Inside the Phillies: Good health may be all team needs
The Phillies have 48 days to decide what they want to do at the trade deadline. Forty-eight days to figure out what they need most if they're going to make another run at a World Series title.
The Phillies have 48 days to decide what they want to do at the trade deadline.
Forty-eight days to figure out what they need most if they're going to make another run at a World Series title.
Maybe once they get through their current stretch of 15 straight interleague games they'll have a better idea. Right now, it's impossible to say what acquisition would help this team the most because what they need most probably cannot be obtained in a deadline deal.
Pitching is always the most sought-after commodity at the July 31 trade deadline. It can easily be argued that the acquisitions of Joe Blanton in 2008 and Cliff Lee in 2009 were the moves that triggered the Phillies' consecutive trips to the World Series.
At this point, however, the pitching department has not been the Phillies' weakest link even though Jamie Moyer just produced the worst start of his career Friday night at Fenway Park.
"Our pitching has been a lot better than I thought it was going to be if you want to know the truth," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Our starting pitching has definitely done a tremendous job."
The team's 3.84 ERA heading into Saturday's game against Boston still ranked 10th in the big leagues even after taking a major hit because of Moyer's messy outing. Take away Blanton's inconsistent work and the rotation has been solid but not spectacular.
The bullpen, meanwhile, has been extremely competent even though Manuel was forced into a closer-by-committee format because of early-season injuries to Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge. With Lidge back and pitching well and Madson expected to return after the all-star break, the bullpen should be the least of the Phillies' worries at the deadline, which is quite an amazing development considering the relief concerns coming out of spring training. What also helps is that the bullpen has not been overworked. Phillies relievers had thrown a major-league low 1492/3 innings going into Saturday.
A third of a way into this season, the Phillies' problem is offense, and they're well aware of it – it has been in all the newspapers with nightly video on the 11 o'clock news - but they're still unable to fix it. Going into Saturday, they were 16th in team batting with a .259 average and tied for 19th in runs scored with 265.
One major-league scout harped on two common theories about the Phillies' offensive struggles: the absence of shortstop Jimmy Rollins for all but 11 games and the possibility that bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was stealing signals when he got caught with binoculars May 12 at Coors Field.
"To me, it's obvious what's troubling them," the scout said. "They miss Jimmy Rollins. It's not even about him hitting. It's just his presence on the field. When he's not on the field, they're not even close to the same team."
The scout was also adamant that there really could be something to the "cheating accusations" that surfaced in Denver.
"I'm very intrigued by that," the scout said. "Check what the Phillies' numbers are since that binocular game in Colorado. They've been accused of doing that stuff for years and one manager (the Rockies' Jim Tracy) had the guts to challenge them. I saw Chase Utley off balance more in three games recently than I have in the last three years. That gets your attention."
Here are the numbers: The Phillies hit 39 home runs through their first 33 games with the 33d game being Binocular-gate in Denver. Since then, they had hit 16 in 26 games before Saturday. The Phillies averaged 5.4 runs per game through 33 games. Since then, they've averaged 3.4 runs and been shut out six times.
Utley was hitting .314 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs through May 12. Going into Saturday, he had hit .170 with two home runs and seven RBIs since then. Jayson Werth was hitting .345 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs through May 12 and has batted .200 with three home runs and 10 RBIs since. Ryan Howard's batting average has actually gone up a point in that span, but his 10 home runs through 59 games represented a significant power shortage from a year ago, when he had 18 home runs at the same stage of the season.
Whatever the reason for the offensive struggle, it won't matter what the Phillies do at the trade deadline if Utley, Howard, and Werth do not start to produce in the final 102 games of the season.
As for the question about what the Phillies will need most at the trade deadline, there is one obvious answer: They need to get healthy.
Jimmy Rollins should be the boost the offense needs, J.A. Happ would help the starting rotation and Madson could bolster the bullpen.
Even if all that happens, however, if the Phillies can get a pitcher like Houston's Roy Oswalt for the stretch run, they should do it because we have seen how energizing an arm like that can be for a team.
The question is whether they have enough in the minor-league system to get such a deal done. If they're unwilling to deal Domonic Brown, the team's best high-level hitting prospect, the answer is probably not. But if some team is willing to take lower-level prospects like Anthony Gose and Jonathan Singleton, then the answer is maybe.
"I think John Mayberry and Scott Mathieson are guys that would interest other teams, too," the scout said.
Inside the Phillies:
Read The Inquirer's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, by Bob Brookover and Matt Gelb,
Blog response of the week
Subject: Phillippe Aumont demoted to single-A Clearwater
Response from UncleEddie at 4:45 p.m. last Sunday: The kid is not a starter. They should be grooming him to replace Lidge.