The Phillies’ upcoming 4-game series in San Francisco against the Giants is a rematch of last week’s 3-game series at Citizens Bank Park, which the Giants took 2 games to 1. It’s also a rematch of last season’s National League Championship Series, which Giants also won, and which cemented their status as villains on the Philly sports scene.
But the Phillies-Giants series this week isn’t just about the past. It’s also about the present and the near-future.
Both teams made big trades before last Sunday’s trade deadline to acquire an all-star outfielder. The Giants traded their top pitching prospect, right-hander Zack Wheeler, to get switch-hitter Carlos Beltran from the Mets. The Phillies traded four minor-leaguers, including highly regarded prospects Jonathan Singleton (a power-hitting first baseman who was learning how to play left field) and Jarred Cosart (a power pitcher with a 97 mph fastball, who is working on his secondary pitches), to Houston in exchange for Hunter Pence.
Pence has paid immediate dividends. Entering the four-game series with the Giants, Pence has had a hit in all five of his games as a Phillie. Not only has Pence been getting hits, but his presence in the lineup, batting fifth, has resulted in cleanup hitter Ryan Howard seeing more fastballs than before Pence’s arrival. Howard went 4-for-4 in Pence’s first game, nearly hitting for the cycle, and has crushed four home runs and driven in nine runs in those five games.
Pence’s presence at No. 5 also prevents opposing managers from bringing in a left-handed reliever to pitch an entire inning when facing the middle of the Phillies’ lineup. We saw an example of that on Sunday during the Phillies’ victory over the Pirates, when Jose Veras relieved Joe Beimel, got the right-handed Pence to hit into a fielder’s choice, but then stayed in to face left-handed hitter Raul Ibanez, who belted a game-tying home run. When deciding how to deal with the Phillies’ heart of their order in the late innings, a manager must now either use two or three relievers in one inning or choose to leave a left-hander in against Pence after pitching to lefties Utley and Howard.
The Phillies have won all five games with Pence in the lineup, with their overall winning streak at six since losing the final game of last week’s series with the Giants. Arguably, that series loss to the Giants – where the Phillies’ only win came against a pitcher they likely wouldn’t face in the postseason (Barry Zito) and they failed to score an earned run against Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson and other relievers – created that much more urgency for Ruben Amaro, Jr. to make the deal for Pence the following day.
In contrast, the Giants beat the Phillies with Beltran in the lineup, then lost five straight before Wednesday’s much-needed 8-1 victory over the surprising Diamondbacks, who are challenging the Giants for first place in the NL West. By winning this series, the Phillies can do their part to try to take the reeling Giants, who are neck and neck with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West and with the Atlanta Braves for the wild card, right out of the playoff picture. Not only that, but the Phillies can do a lot to continue to build the air of invincibility beginning to surround their ballclub by finally winning a series against the Giants, even with Roy Halladay not appearing in the series.
Pence and Beltran aren’t supposed to necessarily lead their respective teams to the World Series. But they are supposed to be the final piece toward achieving that goal. Therefore, the success of these trades will not be measured by which team prevails in an early-August series, but rather by each team’s making the postseason and their success in the postseason.
For both the Phillies and the Giants, the defending World Series champions, anything less than winning the World Series will be considered a disappointment. Missing the postseason would be an incredibly bitter pill.
The Phillies and Giants (who also added middle infielders Orlando Cabrera and Jeff Keppinger) weren’t the only teams to make moves at the trade deadline. The following is a look at deals made by contenders and how we think each team’s trades will affect its chances of reaching and succeeding in the postseason:
BRAVES Atlanta, lacking a legitimate center fielder and leadoff hitter, and dealing with injuries to Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer, traded Schafer and three mid-level pitching prospects to Houston for ex-Phillie Michael Bourn. While Bourn has some holes in his game, this upgrade for the Braves is comparable in significance to the Giants’ acquisition of Beltran and the Phillies’ acquisition of Pence.
That the Braves managed to make this deal without parting with any of their top 4 pitching prospects (Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino or Randall Delgado) is astounding. Well, maybe not astounding – given the guy on the other end of the phone. The Braves should land in the postseason as the NL wild card, though they probably would have even without this deal.
CARDINALS St. Louis dealt promising 24-year old outfielder Colby Rasmus, who had lost most of his playing time to another young outfielder – John Jay – in a 3-team trade with the Blue Jays that netted them White Sox starter Edwin Jackson. Jackson is only 27 years old, but has made 163 major league starts for a whopping six different MLB teams.
The Cards also got Octavio Dotel and Corey Patterson in that deal, while acquiring shortstop Rafael Furcal from the Dodgers in an attempt to bolster another weak area. The Cardinals may have added enough complementary pieces to catch the Brewers. Maybe.
BREWERS Milwaukee made small moves (Jerry Hairston, Jr. from the Nats) to try to shore up second base while Rickie Weeks is out with an ankle injury. Weeks’ ill-timed injury forced the Brewers to use their capital to compensate for his absence rather than add pieces. In fairness, let’s not forget that the Brewers already made a move over the all-star break, acquiring Francisco “K-Rod” Rodruguez from the Mets to shore up their bullpen.
