Friday, May 02, 2008
Well, the Phillies managed to escape the month of April with a winning record for the first time since they went 16-12 in April, 2003. Their 15-13 record won't make Mets and Braves fans weep, but it is - combined with yesterday's 3-2 win over the Padres - enough to give the Phillies sole possession for first place in the N.L. East this morning, a half-game better than the Mets and Florida Marlins. The Braves sit three back at 12-15.
Last April the Phillies really survived a major crisis when they got off to the 4-11 start and saw the team come close to imploding: they lost their closer, suffered catastrophic injuries and their manager had a major meltdown. This April has been another crisis averted: Brad Lidge went down before the season started, the Phillies saw the 2007 N.L. MVP miss nearly the entire month with injuries, and starting center fielder Shane Victorino missed time too. Still, the team has survived and found itself sitting in first place, displaying real grit and determination.
What of the mighty Mets? Well, Jose Reyes is struggling badly with a .307 OBP and three caught stealings in nine tries. Carlos Delgado has an OPS of .620. On the pitching side, while Johan Santana has been as good as advertised - although his Fielding Independent ERA is 4.00, partly a product of the surprisingly high number of home runs he's allowed this season - the rest of the Mets pitchers are struggling badly. Oliver Perez and John Maine have allowed nearly as many walks as strikeouts and Pedro has made just one start. Looks like the Phillies are still the team to beat.
Keep an eye on the Braves, despite their sub-.500 record. John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have ERAs below 3.00 (2.00 for Smoltz and 2.60 for Glavine) and Tim Hudson is pitching well. As soon as Chuck James (7.62 ERA) works out his issues and the Braves get a little more solid at the plate, they'll start winning and outdistance the Mets. The key, I think, for the Braves is Mark Teixeira. The Braves need him to step up his performance and get more extra-base hits. Once Teixeira begins to produce, the Braves will finally have an offense to match their pitching staff.
The return of Shane Victorino to the Phillies lineup is welcome. As a team the Phillies are really struggling to steal bases and hit triples. At the moment they've stolen just 12 bases in 17 tries and they've hit just three triples. Once J.Roll returns and Victorino gets his groove on, the Phillies will finally have the speed to challenge the opposition. They've already hit an astonishing 42 home runs, but they cannot continue to rely on the long ball exclusively to score runs. One of the keys to the Phillies success in 2007 was that they were ruthlessly efficient in stretching the defense with a lot of successful steals and triples.
Here is a scary thought, Mets and Braves fans: the Phillies success in hitting home runs is partly because Chase Utley (11) and Pat Burrell (8) are on a major tear. Ryan Howard has hit just 6 this season, a low total. Once Howard begins hitting home runs the Phillies could have three 40+ home run guys on their roster. Yikes.
Giants vs. Phillies. The Phillies continue the second half of their six game homestand against N.L. West teams with a three game series against the San Francisco Giants. This will be the first time the Phillies have faced off with former Phillie center fielder Aaron Rowand. The 13-16 Giants are playing well in Year One of A.B. (After Barry.) These are going to be some rough years for Giants fans. They have an old team built around the idea of making a last run on the World Series for Bonds and nearly zero talent in their farm system. Right now they are riding their pitching staff and they are lucky to have some real talent there. Sunday is going to feature a terrific pitching duel between Cole Hamels (3-3, 2.70 ERA) and Tim Lincecum (4-1, 1.73 ERA). Lincecum and Matt Cain (Brett Myers foe Saturday night) are very good hurlers and will help keep the Giants competitive while they rebuild.
Offensively the Giants have moved far, far away from Barryball. They've hit just 16 home runs, but they've stole 33 bases so far. Interestingly, their top base-stealer has just six, so they really run a balanced speed game. As for Rowand: he's hitting .326 but his OBP is only .366. He's also hit just 2 home runs and 14 RBI. His production is going to fall off as the season progresses and he gets less and less lucky in putting the ball into play. The Phillies may miss his intensity, but they won't miss his bat. At all.
Minors Update. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, is off to a 3-24 start - yes you read that right: three wins and twenty-four losses - in International League play. As a team the IronPigs are dead-last in the IL in OPS (at .573 they are over one hundred points worse than the next-worst team, the Columbus Clippers) and in ERA. Travis Blackley is 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA and Jason Durbin is 0-5 with a 9.61 ERA. The IronPigs big power slugger, Brennan King, is hitting .204 with just one home run and five RBIs.
The Phillies two hot prospects at Lehigh Valley, Jason Jamarillo and J.A. Happ, are on different tracks. J.A. Happ is 0-3, but has actually pitched well: he has an ERA of 3.51 and has struck out 37 hitters in 33 and one-thirds of an inning. Happ has largely been done in by the fact that the IronPigs are awful. Happ might still earn a call-up with the Phillies if Kendrick struggles.
The highly touted Jason Jamarillo has some issues: .193 Batting Average, 2 Home Runs, 3 RBI. I'd say that Chris Coste's job as the backup catcher is very safe.
Over in Berks County, the Reading Phillies are 13-12 and sit three games out of first place in the Eastern League's Southern Division. Outfielder Gregory Golson is off to a terrific start: .320 batting average, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs and 15 RBI and eight steals in eleven tries in twenty-five games. Jeremy Slayden, the powerful outfielder who I think is vastly under-rated by scouts and pundits, is hitting .310 with three home runs, twenty RBI and seven doubles.
In Clearwater the Threshers are 9-17 and sit in the Florida State League's Western division's cellar. Prospects Adrian Cardenas and Joe Savery are doing well: Savery has a 2.92 ERA and Cardenas is hitting .347. Finally, over at the Jersey Shore, the Lakewood Blue Claws are 13-13.
I took a few pictures of Philly prospects while the Reading Phillies were here in Manchester, NH last week.
You can view the Photo Gallery at my website.
Take a look at their Season stats vs. each other's teams:
AT BATS: 81
HOME RUNS: 6
STRIKE OUTS: 8
STOLEN BASES: 8
BATTING AVERAGE: .346
ON BASE %: .391
AT BATS: 69
HOME RUNS: 1
STRIKE OUTS: 9
STOLEN BASES: 10
BATTING AVERAGE: .290
ON BASE %: .424
The first thing that stands out is the difference in at bats. Rollins had 12 more at bats. If you factor in another 12 at Bats for Reyes, you would (going by the existing percentage stats) add somewhere abouts of 3 hits, 4 walks, 2 runs, 1 rbi, 2 sb, and 2 strike outs.
Obviously, Rollins has more power. The Home Runs will always be much better, thus the runs will be better (the difference in their runs scored is basically the difference in home runs). Plus Reyes hits lead-off and as a table setter will get a lot less chances for RBI. Looking at these factors, While Rollins DID have a better season series against the Mets than Reyes did against the Phils, it's NOT the one-sided affair that has been portrayed. In fact, Reyes got on base 36 times in 69 at bats. As a table setter, he did his job just as well as Rollins did as a run producer... at with 12 less at bats.