numbers are down a little. He needs to get those up by year-end.
Your team's in pretty good offensive shape, though, when your second biggest offensive problem is an all-star.
FP: Off the cuff, I'd like to whine about Pedro Feliz, but he's on track to having the best offensive year of his career. Maybe that's all they can expect from him. I could also complain that Carlos Ruiz has shown only rare moments of the offensive glory that contributed to playoff wins in 2008.
And I could even whine about Ryan Howard's team leading 93 strikeouts.
But I'd rather talk about the offensive potential that still lurks in Jayson Werth. He's second in Phillie strike outs at 66 (16 ahead of third place Chase Utley), but when he gets on base, he's aggressive. That's why, even though his slugging percentage puts him at sixth on the team, he leads the league in total runs scored by only one.
I think if he found a way to reduce the number of times he slumps back to the bench in disgust, he'd be an offensive phenomenon.
CK: While Ryan Howard has been the point of consistency, his numbers are a little down. Pedro Feliz is having a great year compared to last season, Ruiz has been playing as he always does, and everyone else has been the same, if not better, as they were last season (except for Rollins, of course).
Howard's average continues to loom around .250-.260, so I call that consistency. Yet, he still needs to lower the strikeouts and improve more aspects of his hitting. On the bench, Eric Bruntlett is a big concern, but his bat isn't as crucial to the team.
4. Speaking of Raul Ibanez, what bad is there to say? He had been "slumping" in the week or so before his departure to the DL, but that could be because of his injured groin.
How surprised are you with Ibanez's performance? Do you believe he will be able to keep it up?
SE: Ibanez is something like a career .287 hitter. His power numbers surprise me, although Safeco Field is said to be more cavernous than other fields. He should finish the season around .314.
SR: Obviously, Ibanez's progress will slow down a little at some point, and the injury didn't help at all. I expect him to be good when he comes off the DL, but continuing this season's progress where he left off seems a bit far-fetched.
FP: My concern with Raul's slump was the number of times he struck out. But if my memory serves me right, Chase Utley looked the same in the second half of 2008, when he was being poked by hip pain.
I am surprised Raul's done what he's done. Anyone under the age of 30 would argue this is no game for old men, yet the stats are consistently riddled with leaders who are veterans.
But the most important question is, can Raul keep it up?
If he continues the consistent attention to his mental state and his physical conditioning, I say he can. And this simply supports my stance on the mandatory fitness rule.
I think teams should be allowed to require it. The guys who last the longest work the hardest. Nothing good ever came of mediocrity.
Just ask Raul.
CK: Raul Ibanez certainly won't hit with as much power and surprise as he did in April, May, and most of June. I foresee him beginning to slow down, and ending up with about 40 home runs, 115 RBI, and a .300 average.
5. With of all of the distractions and injuries the Phillies have faced in April, May, and June, they still sit a few games above .500 and, most importantly, in first place in the NL East.
Although they once sat with the second best record in baseball, the Phillies are still the same World Champions that they were in 2008.
How do you foresee the last three months of the season to play out?
Will the Phillies win the division, the wildcard, or miss the playoffs? (No playoffs prediction needed, that's too far into the future).
SE: I believe they are still the best team in the East, although after it shakes out, it will be the Braves, not the Marlins or the Mets, the Phillies will have to fend off.
SR: Because of how weak the division competition is, I don't see making the playoffs becoming a problem. The Phils were relatively injury-free last year. They haven't experienced such luck this season. Repeating as champs is a tough feat, but the Phils have the tools to be very good for years to come.
FP: Starting out strong always seems like a curse. The Marlins looked like they were invincible in the first twelve games. Now the Phils have managed to top the division for weeks, but it took a bunch of losses by the Mets and wins over the Nationals—the losing-est team in baseball—to keep them there.
Even so, I believe Phillies' management will start thinking smarter, not harder, and coach the team to a division win. But more of what they're doing won't work. The players have done what they'll do with a level of guidance that used to be enough.
Pedro Feliz didn't know how many outs there were when he mistakenly leaped off first base on a hit and was picked off to end a crucial inning, but Davey Lopes was standing right there.
There's more to coaching first base than clicking that stop watch.
CK: The Phillies are still an extremely talented squad. An acquisition to the rotation will only help the team improve. My worries for the Phillies are not based on their players who have not performed, because their talent is still there, but rather on injuries.
Injuries are what can derail a team (hence the New York Mets). Once two or three relievers or starters begin to miss time, roles are mixed up and arms become tired in overuse.
As long as the number of injuries can shrink, I expect the Phillies at the top of the NL with the Dodgers at season's end. But, unfortunately, injuries can never be predicted.
Most Valuable Player: (SE) Raul Ibanez; (SR) Raul Ibanez; (FP) Raul Ibanez; (CK) Raul Ibanez
Most Impressive Hitter: (SE) Raul Ibanez; (SR) Raul Ibanez; (FP) Raul Ibanez; (CK) Raul Ibanez
Most Impressive Pitcher: (SE) Clay Condrey; (SR) Ryan Madson; (FP) J.A. Happ; (CK) Joe Blanton
Biggest Surprise: (SE) Jayson Werth; (SR) Ryan Howard (defensively), Raul Ibanez; (FP) Ryan Howard; (CK) Pedro Feliz
Most Improved: (SE) Jayson Werth; (SR) Ryan Howard (defensively); (FP) Howard's defense; (CK) Howard's defense
Biggest Disappointment: (SE) Brad Lidge; (SR) Brad Lidge; (FP) Cole Hamels/Jimmy Rollins; (CK) Brad Lidge/Jimmy Rollins
Most Consistent: (SE) Clay Condrey; (SR) Chase Utley; (FP) Shane Victorino; (CK) Raul Ibanez
Best Starting Pitcher: (SE) Jamie Moyer; (SR) J.A. Happ; (FP) J.A. Happ; (CK) Joe Blanton
Best Reliever: (SE) Ryan Madson; (SR) Ryan Madson; (FP) Tyler Walker; (CK) Ryan Madson
Best Fielder: (SE) Chase Utley; (SR) Carlos Ruiz; (FP) Shane Victorino; (CK) Carlos Ruiz