Much of this season has been about waiting for the Phillies to get whole. There was a hope that at some point during the dog days, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard would charge out of the dugout for the national anthem, and maybe we’d finally see what kind of team the Phillies had. But, while the Phillies wait for Utley and Howard, more and more names are joining them on the DL. Worley, Nix, Stutes and Thome have all missed significant time and added to the Phillies’ patchwork roster. A serious injury to Roy Halladay would trump all those, and could force the Phillies to reevaluate the season.
During the Ruben Amaro tenure, the Phillies have often tried to make their strength stronger. They took a very good pitching staff and tried to make it great. They’ve taken measures to keep their pitching at the highest level while neglecting other parts of the team. The Phillies appear to be married to the all-pitching/enough hitting strategy, so losing their ace would leave them with massive holes to fill.
The Phillies already are a middle of the pack NL pitching staff. They’ve had moments of starting pitching brilliance, a great closer and a big pile of junk in middle relief. Their 3.68 ERA looks good at first glance, but it’s over 1/2 run worse than last year’s team ERA and places them 8th in the National League. Even though Halladay hasn’t been effective in recent starts and has contributed to the bloated ERA, you can’t like the prospects of adding another AAA arm to the rotation.
There’s been a hope among fans that the Phillies would be getting better as the season progressed. They’ve come to expect a trade deadline deal, and with addition of Utley and Howard (if/when they come back) there was a good chance the Phillies would get a big influx of help mid-summer. But if Dave Bush or Scott Elarton enters the rotation, if the Phillies are starting Worley/Kendrick and Blanton 60% of the time, would these expected boosts even be enough to push the Phillies into the post-season?
I think the natural response to a possible Halladay injury is to fall back and do what the Phillies have done the past few seasons–add more pitching. The name on the tip of everyone’s tongue is Roy Oswalt. Oswalt has spent the spring in Mississippi waiting to fill the role of mid-season rental. His arrival in 2010 was one of the great trade deadline acquisitions in recent memory, but 2011 showed the downside of Roy Oswalt. He’s got a very cranky back. His motivation level appears to be in a constant state of flux. He contemplates retirement, then wants a 3-yr deal. He wants to stay close to home, then wants to go to the highest bidder. Put simply, Roy Oswalt is high-maintenance.
That’s the last thing this Phillies team needs. They already have the feel of a team that was just thrown together. The turnover, the injuries, the revolving door to AAA–it does feel like there is a bit of a chemistry problem on this team. At the very least, they haven’t had a chance to come together. I’m not calling Oswalt a bad clubhouse guy, but tossing him into the mix, especially if he turns out to not be effective could be a disaster. His signing could also limit the chances the Phillies can add any more help come the trade deadline. If the middle relief is still junk, what good does Oswalt do? If the Phillies have infield questions and no set left fielder, should they spend what little excess they have on a Oswalt roll of the dice?
The good news, from my perspective, is that Oswalt seems likely to price himself out of the Phillies’ market. There should also be options closer to his hometown, if that is truly important to him. I understand the desire to land Oswalt, but this is a strategy that hasn’t worked for the Phillies since it was implemented after the 2009 season. If the Phillies really want to improve they need to focus on two areas–power and relief pitching.
The Phillies are averaging just over five runs a game in May, but the same group of guys really struggled in April. The fact is, they have scored enough runs to be in 1st place. A couple fewer bullpen implosions and they’d be right there with Washington, but finishing 1st had never been their problem. I find it pretty remarkable the Phillies have managed to do so well offensively this month. With a lineup that regularly features guys who could barely get invited to Spring Training, they’re hanging in there. They’re 3rd in the NL in hitting. They get plenty of base runners, and have even been a little more patient. The problem is, the Phillies need far more base runners to score than the average team. The single has been their salvation, but also is one of their weaknesses. Are the Phillies prepared to live with this problem? A version of it helped eliminate them from the last two post-seasons.
That brings us to the bullpen where of all things, the Phillies are having trouble finding effective right-handed set-up guys. The question had always been about lefties, but now the Phillies don’t have a reliable option to get out a right-hander aside from Papelbon. Chad Qualls is essentially throwing BP out there, especially to left-handers. Jose Contreras has been better, but can hardly be counted on. There’s no guarantee that Mike Stutes or David Herndon will return from the DL and be effective. From my perspective, the Phillies seem to have a screaming need in the bullpen.
What they’d like to do is wait and see. Maybe a bullpen that features Contreras/Diekman and Bastardo will become good enough. Maybe Utley and Howard will add some pop to the lineup, maybe John Mayberry can snap out of it. But as we come up on 1/3 mark of the season, eventually the Phillies are going to be forced to make a big decision. What direction are they going? What are they trying to improve? I think a rash and expensive move to get Oswalt would be contradictory to what they’ve been preaching all year, and could keep them from making a move that could really help this team further down the line. In the meantime, we hope Halladay gets a decent MRI result.
Phenomenal Mad Men Episode on Sunday.
Mailbag coming Thursday evening, still time to submit questions and/or photos.