Brett Myers, the bullpen’s big three and a surprise rookie lift the Phillies to a 2-1 series win against Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the continued poor performance of the offense flies under the radar as the team prepares for a massive 12-game road trip.
I can’t overstate how much Myers’ complete game meant to the Phillies this weekend. After an 11-2 drubbing to open the series, with B-listers Aaron Fultz, Geoff Geary and Rheal Cormier getting pounded, the entire bullpen was out of gas.
Coming off a lousy start against Washington last Monday, the Phils’ first-half ace needed to make a statement. For nine innings, he dazzled the Pirates with his breaking ball, used effectively for the first time since July 2 against Atlanta. Myers (11-6, 3.48 ERA) allowed just six hits, including three infield singles en route to the 6-1 win.
It also opened the door for a fresh A-list pen to clinch the game yesterday, a huge win to build momentum heading into the road trip.
The Phils finished the homestand 4-3, decent enough to gain some ground in the wild card standings, where they hold a half-game lead.
The Phils got all their runs Friday and Saturday without benefit of the long ball, as the team’s home run drought continues. Pat Burrell popped his 24th yesterday, giving the Phils just two homers during this seven-game homestand.
I attended Friday’s game with Tom Goyne, writer of the Phillies blog Balls, Sticks and Stuff. Goyne has long held doubts that Citizen’s Bank Park is the bandbox many think it is, and watching balls die in center all night gave credence to those beliefs.
Meanwhile, here’s what happens in a bona fide bandbox:
Colorado 9, Chicago 7 (at Coor’s Field yesterday)
Chicago HR - N Perez (9, 5th inning off J Francis 1 on, 0 Out), J Burnitz (18, 5th inning off J Francis 1 on, 1 Out), D Lee (36, 9th inning off B Fuentes 0 on, 0 Out), A Ramirez (31, 9th inning off B Fuentes 0 on, 0 Out).
Colorado HR - D Mohr (15, 4th inning off G Maddux 1 on, 0 Out), M Holliday (12, 5th inning off G Maddux 1 on, 2 Out), G Atkins (9, 5th inning off G Maddux 0 on, 2 Out), J Piedra (5, 8th inning off S Williamson 2 on, 2 Out).
As of Sunday, the Bank is now the 10th easiest park to hit a homer, according the ESPN’s park factor. The Bank certainly looks like a hard place to hit homers lately, especially in center and left-center, but the Phils haven’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball, a trend that started long before this homestand. The Phils are down to 11th in the National League in slugging (.405), but still hold the top spot in on-base percentage (.342).
Why the power outage?
I see two problems. First, the heart of the order, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell, are wearing down from the daily grind of a brutally hot summer. A season in Miami might be easier than this. I’ve never seen Burrell look thinner in his career, and all three are starting to look lethargic at the plate.
Second, they haven’t been able to replace Jim Thome’s offense.
Though Ryan Howard has filled in well for the injured star, he’s producing nowhere close to the offense Big Jim produced his first seasons in Philadelphia.
Howard has provided a number of clutch heroics, but he’s sitting most games against left-handers and still doesn’t have a career extra-base hit against them.
Though VORP* (value over replacement player) doesn’t factor defense (and Howard is clearly better in this department) the rookie is posting a VORP of 8.9. Thome, before the injury, carried a 2.3 VORP.
To compare, last season Thome produced a VORP of 60.3. That’s a lot of offense that hasn’t been replaced.
Nothing changes momentum faster than a well-time longball. For the season, it’s a rare occasion when the Phils score in the first inning, let alone the first three innings. Everything happens late, and their ability to stay in the hunt is a credit to quality starting pitching and lights-out relief pitching.
The troika of Ryan Madson, Ugueth Urbina and Billy Wagner did it again yesterday, holding the Pirates scoreless through 3 2-3 innings.
The stars aligned just right for rookie Eude Brito to pitch five innings of one-run ball. The team also overcame a horrible appearance by Rheal Cormier, giving up two runs in 1-3 inning of relief.
I’ll restate what I said earlier: Cormier has outlasted his usefulness in close games.
Brito became the first left-hander to start for the Phils since Randy Wolf went on the shelf. It’s no coincidence he was caught by Todd Pratt, who also worked Gavin Floyd’s strong seven-inning debut back in April. Tank was also behind the plate for Tejeda’s first win, though Mike Lieberthal worked his first official start.
Just a thought, and I’m curious what you think: Would it make sense to rotate Brito and Robinson Tejeda depending how opponents hit left-handed and right-handed pitching? I’m not in love with Tejeda and firmly believe teams will start forcing him to beat them with strikes, as the Pirates did Friday night. Tejeda may be "effective wild," but his fastball doesn't bite.
The Phils would do well to seek out a disenfranchised foreign leaguer or indie-baller with pop to pinch hit off the bench. Endy Chavez worked his way on to my s*** list with yesterday’s blown opportunity.
There are some nice options available, but not all sluggers – like Tuffy Rhodes – would trade a massive foreign contract for a bench spot in the big leagues.
On the other hand, veteran outfielder Gabe Kapler, who signed a big contract to play in Japan this offseason, hated the experience, played poorly, and rejoined the Red Sox in mid-season. There are players like Kapler to be had if the Phils are willing to find them.
A guy with no defense but occasional pop would help the bench greatly. Can you imagine a playoff game with Endy Chavez as your top pinch hitter? I don't think so.
*Value Over Replacement Player. The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player's defense.