PIRATES Not to be outdone in the NL Central, Pittsburgh got a couple of right-handed power bats in Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick for a modest price. These deals may have been enough to end the surprising Pirates’ record-setting 18 consecutive losing seasons, but it probably won’t be enough to get them into the playoffs. You have to admire the Pirates for trying, though.
REDS Cincinnati kicked tires and did nothing other than trading OF Jonny Gomes to the Nats to open up a spot for prospect Yonder Alonso. The Reds, with Scott Rolen sidelined by yet another shoulder surgery and a starting rotation in near-complete disarray, look like they will bow out and make it a 3-team race between the Brewers (the most talented of the 3), the Cardinals and the scrappy Pirates.
DIAMONDBACKS Arizona acquired starter Jason Marquis from the Nationals, and then, needing bullpen depth, paid a significant price in power-hitting 1B prospect Brandon Allen and promising lefty reliever Jordan Norberto (more than a strikeout per inning at AAA), to acquire Brad Ziegler from Oakland. Ziegler will set up David Hernandez and J.J. Putz at the back end of their bullpen. It was a move that had to be made, but chances are Arizona will be a near-miss for the 2011 postseason derby.
RANGERS The price for relief pitching was very high, as we saw in the Ziegler trade and as we see with Texas’ trades. With the Angels on their heels in the AL West, the Rangers dealt 1B/DH Chris Davis and SP Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for lefty and sometimes-closer Koji Uehara, then they dealt their top two starting pitching prospects, Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland, to San Diego for dominant set-up man Mike Adams. These moves will help Texas capture the AL West, but were likely made with an eye toward matching up better with the Yankees and Red Sox in the Rangers’ run at back-to-back AL pennants and a second straight trip to the World Series.
RED SOX Boston filled a need for a starting pitcher by acquiring Seattle left-hander Erik Bedard in a three-team trade that also included the Dodgers. With Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the season and Clay Buchholz on the disabled list and possibly lost for the rest of the season, the Red Sox desperately needed a starting pitcher as they try to hold off the Yankees in the AL East. Bedard may not be the answer, but, barring a horrific collapse, the Red Sox are already ticketed for the playoffs.
INDIANS After dealing away C.C. Sabathia in 2008 and Cliff Lee in 2009, Cleveland put an exclamation point on its 2011 efforts to return to the postseason for the first time since blowing a 3-1 ALCS lead to the eventual champion Boston Red Sox in 2007, by getting an ace. The Indians traded two top prospects to the Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez. The Indians also acquired OF Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs to hold down the fort while Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo deal with injuries.
While it is obviously too early to tell who the big winners were at the 2011 non-waiver trade deadline, the Indians took the biggest gamble and expect to be rewarded with a postseason lottery ticket. We’ll see if they can catch the Tigers.
TIGERS Detroit acquired left-handed starter Doug Fister and right-handed reliever David Pauley from Seattle. They also traded for Royals infielders Wilson Betemit. The Tigers didn’t make any earth-shattering deals, but bolstering the middle of their rotation and bullpen could be enough to hold off the Indians and win the AL Central.
YANKEES Notable by their silence were the Yankees. After making big splashes going into 2009 with the signings of C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, then trading for Curtis Granderson going into 2010, the Yankees didn’t make a move at the 2011 trade deadline. Inaction, however, is consistent with their approach this past year.
While re-signing legends Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter during the past offseason, the Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and others. At this year’s trade deadline, they missed out on Ubaldo Jimenez and were too cheap to pick up more than half of Wandy Rodriguez’s paycheck. While the Yankees are very likely to reach the postseason, they have suspect starting pitching depth, especially in a Game 4 situation, and they may regret not addressing that.
WHITE SOX GM Ken Williams expressed his frustration with the team he built by trading Jackson and not making any acquisitions. Maybe not making a trade will serve as a challenge to the White Sox players, but it looks more like a concession that the Tigers or Indians will win the division.
ANGELS Anaheim isn’t far behind Texas, which made it surprising that the Angels didn’t make any moves.
One reason some teams may not have made trades was the high price that had to be paid for relievers, as we saw in the Rangers’ and Diamondbacks’ trades. Another example of how high the price on relievers was the Padres did not deal Heath Bell, whom many (including Bell) expected to be the most certain guy (along with Beltran) to be moved at the deadline. The Padres were looking for compensation that would eclipse the first-round pick and sandwich pick that they would almost certainly get for losing Bell (a Type A free agent) in the offseason. Apparently, nobody was willing to pay the Padres’ price.
It appears that the Phillies, more than any other team, made their move not for the regular season but for the postseason. With an 8-game division lead (entering Wednesday, the combined leads of all the other MLB division leaders was 8.5 games), the Phillies can afford to look ahead to the postseason.
They are carrying themselves with a confidence that reminds many of the 2008 World Series championship team. Can’t wait til October…
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