As the fire sale unfolds, the Phillies has slowly stirred themselves back into the Wild Card mix. With two months to go, do the Phillies still have a realistic chance at reaching the playoffs?
The odds are certainly against it, but at the moment they’re playing as well, or better, than all the teams standing between them and the Wild Card-leading Reds. As of this morning, the standings look like this:
As always, it all hinges on pitching, which has about to get 12-years younger/more inexperienced in the starting rotation with the addition of 22-year-old Scott Mathieson and departure of 34-year-old Cory Lidle. Mathieson, along with top oufield prospect Michael Bourn, were recalled from Scranton Wilkes-Barre in a flurry of in-house moves. As a reminder, Ryan Franklin was designated for assignment.
The state of the Phillies pitching staff can be summed up like this: Brett Myers is a No. 1 pitcher who matches up with the best in the league. They have a solid opportunity to win whenever he steps on the mound.
They will lean on at least three inexperienced starters the rest of the way – Mathieson, Cole Hamels and Ryan Madson. You don’t know what to expect from any of them, which is a net negative. Hamels looked dominant his last start against the free-swinging Fish, and in general has shown signs of improvement with every start. He will also get rocked a few more times before the season ends. Madson’s season is one of the most extreme thrill rides I’ve seen from a starting pitcher. Mathieson, who pitches tomorrow, has two pitches, but throws them hard. The Phillies can only hope to get lucky with their newest addition. As for Jon Lieber, we know what to expect. If he survives the trade deadline (suspicious amount of Jon Lieber highlights and clips playing at last night’s game FYI) the Phillies will hope he cobbles together the same second-half performance as last season.
The bullpen may represent their biggest hurdle. I challenge any of you to name this team’s current setup man. Tom Gordon has been mortal since the all-star break. Their best pitcher back there is Geoff Geary. And according to the Daily News, Rheal Cormier could be gone today.
In terms of team offense (not individual offense), I like what I’ve seen. Chase Utley has wasted no time in becoming the undisputed best player on this team in every regard. Some of you think the team is five years away, but Utley isn’t the type of player reserved for losing teams. A player of his quality has to be infectious. Along with Howard, Rollins, Burrell, Rowand and Dellucci if they attempt to resign him, I’m not real worried about the offense for the next couple years. In addition, I’m fairly certain that a top catcher will become a free agent priority.
Right now, the offense is hot, and both Utley and Howard are sizzling.
Here are some other observations from last night’s game, and some new points I’ve added this morning:
-- The "Dellucci lineup" has a good look to it. I liked it back when it was first tried when Burrell started going in the tank.
-- I don’t know how I missed this quote from Gillick’s press conference. It might be the most revealing in terms of his future plan. When asked how he will assemble the team, he said "Free agency, amateur draft, international signings. Whatever we think is right."
International signings. That’s new. And it appears the Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury thought about the same player this morning, Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gourriel, who has reportedly defected. Gourriel was the WBC’s standout player, IMO.
-- We can all agree that Abreu will be missed for his on-base percentage, doubles and knack for creating runs, but there’s something to be said about a good, old-fashioned hard-hit ball. It gets the juices flowing. That’s what I saw tonight. Granted, the Marlins weren’t too slick with the gloves, but I like what I’ve seen from this group over the last couple games. Triples, doubles, slams ... good stuff.
-- Rick White should retire. He looks totally cooked. Bring up some of this Triple-A talent, perhaps Matt Smith, the left-hander they picked up in the Abreu deal.
-- The addition of Michael Bourn to the 25-man roster is very interesting. I’m not totally sold that another outfield deal is coming, but it’s interesting nevertheless. Over the next year or so, they need to figure out the leadoff position, and Bourn is a possibility if he continues to develop. I thought for sure they’d bring up "old trusty" Chris Roberson. I’m glad they didn’t. I’ve seen enough to know he’s where he belongs, and that’s in Triple-A for the rest of his life. Bourn is the better fielder of the two, and his speed is second to none in baseball. I've seen enough to know Victorino isn't a leadoff hitter. I think he's a dynamite fielder, but not the answer at No. 1. And I know I've seen enough to know that Jimmy Rollins is a six-hitter with the potential to knock in some RBIs. Next season, they need to do what they can to turn this guy loose with some base runners ahead of him. Another solid rip tonight for J-Roll last night, his 12th of the season.
-- Gillick held a very honest, encouraging press conference after yesterday’s trade. I for one had no desire to see the Phillies carry on business as usual with this club. They're getting more expensive, older and winning less. Overall, I’m disappointed they didn’t receive a top-drawer prospect, but it seems now that Abreu was much harder to move than expected. The Yankees were the only team who could afford him, and one of three teams on Abreu’s list. Like I said earlier, the whole situation is a shame, but that’s Phillies baseball, isn’t it?
-- There’s no quit in Beerleaguer. I’m interested in this. I could give a hang whether or not Ryan Moats, Reggie Brown and Todd Pinkston are able to practice tomorrow. Who cares? No reason to turn our backs on this team now. Mathieson Tuesday. Hamels good to go. New opportunities for players to shine. And still in the hunt. It's okay.