Friday, June 29, 2007
Contrast that with the poor Phillies: underappreciated, unloved by nearly every fan outside of the Delaware Valley – and even here beloved by few – a total nonentity in the eyes of the national media, aside from the slugging exploits of Ryan Howard. The hyped vs. the ignored, Philadelphia vs. New York … That’s the Mets vs. Phillies.
A few weeks ago it looked like the New York Mets were going to run away with the N.L. East. The Phillies got off to a 3-10 start which saw them six and a half games out of first place. Just three weeks ago, on June 2nd, the Mets were 35-19 and sat three and a half games ahead of the Braves and eight and a half ahead of the Phillies. The battle looked like a Braves – Mets struggle for the division, with the Phillies hunting for the wildcard berth, at best.
Tonight the Phillies enter the series with a winning record and sit within striking range of the Mets lead. Part of this has been a resurgent Phillies team, but most has been the sudden collapse of the Mets, who went 4-14 in early June and watched their lead over the Braves and Phillies evaporate. Unable to hit, the Mets shoddy pitching can survive 7-5 slugfests, but can’t win 3-2 pitchers duels. At this point in 2006, the Phillies were 36-42 and sat eleven games behind the Mets. In 2005, the Phillies were 39-37 and were sitting in fourth place. The Phillies enter this stage of the season in the best shape they’ve been in years. The Phillies have consistently been better after the All-Star Break:
Pre-All-Star / Post-All-Star
2004: 46-41 (.529) / 40-35 (.533)
2005: 45-44 (.506) / 43-30 (.589)
2006: 40-47 (.460) / 45-30 (.600)
The Phillies will almost certainly ride into the All-Star Break with a record better than .500, and might even have a record as good as the one that they had in 2004. They are in a strong position for the second half of the season. The Phillies are poised to be buyers, not sellers, at the All-Star Break.
I am eager to see how this series shakes out: the Phillies are offering three rookie pitchers that began the year in the minors against the Mets more veteran hurlers. Suffice to say that these are two teams that have issues with the starting pitching:
Friday afternoon: J.D. Durbin vs. John Maine. Durbin will make his major-league debut against the Mets Maine, a journeyman who has turned in a solid performance thus far this season. At the moment Maine is 8-4 with a 2.87 ERA. Last season he was 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA. Maine is actually pitching nowhere near as well as that: his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA was 4.94 in 2006 and 4.06 this season. Maine is a good pitcher, but he surrenders a lot of walks (3.5 BB/9 in 2006, 3.8 this season) and gives up a decent number of home runs (1.6 HR/9 in 2006 and 1.0 this season). I think the Phillies ought to have a lot of success against Maine, although they haven’t in the past: Maine is 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA against the Phillies over the last three seasons. Go figure.
How will Durbin do? Durbin, the Twins second-round pick in the 2000 Draft, is 2-4 with a 4.55 ERA with the Ottawa Lynx in the International League. He’s pretty good about not allowing walks (3.18 BB/9) and strikes out twice as many batters as he walks. I think Durbin, who has been waiting for his MLB debut for a while, will do fine.
Friday evening: Cole Hamels vs. Jorge Sosa. Sosa, much to my surprise, is pitching rather well: 6-3, 3.79 ERA. This ought to be a mismatch – Cole Hamels is 9-3 with a 3.80 ERA – but Sosa is turning in a surprisingly strong performance on the mound and might actually give Hamels a battle. Hamels has really stepped things up a notch this season: 111 strikeouts in 106 & 2/3 innings of work (9.9 K/9), which is basically what he did in 2006 (145 in 132 & 1/3, or 10.1 K/9), but he’s cut down his strikeout rate from 3.3 per nine innings in 2006 to 2.1 this season, a major improvement. Expect Hamels to do well against the Mets, if his previous performance against the Mets is any guide: an eight-inning performance that saw him surrender no runs, no walks and strikeout eight batters.
Saturday afternoon: the Phillies are apparently planning on sending J.A. Happ to the mound to do battle with Oliver Perez. Happ is another Phillies rookie making his debut in the pressure-cooker of the Mets – Phillies series, pitching before a national television audience on Fox. I haven’t a clue how well Happ will do, but he is a highly talented pitcher. Happ, the Phillies third-round pick in the 2004 Draft, is 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA with the Lynx. Happ gets a lot of strikeouts (9.6 BB/9), but is rather prone to allowing walks (4.88 BB/9), a flaw that Mets batters will be excited to exploit. This will be a tough match-up for the Phillies to win.
Sunday afternoon: Finally, in the marquee pitching match-up, the Phillies send Kyle Kendrick, 2-0 with a 5.00 ERA, to the mound against the ageless wonder, Tom Glavine. I am eager to see what Kendrick will do. Will he be intimidated by Glavine? Or will he hold his own? I suspect the latter.
Offensively, the Mets aren’t quite the impressive machine that I thought they’d be this season. After finishing second in the N.L. in runs scored with 834 to the Phillies league-leading 865, I thought they’d do at least as well since they return their 2006 lineup substantially unchanged. Not so. At the moment the Mets rank just eighth in runs scored with 346, 53 behind the N.L.-leading Phillies. Part of this was their struggles in the month of June: the Mets actually rank dead-last in runs scored in June with 87, 37 fewer than the Phillies, who were fourth in June. The Mets slugging percentage in June was just .385, one of the lowest in the N.L., and their On-Base-Percentage was .300, also one of the lowest in the N.L. The Mets are going to have to hit much, much better than that to survive this weekend. Carlos Beltran in particular has struggled of late, and if the Mets are going to beat the Phillies, they are going to have to have Beltran turn in a strong performance.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are doing quite well. The Phillies lead the N.L. in OBP at .349 and are fourth in Isolated Power at the plate at .170. The Phillies are the sole N.L. team that scored more than five runs per game (5.18). While it is no surprise to see the Phillies dominating the power and on-base numbers, as they have traditionally, I am very surprised to see the Phillies doing so well with runners in scoring position, an area that they have traditionally struggled at.
For the moment the Phillies are hitting .267 BA/RISP, compared to the league average of .259 and the Mets .254. That ability to hit in the key moments of a game maximizes the Phillies offense lethality and makes the ’07 offense better in most respects than the ’06 version. The ’06 team worked counts, got on base, and clobbered lots of three-run home runs. The ’07 team works counts, gets on base, clobbers lots of three-run home runs, but they also have some speed, runs the bases well, and hit well with runners on second and third. This is a much deadlier offense because it relies much less on Ryan Howard’s ability to hammer the ball. The Mets are going to have real trouble this weekend.
The return of Ryan Howard has had a powerful ripple effect on the Phillies offense – Jimmy Rollins is hitting well again – and other players like Aaron Rowand are having career years. The Mets pitching might be pretty good, but the Phillies are capable of doing a lot of damage.
So this will be a battle between rookie pitchers and a struggling offense, between two teams divided by just a few miles on I-95, between two teams battling for the division title. When the smoke clears I have a feeling that the Phillies will emerge on-top in the end.
Common misconception... Mets team ERA is 3.64, good for 3rd in the majors. Don't believe the Baseball Tonight morons.
I have added your blog to my blogroll on both my baseball
blogs http://www.sanfranciscogiants1.info and http://www.oaklandathletics1.info
Can you return the favor and add them to your blogroll? Thanks.