On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Interleague shows where the Phils stand

It seems like every year, the Phillies go through a June swoon that leaves them floundering around the All Star break, but this year’s version leaves the defending National League East champions still clinging to first place, yet looking for answers.

Most years, when the Phillies start dropping games, we think the season is over, but the fact that they still are in first place (as of Tuesday morning) just shows how over their head they have been playing for the first two-and-a-half months of the season. However, it also shows how far they still have to go to compete with the best that the American League has to offer.

The Phillies started this batch of Inter-league play with Cole Hamels leading the team to a dominant win over the Boston Red Sox, and talk of a Phillies/Red Sox World Series was filling the sports talk circuit. Then, in typical Philadelphia get your hopes up only to have them horribly dashed fashion, the Phillies immediately dropped five in a row to the best two teams in the American League.

So what went wrong? For starters, Chase Utley returned to playoff form with a prolonged 0-for-24 slump, but wasn’t alone as the Phillies hit a whopping .198 in their five straight losses to the Red Sox and California/Anaheim/ Los Angeles Angels. While the Phillies do seem to play better when Utley is in MVP form, other hitters certainly deserve their share of the blame. Shane Victorino is just 9 for his last 48, and Ryan Howard has struck out in 15 straight games.

Sadly, hitting was not the only problem against the Sox and Angels. The Phillies offense should be able to carry the team, even when the Phillies’ starting pitcher doesn’t toss a gem, but Kyle Kendrick, Adam Eaton and Brett Myers certainly didn’t do the struggling offense any favors, allowing a bunch of crooked numbers to be put up on the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard.

The Phillies know that without much trouble, they should be able to beat up on most of the National League, but with more than half the season remaining, they need to take a look at these two series and make some critical adjustments.

Before exploring outside options, the Phillies should look internally and make their lineup adjustments. First, they should give Greg Dobbs more at bats at any of the corner spots on the field. Then, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino should be in a constant state of competition, because both seem to thrive on rage from being benched.

Charlie Manuel should also be looking to rest (bench) Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell when strikeout pitchers come to town. There’s no sense in planning an 0-for-4 day with three strikeouts when you can bring in Dobbs or Werth to at least put the ball in play. And conversely, when ground-ball pitchers take the hill, Manuel should pull Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz from the lineup, because both could fittingly carry the nickname “Mr. GDIP.”

On the pitching side, the Phillies need another hurler who can stop a losing streak besides Cole Hamels. Even Cole couldn’t end the homestand with a victory, despite turning in a quality start and surrendering just three runs. While the Phillies have won 10 of Kendrick’s last 12 starts, I don’t really trust him to be a consistent force in the rotation, especially when he starts facing playoff-caliber lineups.

General Manager Pat Gillick needs to work some of the magic he used to build the bullpen and go get a solid number two pitcher and let Brett Myers work out his problems in long relief (or Lehigh Valley).

Gillick should talk to his old buddies in Seattle and Toronto and trade for either Eric Bedard or A.J. Burnett, because neither would cost the Phillies the majority of their farm system.

Right now, the Phillies are in first place, but not nearly as comfortable as they were before this batch of Inter-league play. With some smart thinking and some ego deflating, the Phillies could easily run away with the division.

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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
Location: United States

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