We have heard it said repeatedly that the NL East is a tight race. All of the teams in the division have had winning records at times, and the distance from first to last place has ranged from 2.5 to 6 games over the last month or so.
No one is running away with it – that’s true.
No one is out of it – that’s also true.
But to think it will go all the way into October like this…that’s highly unlikely.
Yes, no NL East team is on a 102-win place. Or a 102-loss pace, for that matter.
But look at where the current division leaders are at just past the 1/3 mark of the season, multiply by 3, and the division leader (currently Washington) still figures to go 25 or so games above .500. That would put them at 94 wins or so. Not dominant, but certainly in line with prior years. The second place team (currently Atlanta) figures to go about 20 games above .500 – while translates to 91 wins. That’s around where the dividing line for the postseason has been over the last few seasons. It may be a tad lower for this season and beyond, with an extra wildcard team added to the mix – but the point is that hovering around .500 is an illusion of being in a race.
Stay around .500 and you are, unequivocally, missing the postseason.
What’s unique about the teams being bunched up is we don’t know in what order they will finish. But we do know with much more certainty what a record good enough to advance to the postseason is, and what a record to stay home is.
Not even Joe Optimist can change that.
Running on bald tires: The Phillies are in the midst of a season-high 6-game skid – with all 6 losses coming at home. In their prior longest losing streak, the Phils lost 4 in a row, also all at home.
The Phils are 12-19 at home in 2012.
In 2011, the Phillies did not lose their 19th home game until August 12th.
After getting swept by the Dodgers in a 4-game series, the Phillies head on a 9-game road trip, beginning in Baltimore over the weekend against another first-place team.
Utley heads to Clearwater: Good news on the injury front – Chase Utley has headed to Clearwater and has joined Ryan Howard in participating in extended spring training games, though only as a designated hitter.
To borrow the phrase so often being used, “there is no timetable for Utley’s return to a fielding position.” Everyone expects that position to be second base. Everyone except me, that is. Two weeks ago on Phillies Notebook, I suggested that Utley would actually return as a left fielder.
This week, Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel both weighed in on that subject, neither one denying that it could happen – even though there are no guarantees that Utley’s health would hold up any better.
Amaro said “”It’s a tough thing to ask a guy…He’s never done it. It’s a tough message to send him. I know that…I’m not sure whether it does take pressure off [the knee] or not.
Manuel went further, essentially saying that it would only happen if Utley agrees to it: “If he’s going to have pain, he can have pain at first base or left field or right field or wherever just like he can have it at second…I think getting him healthy and seeing what he can still do is the big thing…I think that we should sit him down and really ask him about that [a position change] before we ever do that…he’s kind of earned that right to kind of have a say in those things.”
Noticeably absent in this dialogue is how Utley moving to left field could help the team, especially with Freddy Galvis playing so well at second and no single player claiming left field on an everyday basis. In reading between the lines, it seems like Manuel is far more deferential to Utley’s veteran status, while Amaro is feeling the heat to get the players out on the field in the positions that will help the team most.
In the meantime, I’m also wondering whether there’s anything stopping the Phillies from using Utley as a DH in the interleague road games and then putting him back on the DL, claiming that he suffered an injury (or “setback” if you will) that prevents him from playing in the field. I don’t think it will play out that way, but maybe it should. Utley could help the team, plus it would give the team a barometer of where he stands against major leaguers, as opposed to against a bunch of miscellaneous guys participating in extended spring training.
Who’s the DH? None other than Jim Thome, at least against righties. As predicted two weeks ago on Phillies Notebook, Pete Orr was the first casualty of the return from injury numbers game, and was optioned to AAA in order to make room for Thome. Against lefties, we will likely see some combination of Hector Luna, Ty Wigginton and John Mayberry at first base and DH, and perhaps Mayberry in left field, depending on whether Charlie Manuel wants to give the red-hot Juan Pierre any kind of a breather.
We still don’t know who will go when it’s time to activate Laynce Nix, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Freddy Galvis – who was just placed on the 15 day DL with a strained lower back – still has options, while Luna, Mayberry and Mike Fontenot do not.
Worley returns: Vance Worley returned to the rotation Monday, taking Roy Halladay‘s spot, while Kyle Kendrick – who was originally elevated to the rotation when Worley went to the DL about a month ago – remains as long as Halladay is out.
Worley pitched OK (4 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 4 strikeouts and 3 walks) and dueled reigining Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw to a draw – with the bullpen’s help – before Dee Gordon‘s triple set up the game-winning run off Jonathan Papelbon in the top of the 9th.
Worley threw 80 pitches, and will have to go deeper in games while pitching with a floating bone chip in his elbow if he’s going to help the Phillies – otherwise, he’ll need to go on the shelf again and have the bone chip removed.
Falling off a Cliff: Cliff Lee took a 1-0 lead into the 8th inning Tuesday. He struck out 12. His ERA is 2.92. And he is still winless (0-3), after giving up 2 runs in that fateful 8th.
Feeling a draft: The Phillies did not have a first-round pick of their own in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft (due to the signing of Jonathan Papelbon), but in the supplemental (a/k/a “sandwich” round), they selected Shane Watson (from California) and Mitch Gueller (from Washington state), a pair of high school pitchers.
Obviously, we won’t know whether these were good selections for at least 3-4 years, but I did find it curious with the pitching depth this team has in the minors (most notably Jesse Biddle, Trevor May and Brody Colvin) and the alarmingly thin crop of position players under development (with catcher Sebastian Valle the only highly-ranked positional prospect in the organization now that Freddy Galvis has arrived), that the Phillies could not find a position player worthy of at least one of the two picks.
Whether we should read into this that there is about to be an organizational shift to keeping players like Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino at the expense of retaining Cole Hamels and later Roy Halladay is something only time will tell.
We did begin to talk about this at the end of this past week’s radio show – and we figure to revisit this issue around the trade deadline and again in the off-season.