Inside Look: Phillies

phillies-oldlogo.jpgThis weekend’s series between the Mets and Phillies should be the last time in 2008 they meet each other on a baseball field (save for a one-game playoff).

With the Mets in first by a full three games and 22 left to play, this series could prove to be the most important of the year for both teams.

It’s certain to be a good old fashioned showdown, with both teams bringing their “A game” and sending their top hurlers to the hill. The Phillies, in fact, are moving ace Cole Hamels up a day so he can face Johan Santana on Sunday — though Hamels will still be working on his normal four days’ rest.

If the Mets sweep, they will effectively eliminate the Phillies from contention — though we all remember what happened last year. If the Phillies sweep, it will make for an incredibly tense, gut-wrenching, and exciting September for both teams. If the Mets take two out of three, they’ll push the Phillies further back but not remove them from the race. If the Phillies take two out of three, they pick up one game in the standings and remain in the Mets’ rearview mirror. I think that’s all the “ifs” to cover.

To get the Phillies fans’ perspective, we’ve called on Erik Grissom of the popular Phillies Flow blog:

1. Why the big deal about Cole Hamels pitching on regular rest and starting Sunday? Is there a specific injury concern?

I’m not the spokesman for the team or a medical professional of any kind, but my specific injury concern would be that part of his body could fall off. Most disastrous from a Phillies’ perspective would be his left arm. Hamels has already thrown 203 innings this season and is on-pace to throw 235. Hamels leads the NL in innings pitched and fourth in pitches thrown. He doesn’t turn 25 until December.

There’s not much sign of a slip late in the season — he’s been pitching great. In his nine starts since the break he’s 3-2 with a 2.69 ERA and a 1.06 ratio. In his 20 starts this season before the break he went 9-6 with a 3.15 ERA and a 1.02 ratio. In 2007, though, he threw significantly fewer innings but had to hit the DL down the stretch with a sore elbow (he didn’t make any starts last season between August 17 and September 17 in 2007).

Manuel has been much better at limiting his pitch count in recent starts, but in four of his first 18 starts this season he threw at least 115 pitches, throwing 120 or more three times.

While there may be general concern about Hamels, part of the bad news for the Phillies is why he is starting out of turn. And the answer is simply that Kyle Kendrick, who should be taking the start, has just been abysmal of late and he’s just not a guy the Phillies can put on the mound in such an important game. Kendrick has allowed 22 earned runs in his last 21 2/3 innings (9.14 ERA) over his last five starts– it may not be long before JA Happ or Adam Eaton replace him in the rotation altogether.

2. Jimmy Rollins was in the manager’s doghouse at the beginning of the season, and eventually became the target of the Philly boo birds. Since his recent hot streak, how is he now perceived by the fans?

Rough season for J-Roll both on and off the field. After being benched in a game for failing to hustle early in the year, Rollins was kept out of the starting lineup for another after failing to arrive at the stadium on time. He later criticized Philadelphia fans, suggesting they were front-runners that only supported a player when things were going well. He’s also down on the incessant booing.

For most of this season, Rollins’ numbers had been down across the board. He has hit well lately, though, and comes into tonight’s game 9-for-his-last-21. His power numbers are still down. He has hit ten home runs this year after hitting 30 in ’07 and 25 in ’06. He’s slugging nearly a hundred points lower than he did in ’07.

The fan reaction to Rollins’ comments and his play have varied. To generalize, I think it’s safe to say that memories of his 2007 MVP season have faded and some love has been lost. However, a lot of the bad feelings have been muted with his play of late. So maybe he was right about the front-runner thing.

3. The Philly bullpen has been outstanding, but also used heavily. Any concerns about it breaking down in the final weeks? Any evidence of a breakdown by anyone? What is Charlie Manuel doing to keep the arms fresh?

I think it’s pretty safe to say that the bullpen breakdown has already arrived — you may remember (or may have blocked it out) that the Phils took a half game lead over the Mets with a win on August 26. They lost three in a row after that, with spectacular failings coming from the pen back-to-back-to-back and costing them all three games.

In terms of innings thrown by the pen, the Phils are near the bottom of the league. The innings haven’t been distributed evenly, however — Durbin and Madson have both already thrown more than 70 innings in relief and both are in the top six in the NL in innings pitched as a reliever.

The Phils are going to have a lot of trouble winning unless they get the core of their pen, Madson, Durbin, Romero and Lidge, pitching well again (or get other guys to step up and replace their contribution).

