Inside Look: Phillies

Fresh off a series win over their crosstown rival Yankees and on a “roll” of winning 3 out of their last 4, the Mets now host the NL East’s first-place Phillies, with a chance to cut their distance from the top of the standings in half.

Whether they can do it is up for debate, but while we ponder that thought, we can also get some of the inside scoop on the Phillies from fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley — where, by the way, you will be able to read a similar Q&A, only with yours truly providing feedback on the Mets.

1. Jimmy Rollins is back on the DL, re-joining Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and JA Happ — yet the team remains in first place. Can the Phillies continue forward atop the NL East for another month or longer without these players, or do you think eventually their absences will have an affect?

The Rollins injury and re-injury has been the worst of them this year. Juan Castro and Wilson Valdez have not played well subbing in for J-Roll. Valdez at one point grounded into a double play in five straight games.

Brad Lidge started the season on the DL and has since found himself back there along with his replacement in Ryan Madson, but Jose Contreras has emerged as a legitimate late-innings option for the Phillies. As long as Contreras doesn’t wear down, the Phillies are fine treading water with the likes of Danys Baez and J.C. Romero. J.A. Happ’s absence hasn’t really been felt because he has been replaced by a player of similar skill in Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies’ rotation has been performing well as of late, despite Roy Halladay’s clunker in the series finale against the Boston Red Sox.

2. The Mets recently bit the bullet and sent Oliver Perez and his $36M contract to the bullpen. The Phillies, however, continue to send similarly ill-performing Kyle Kendrick to the mound every five days. Is there not a better option within the organization? Why does Kendrick continue to be given chances, despite his Jekyll and Hyde routine? Further to the point, what is it that Kendrick does in his good outings that he’s not doing in his bad outings — and is it something that you believe he can repeat consistently at some point in 2010?

Kendrick is getting starts simply because J.A. Happ is on the mend. Once Happ is healthy — or if the Phillies acquire another starting pitcher, unlikely as it is — Kendrick will be demoted. The Phillies really don’t have any better options available. The closest would be Andrew Carpenter and he may only be a smidge better than Kendrick if at all. Most of the pitching talent is still in the lower levels of the Minor League system with the arms of Jarred Cosart and Trevor May.

Kendrick doesn’t strike anybody out but he does induce a lot of ground balls. When he has a good night, he’ll have a lot of good BABIP luck: balls finding fielders’ gloves and being converted into outs. When he has a bad night, he’ll have a lot of bad BABIP luck and he’ll give up more fly balls (which also means more home runs).

3. With both Madson and Lidge out, it appears as though Jose Contreras is the closer (for now). How is he looking in that role, and who is/are handling the setup role? Who is next in line if Contreras can’t cut it?

As mentioned above, Contreras has been great. He has a SIERA of 1.43 based on an incredible strikeout rate (avg. 12.6 per nine innings) and great control (1.3 walks per nine). He showed us what he was made of on May 20 against the Cubs. He had put runners on first and third when he hit Alfonso Soriano and allowed a single to Mike Fontenot. The Phillies were only ahead 5-4 and with the tying run 90 feet away with no outs, we Phillies fans had already conceded that the team would have to win in extra innings. Instead, Contreras managed to strike out both Starlin Castro and Aramis Ramirez and finally retired Geovany Soto on a foul pop-up. Strikeouts and infield flies are two things that good pitchers induce and Contreras has them in spades.

If the Phillies continue to anger the baseball gods and Contreras succumbs to injury, Danys Baez is his heir apparent. Unfortunately, in my estimation. I have never been a fan of Baez’s inclusion on the Phillies roster and I have said time and time again that the sooner they refuse to give him the ball in high-leverage situations, the better. There’s just nothing appealing about his skillset as a reliever. Personally, if Contreras is injured, I’d prefer the Phillies call up Scott Mathieson, a fireballing pitching prospect who has battled back from Tommy John surgery. The Phillies will likely choose to keep him in the Minors so that his arbitration clock doesn’t tick too quickly.

4. The names Roy Oswalt, JJ Putz, Bobby Jenks, Pedro Martinez, Heath Bell, and a few others are being bandied about. Do you see any of these pitchers finding their way into a Phillies uniform in the near future? Or someone else?

As much as Phillies fans want GM Ruben Amaro to bring in another quality arm, I don’t see the need. Fans tend to look at the immediate future while GM’s — and, let’s face it, Sabermetrically-inclined bloggers — tend to look at the bigger picture. I don’t believe in sacrificing quality future talent for short-term gain. Roy Oswalt and Heath Bell would require the Phillies to part with at least one decent prospect such as Domonic Brown or Jarred Cosart and it’s just not worth it. The Phillies have a great shot at winning the World Series again without an Oswalt or Bell and they also have a great shot at staying competitive into 2014 if they don’t empty the Minor League system for veteran arms.

As for Putz and Jenks, I pass on them. Jenks is far too expensive and Putz is far too injury-prone.

5. Is Raul Ibanez showing any signs of breaking out of his season-long slump? If not, could Ben Francisco see more time, and/or could you see Domonic Brown making the jump from AA?

I wrote a few weeks ago that Ibanez was having trouble catching up to fastballs and I think that is still the case. There is no available data to back this up, but having watched all of the games this year, Ibanez’s bat speed looks markedly slower which would explain an inability to hit fastballs. This is the worry that some of us have with Ryan Howard, who the Phillies recently extended through his age 36 season.

The Phillies have really held Ben Francisco hostage. I’ve seen many people on Twitter campaigning to get the guy some playing time but he can’t seem to find his way into the lineup but for once a month. I don’t think there’s any chance that Francisco takes playing time away from Ibanez, no matter how bad Raul hits the skids. The earliest we’ll see Domonic Brown is September.

6. So far, are you pleased with Placido Polanco at 3B instead of Pedro Feliz? Why or why not?

Yes, very much so. I was initially against the Polanco signing — and I still do not like the length of the contract — but he has proven a lot of us wrong. The big concern was that he wouldn’t have the requisite arm strength to play third base, but he certainly does have it. Pedro Feliz has compiled -1.1 WAR for the Astros while Polanco has compiled +1.2 for the Phillies. Quite a drastic difference, especially so early in the season.

7. Top of the ninth, two outs, man on third, tie ballgame. What Phillie would you like to see in the batter’s box?

The team’s best hitter: Chase Utley. After Utley, I’d want the team’s second-best hitter: Jayson Werth.

8. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, man on third, tie ballgame. What New York Met would you least like to see in the batter’s box? (We’re in Citi Field, not CBP, so it’s not necessarily Rod Barajas!)

I would not like to see David Wright in any situation, especially not in a close & late game with runners on base. There isn’t a hitter anywhere in the Mets organization I fear with anywhere near the trepidation I do David Wright.

There you go. Thanks again to Bill Baer for playing along once again. Be sure to check out Crashburn Alley for his saber-centric insight on the Philadelphia Phillies.

Inside Looks

About the Author

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.

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