With the 2008 All Star game now history, the Phillies plunge back into the season on Friday, after a four day All Star hiatus, by playing 3 games in Florida against the Marlins, followed by a day off on Monday before coming home on Tuesday for 3 games against the Mets and 3 games against Atlanta.
The Mets, a scant 1/2 game behind the Phils, open the 2nd half with 4 games against the Cincinnati Reds beginning Thursday night, followed by a Monday open date before heading into Philly for an early show-down with the NL East lead on the line. John Maine opposes Bronson Arroyo on Thursday with the other 3 starters for both teams yet to be announced.
The Phillies open their 2nd half on Thursday with veteran lefthander Jamie Moyer opposing Rick Nolasco. On Saturday, Kyle Kendrick opposes lefthander Scott Olsen with a battle of lefties due on Sunday as ace Cole Hamels faces Andrew Miller who carries a 5.63 ERA and was hammered for 7 runs in 1 2/3 innings in his last start before the All Star Break.
The Phillies, planning ahead for the Mets’ series, are not yet sure about their rotation after Florida. MLB.com’s Ken Mandel explains;
We don’t know, because there’s an off-day in there [Monday],” pitching coach Rich Dubee said.
The Phillies aren’t sure who will pitch Tuesday and Wednesday against the Mets at Shea Stadium, though it’s possible Adam Eaton will start the first game and Brett Myers will return on Wednesday. Dubee said Myers would likely make another start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Thursday, which would set him up to pitch Wednesday.
Though Eaton has struggled, he has a 3.08 ERA in six career starts at Shea.
The Phillies have been noncommittal on the right-hander’s status, allowing for the possibility that he may be asked to regroup in the Minors. Like Myers, Eaton would have to agree to such a move.
“He’ll start sooner or later,” manager Charlie Manuel said.
Eaton said after Saturday’s game he believes his self-described mechanical issues can be worked out at the big league level.
“I didn’t see any mechanical flaw,” Dubee said. “I saw a guy who couldn’t throw the ball in the strike zone after a while. He retired 10 out of 11 hitters with two outs in the fourth, then gave up a base hit and walked a guy [Robby Hammock] hitting a buck seventy on four pitches.”
Pitcher Randy Johnson, a .126 career hitter, then laced a two-run double and Eaton continued to unravel, highlighting his recurring problem of not being able to finish off batters. Making matters worse was that the Phillies had tied the game in the previous inning.
“Closing out innings, pitching with a lead,” Dubee said. “When we came back in that game, that’s where you need to throw up a zero and keep the momentum in our direction.”
Meanwhile, in a different piece, Mandel speaks about the offense and the bullpen;
The offense has been surprisingly inconsistent. It has succumbed to many of the league’s top pitchers, and recently had an eight-game funk in which it hit .181 as a team. Ryan Howard, though his power numbers are still there, has to improve his batting average, and complementary players Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz have to find ways to contribute.
Club MVP: Chase Utley gets the nod by virtue of his significant impact in the third spot of the order, but this isn’t a slam dunk. Pat Burrell has been a consistent run producer, and closer Brad Lidge has been untouchable in the ninth inning.
Biggest surprise: Durbin has been one of the season’s revelations. Considered a useful longman/spot starter when he was signed as a free agent, Durbin has emerged as the bullpen’s most vital and interchangeable piece. He’s been used anywhere from the fourth to the eighth inning, and handled each role with aplomb.
Reliever Joe Bisenius was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, ostensibly to fill Tom Gordon’s spot as Gordon went down with right elbow inflamation (after his blown save in the July 5th Mets game opened the door for a Mets win), and after lefthanded reliever R.J. Swindle was sent back to Lehigh Valley.
There are all sorts of names being bandied around as possible starting pitchers coming to the Phils to fill the gaps in the starting rotation. Conjecture and punditcity are a waste of time. I’ll leave the calls to the guys who make the big bucks. Until something concrete happens, the Phils are left with a starting rotation of Hamels, Moyer, Kendrick and Eaton, Myers or recalling lefthander J.A. Happ.
Offensively, for the Phillies to repeat atop the NL East and move to the next levels in the playoffs, the offense has to come alive and stay alive consistently. And that means, leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins has got to pick it up. While we can’t expect a triple-20 every season, Rollins numbers are way down. Even his average is 20 points lower. Part of that can be attributed to his early season stint on the DL with ankle woes and the other part could have to do lack of punch from the bottom of the lineup.
The lineup will catch fire. They have scored 481 runs, second in the National League, but they are hitting only .257 as a team (eighth in the NL) and have been plagued by long stretches of inadequacy. But it’s only a matter of time before Jimmy Rollins catches fire, and, as Ryan Howard’s batting average rises, so will the potency of the lineup.
Everyone points the finger at Jimmy Rollins, but you can’t expect him to have the same season he did last year. His batting average (.274) is only three points lower than his career average, and he is on pace to tie a career high with 46 stolen bases. The bigger problem? The bottom of the lineup isn’t providing him with enough RBI opportunities. Rollins has only 31 RBI this season. Sure, he hasn’t been as productive as in years past, but he is hitting .298 with runners in scoring position and .327 with men on base. Problem is, 66 percent of his at-bats this season have occurred with the bases empty. Last year, the No. 6 spot in the lineup hit .289, the No. 7 spot hit .306, and the No. 8 spot hit .244. This year, those numbers are .253, .275 and .240, respectively. The Phillies need catcher Carlos Ruiz (.202) and rightfielder Geoff Jenkins (.237) to rebound in the second half.
The stats bear out that the Phillies have shown in recent years that they are a big second-half team. The fact that they hit All Star break 8 games above .500 seems a huge bonus. Hopefully, with 4 days rest, they head into Florida with a new head of steam and blow the Mets and Marlins away to win the NL East going away.