Manuel has made an effort to manage the key members of his pen. It’s been tough with Romero especially, given that he was the only lefty pitching in relief for the Phils for much of the year. Condrey, Seanez and now Eyre, in limited innings, all have decent numbers in relief for the Phils this season. When you look back at the numbers after the season is over I think there’s a chance we’re going to wonder why Manuel wasn’t a little more willing to go to Condrey and Seanez a little more often.

Manuel has also been hit hard by some failings in the rotation that had waves that made it to the pen. Kendrick hasn’t gone six innings in any of his last five starts, going 21 2/3 innings or about 4 1/3 innings per start. That leaves a lot of innings for the bullpen to pitch. I had also hoped that the addition of Blanton could give the Phils some stability at the top of the rotation and give the pen a rest. The trio of Hamels, Myers and Blanton at the top seems like they should be able to give the Phils innings and keep the pen in the pen and not on the field. But Blanton has also had trouble going deep into games. He’s gone less than six innings four of his last five times out. In his nine starts with the Phils he’s averaged under 5 1/3 innings per start (47 2/3 innings in nine starts, about 5.30 innings per start).

4. What is the key to the Phillies beating the Mets this weekend?

Keep Reyes off the bases. Take their shots at Ayala and the Mets’ bullpen with Wagner out.

I think the return of Church is a challenge for the Phillies as the Mets put another lefty bat in their lineup the Phils haven’t seen for a while. Romero, the Phillies’ top lefty in the pen, has worked a lot this season and has been great against lefties this year. But he can’t pitch to all of them. Scott Eyre is option 1A and he’s been good since joining the Phils. But he doesn’t inspire the same confidence that a fresh Romero would. For a Phillies’ fan it’s tough to forget Delgado’s home run off of Seanez at the end of last month.

5. What is the key to the Phillies repeating as NL East champions?

Getting their offense turned around and getting good work from their bullpen.

The Phillies just aren’t scoring runs. They were tied for tenth in the NL in runs scored in August. They actually went 16-13 in the month, but it was primarily because their starting pitching was very strong while the offense and the pen both struggled.

Rollins, Howard, Burrell and Victorino all had very weak Augusts. Howard hit 213/328/463 and Burrell 181/275/343. Utley got hot at the end of the month, going 8-for-his-last-17 to end August, but he struggled most of the month as well. The Phils don’t have much of a chance unless Burrell, Howard and Rollins hit better in August than they did in September.

Romero, Madson, Durbin and Lidge have been the core of the Phillies’ bullpen. Romero has been pretty solid all year long, but Madson’s ERA is near five since the All-Star break. Durbin has given the Phils a ton this year, but he’s been charged with runs in three of his last four outings. In those four appearances he’s allowed seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings (18.90 ERA). He allowed two home runs over his first 56 appearances of the season and has allowed two in his last four. Even Lidge, who’s also had a great season, has shown some cracks. He threw to a 1.13 ERA before the break and has thrown to a 4.58 ERA with a 1.36 ratio since.

Overall, the Phils’ pen helped them win a huge number of games early in the season. They aren’t helping them win many now. The Phils are either going to need that core of Romero, Madson, Durbin and Lidge to do the job they’ve done all year, which seems highly unlikely given how effective they were early and how many innings they’ve thrown, or get good bullpen innings from other sources. The mostly likely sources of good bullpen innings for the Phils down the stretch would be Condrey, Eyre and Seanez — all three have been good for the Phils this season, but haven’t seen nearly the pressure situations that Romero, Madson, Durbin and Lidge have faced.

6. Who do you predict will be the “sleeper MVP” of September for the Phils? In other words, who will give a surprising contribution down the

He would hardly be a sleeper, but Howard is the guy that can carry the team by himself. Rollins, Utley and Burrell can all get silly hot, but none of that trio can put the team on his shoulders the way Howard can. He’s had some monster months in his career, the best of which was probably August of 2006. In that month he hit 14 home runs and had 41 RBI.

This year he’s been about as bad as you can be if you’re going to lead your league in home runs and RBI.

Assuming Howard doesn’t count as a sleeper, I’d go with Werth. He’s had the best year of his career and comes off an August in which he hit 313/433/639 playing regularly.

7. Ninth inning, two outs, man on third, tie ballgame. What Phillie do you want at the plate?


8. Same situation as above, but the Mets are hitting. Who would you least like to see batting for the Mets?

Reyes. It’s close between him and Wright, but Reyes always seems to kills us. Wright strikes out more and the possibility that Reyes’ speed helps him beat out an infield hit makes him pretty scary in that situation.

Thanks again to Erik for providing his take on the Phillies. Be sure to check out Phillies Flow for more info on that pesky team down I-95.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.