Friday, June 8, 2012

Red means Blue

In 2006, the Phillies slogan was "Red means go!"  It was appropriate.  The team was on the rise.

Since then, they have won five straight division titles, been to two World Series and won one of them.  Not too shabby.

Now, they are making the fans blue.  We are spoiled, perhaps, but they are in last place and they deserve it.  They are a lousy team.  Okay, that's overstating it a bit.  They are a lousy team with really good starting pitching.  One third of the starting lineup is made up of guys who are near the bottom of the league's offensive stats.  They regularly start guys who would have a hard time hanging onto the 25th spot on other teams.  The bullpen is full of holes and question marks.

Mayberry has been awful.  Galvis doesn't get on base much.  Rollins is not much better.  Wigginton and Nix are bench players.  Thome can only pinch hit - and what I mean by "hit" is strike out.  Victorino and Pence have been their normal selves, Ruiz is doing really well, and Pierre looks like a nice reclaim project, but if they are the heart of the lineup, runs will be hard to come by. This gang would have a hard time finishing over .500.

But, this is baseball and it is only June.  Any team with Halliday, Lee and Hamels has a chance, so there is always hope.  Polanco is hitting more line drives and fewer ground balls lately.  Mayberry has finally hit a couple of home runs.  Utley and Howard look like they might actually make it back this year. How good will they be?  Can they be worse than Galvis/Orr and Nix/Wigginton/Mayberry/Thome?  Hardly.

Can they still win the division.  Sure.  But lots of things have to go right and few things can go wrong.  Here's how.

Halliday, Lee, Hamels, Worley and Blanton have to keep pitching well.  You can lose one of them at a time for a while - Kendrick is an okay sub - but they all have to play well nearly all season.  It's hard to imagine how truly awful things would be if they weren't playing so well.

Utley AND Howard have to come back and be at least 2/3 of their normal selves.  Between the two of them, they should be worth about a run a game more than their replacements.  Just one timely hit in a handful of games this year would have the Phillies near the top of the division.  Utley and Howard are worth at least that.   Utley might actually wind up being healthier than he was last year, from the sounds of it.  Howard might struggle.  His injury is a tough one to come back from in less than a year.

Pierre is proving to be a nice addition, but he has a noodle for an arm and no power at all.  He just can't be the starting left fielder if this team is going to go anywhere.  Mayberry has to at least become an average offensive left fielder or Dom Brown better figure out how to escape AAA.  This is pretty iffy.  Mayberry is not some young rookie.  Last season might have been a fluke.  Dom Brown is only starting to hit a bit at Allentown.

Martinez has to come back from his broken foot.  Martinez?  Why is he a big deal?  Because he's a solid, speedy, versatile fielder with an average bat.  Having him back means the regulars can get a rest and there'll be less late inning juggling to get good pinch hitters to bat and good fielders back into the field.  The bench right now is a mess.  Getting Utley and Howard back will help it a lot, but Martinez will really solidify it.  I'd much rather have Wigginton and Nix pinch hit for the pitcher in late innings than Kratz and Orr.

The bullpen has to settle down.  The only solid piece is Papelbon.  They've blown a few games lately.  Contreras is out.  Too bad.  He was starting to pitch well.  Big questions.  Can Bastardo be close to what he was last year?  Close might be as good as it gets.  Are Herndon and Stutes coming back?  Not looking likely.  Having one of these two guys would be very helpful.  Is Schwimmer a career AAA guy?  Most likely.  Qualls?  Savery?  Diekman?  Somewhere in that sea, they have to find 3 or 4 guys who can pitch reliably...and they better do it pretty quickly.

So, the hopeful view from June looks like this.

Utley, Howard and Martinez come back by mid July. The middle of the lineup is plugged.  The guys hitting there now, go back to support roles and the bench and the non-hitters playing now fall off the end of the roster.  Mayberry improves to average and Polanco approximates his normal self. Rollins hits at least as well as an average shortstop. Wigginton, Nix, Pierre and Martinez anchor the bench and provide regular rest for the starters and solid pinch hitting. Victorino, Pence and Ruiz remain healthy and solid.

Qualls, Diekman and Bastardo become the set up guys.  Papelbon does his thing.  The starters stay healthy.

If all these things come to pass, they have a chance.  Can they, sure. It'll be fun watching to find out.

Otherwise, Red means Blue.

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