Editor's note: The following Q&A will be posted on Metsblog later today, but also works as a state-of-the-Phillies post. Enjoy.
Metsblog: How big of a loss was Chase Utley to this lineup? Is there a one-to-one correlation between his absence and Ryan Howard's struggles?
Beerleaguer: A player of Utley’s enormity is impossible to replace. He's the team's best player. Before he went down, he was on pace to break the all-time single-season mark for extra base hits. He probably would have finished with 66 doubles and 27 homers. We’re talking about a legitimate MVP candidate who’s still in the running despite missing all this time.
Since July 27 when Utley went down with the broken hand, the Phillies have survived because Utley’s replacement, Tadahito Iguchi, has fit in well, Pat Burrell has stayed hot and the guys at the bottom of the lineup have contributed here and there. They went on a short-lived run, but the tank is getting dry, particularly the last two series with the Dodgers and Padres, both 1-2 losses, games when they struggled to mount a consistent attack, excluding yesterday’s 14-2 rout.
With Utley out, it’s one less dangerous hitter surrounding Ryan Howard, so pitchers are less likely to stay honest with the big guy. The main issue with Howard is that’s he’s swinging at slop and getting himself out. He’ll finish August with about 40 strikeouts and challenge Adam Dunn’s all-time season record. I don’t know whether he’s trying to do too much with Utley out or that he’s simply lost. When he stays patient and gets his pitch, all he has to do is stay on the ball and drop the bat head on it. I’m inclined to say Howard’s struggles are Howard’s fault.
Metsblog: Is the plan to put Iguchi at third base when Utley comes back?
Beerleaguer: Management has dismissed it, citing he’s never played the position and the club can’t afford to experiment this late in the season. But I’d love to find out. They have an opportunity to extend Iguchi beyond 2007 and third base is an area they need to upgrade. Utley is due back tonight, so Iguchi’s formidable presence goes on the bench. With Shane Victorino out with a calf injury, Iguchi has been a nice fit in the No. 2 hole.
Metsblog: Explain the turnaround of Pat Burrell.
Beerleaguer: Nothing has changed more since the last time these teams met than the resurgence of Pat the Bat, who’s upped his numbers to .904 OPS, 20 homers, 70 RBIs. Some believe this is the first time Burrell has been truly healthy in years. He’s been slowed by a nagging foot problem for several seasons. Maybe it's that he sees a light at the end of his contract and knows his career has reached the second act. Maybe the light went on.
Whether that's it or not, Burrell is in a good groove: Real loose at the plate; attacking pitches he would have been taking two months ago; staying on the ball. Yesterday he smashed a deep double to dead-away center, reaching down and tagging one down in the zone. He’s had some gorgeous, fluid swings lately.
Metsblog: Could Cole Hamels have went down at a worse time?
Beerleaguer: No. It screwed up some nice pitching matchups for the Dodgers series and the Mets will also avoid him. This is a pivotal homestand, which includes games against the division leader and Wild Card leader. Not the time to lose your No. 1. Some people were thinking the Phils had an opportunity to sweep LA and instead saw J.D. Durbin replace Hamels against Derek Lowe, then go with 22-year-old Fabio Castro in the rubber match against Chad Billingsley. Hamels didn’t impact the Padres series, which they blew despite missing Chris Young and Jake Peavy.
The latest report says Hamels will return from the 15-day DL on schedule and has no structural damage in his elbow.
Metsblog: On a scale of 1 to 10, what's your level of confidence in the abilities of the bullpen to close out games?
Beerleaguer: About a 1 or a 2. The Phillies are 2-33 in games in which they score three runs or fewer, according to ESPN.com. The bullpen has too many marginal players and veteran burnouts. We use the term "Value Village" on Beerleaguer because the Phillies have turned to the waiver wire, kicked over large rocks and explored dark caves for their pitching. They’ve all been exposed. Tom Gordon is cooked. He doesn't have a curveball anymore. Jose Mesa was cooked before he arrived. J.C. Romero is exposed. You can’t stay consistent with a bullpen of stiffs and marginal players with no stuff and no command.
Metsblog: With the recent losing streak, is there a bit of frustration that recent Phillies teams seem to follow a similar narrative annually?
Beerleaguer: You might be surprised there’s been less frustration this season and more understanding that the players are busting their butts. There's even a growing legion of people who believe Charlie Manuel has earned manager of the year.
They were dealt a bad hand, not only with injuries, but management hasn’t given them the best opportunity to win. They made several crippling decisions with their rotation (Adam Eaton, Freddy Garcia), but there’s no better way to illustrate this than the opening day bullpen. I can’t stress the issue enough. Along with Gordon, who was to be the closer despite the warning signs, the back of the bullpen started as Geoff Geary, who’s been demoted twice, Ryan Madson, who’s hurt, and left-hander Matt Smith, who you never heard of because he was demoted in May and is out with Tommy John surgery. These were the four pitchers who were originally slated to close games and help win a World Series, a group so bad the manager had to convert his No. 1 starter to reliever in April to help stop the bleeding.
Metsblog: Which Met would you rather see at-bat in a close and late situation: Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran?
Beerleaguer: They’re both dangerous; I like them both. I’m always very impressed with Reyes. You probably have the better insight about "close and late." I said earlier that Reyes was the most impressive player I’ve seen all season, but his numbers have been tailing since then. Beltran gives you a better chance to change a game in one swing. I have no read either way.