The trade of star outfielder Bobby Abreu, the most symbolic player move since the acquisition of Jim Thome, has cleared the way for unproven and established players to rise to new challenges.
The Phillies are 18-11 since Bobby Abreu last took the field in a Phillies uniform. Since July 30, the day he was traded along with pitcher Cory Lidle, they’ve climbed to within 1.5 games of the Wild Card after all hope seemed lost.
There are several factors, starting with a reborn starting rotation. Since the start of the season, the Phils have been constantly trying to fill two holes in the rotation, due to injury, ineffectiveness, inexperience, personal leaves and trades. With the return of Randy Wolf and acquisition of Jamie Moyer, this is the first time the starting five has been anything close to stable.
In addition, the bullpen has remained strong despite an injury to closer Tom Gordon. Ryan Madson’s demotion from the starting rotation has worked like a deadline deal for a proven reliever. Mad Dog got his second save Friday night and has been razor sharp since his second bullpen tour of duty.
It starts with pitching, but the team also received a significant boost from the offense, despite the subtraction of one of the best run producers in the game. Since Abreu, the Phils have taken over the NL lead in runs scored, scoring six or more runs 14 times since the trade.
Ryan Howard has 34 RBIs in August to raise his league-leading total to 121, all without the benefit of one of the league’s best on-base men ahead of him. This has been made possible by Howard’s continued power surge, but also the outstanding hitting of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Victorino, in particular, has stepped up his game since earning a full-time gig, likely for the duration of the season due to the injury to Aaron Rowand. Victorino has 17 RBIs this month, almost half his season total of 36.
David Dellucci had been red-hot until he went day-to-day with a quad injury. Many feel, as do I, that Dellucci is best as a platoon player. So do the Phillies apparently, as they continue to test players to share outfield duties with Looch.
Chase Utley is one player who has not excelled since the trade. Utley, who had been batting second during his best stretch, now finds himself hitting third. Since then, his numbers have dropped (I’ve always preferred him batting second, even with Abreu here). On top of this, many see Utley as the new leader of the team, which could generate some added pressure, especially with a handful of players coming and going. Plus, his gritty style of play could drain his tank earlier than most, and it’s unlikely he’s fully recovered from Tuesday’s center field collision.
Time off seems to help Pat Burrell, but only to an extent. He’s gotten a little better, but it seems like he’s pulling punches in order to just make contact. He’s hardly a power threat these days.
In total, the Phils have responded well since the Bobby Abreu deal, a swap that was supposed to bury the 2006 season six feet under and create flexibility for next season. Instead, they're playing better than they have all year, in just about every facet of the game.
Moyer, Maine match up this afternoon
After a successful debut, the Phillies turn to Jamie Moyer (1-0, 4.50 ERA) once again in order to wraps up their three-game series this afternoon at Shea. Moyer allowed three runs in six innings of a 6-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, becoming the oldest Phillies pitcher ever to earn a win. He faces 25-year-old right-hander John Maine (3-3, 3.58 ERA), looking to bounce back from a career-high seven earned runs in five innings against the Cardinals.