Will the Phillies be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline? The weeks before the All-Star break should answer the question.
The Phillies are in the midst of a 10-game homestand that they began by winning two of three games against the Rockies. The Rays are in for a three-game weekend series, then the Pirates arrive for four games.
If the Phillies don’t post a winning record during this homestand, the arrow will move toward this team being sellers at the July 31 trade deadline. They must gain ground in the wild card race to move the arrow toward their accustomed role of being buyers.
If they can’t gain ground during this homestand, the Phillies must at least make sure they don’t lose ground. After this homestand, they play three games at Miami, three at New York against the Mets and three at home against the Braves. The Marlins, Mets and Braves are in second through fourth in the National League East. The Phillies must gain ground on the Mets and Braves, in particular, before the All-Star break.
The 2-1 start to the homestand would be more impressive if the opponent was someone other than Colorado. The Rockies had lost 10 of their previous 11 games before coming to Citizens Bank Park. Their pitching staff is a mess, forcing manager Jim Tracy going with a four-man starting rotation, with each starter limited to 75 pitches per start.
Furthermore, Troy Tulowitzki missed the entire series and Carlos Gonzalez missed most of the series due to injuries. Even with the absence of two of the Rockies’ best players, it took an uncharacteristic fielding mistake by first baseman Todd Helton for the Phillies to win the second game of the series, 7-6, and capture the series.
The Rays and Pirates should provide greater challenges. If the Phillies win both of those series, they will put themselves in position to be buyers. If not, there isn’t much hope – unless you continue to believe that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are the saviors of this season.
This homestand could be the Phillies’ last stand. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out like Gen. Custer’s last stand.
HOW SWEEP IT ISN’T: Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Rockies prevented the Phillies from sweeping the series. If the Phillies had swept the Rockies, it would have been their first sweep of a three-game series this season. Unbelievable.
WALKOFF WOES: Wednesday’s 7-6 win over the Rockies, with the winning run scoring when Helton didn’t keep his foot on the bag, allowing Placido Polanco to be safe at first and Hunter Pence to score the winning run, was only the Phillies’ second walkoff victory of the season. They still haven’t rallied for a win when trailing entering the eighth or ninth innings.
VOTE CHOOCH: Some of the Phillies were wearing “Vote Chooch” t-shirts before Thursday’s game. Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz is in third place in the fan voting to represent the National League at catcher in the All-Star Game.
Ruiz is unquestionably the most deserving Phillie for selection to the All-Star Game. Jonathan Papelbon and Cole Hamels are the other deserving candidates, but no Phillie is more deserving than Ruiz.
GALVIS SUSPENSION: I’d really like to believe Freddy Galvis when he says he never knowingly took a performance-enhancing substance. The problem is that so many players before Galvis have denied using PEDs, only for us to later find out the truth. (And that includes you, Roger Clemens. Being found “not guilty” of perjury doesn’t equate to never using steroids or other PEDs, as your lawyer stated after the acquittal.)
I can’t unequivocally say that Galvis intentionally used PEDs, but, while the big names get all the attention, Galvis’ situation is more indicative of the typical steroid dilemma in baseball. The greatest temptation for PED use is for borderline major leaguers who believe they need a boost to make the majors.
Tom Verducci highlights this situation beautifully in “To Cheat or Not to Cheat,” a look back at the “Four Miracles,” pitchers with the 1994 Fort Myers Miracle, the Minnesota Twins’ Class A affiliate. One member of the “Four Miracles” used PEDs and made it to the majors. The others chose to remain clean. They did not make the majors.
Galvis had a reputation as a terrific fielder who couldn’t hit. He hit fairly well this season, displaying some unexpected pop in his bat as he pounded out doubles. Galvis fits the profile of a player who used PEDs to boost his power in order to make the majors and remain there. He shed the no-hit reputation during the first-half of this season, but his 50-game suspension for using PEDs has sullied his reputation in a completely different manner.
TRADE BAIT: If the Phillies do become sellers at the trade deadline, one interesting name mentioned by Calkins Media Phillies beat writer Kevin Cooney during last Sunday’s “Phillies/MLB Week in Review” show on Internet Blog Talk Radio (Sunday, 6:30-7 p.m.) is Hunter Pence. If the Phillies determine the arbitration award for Pence may be too high next season, they may make him available in a trade. Pence isn’t helping himself with his erratic defense in right field.
TOUGH LUCK: Vance Worley has given up three earned runs in his last two starts. He’s lost both of them. He gave up three runs (one earned) in a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays, then allowed two runs in the seventh inning of Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Rockies.
NO RELIEF: The Phillies’ lackluster middle relief also has a domino effect. Manager Charlie Manuel seems reluctant to pull a starter in favor of a reliever unless absolutely necessary.
That may have been why Manuel left Worley in the game Thursday even though he had thrown 100 pitches on a very hot night. If there were reliable options in the bullpen, perhaps Manuel would have pulled Worley in the seventh inning and brought in a reliever to face Chris Nelson. Instead, Worley gave up a two-run homer, the only two runs he gave up the entire game.
A similar situation occurred in Cliff Lee’s previous start, with Manuel leaving Lee in the game in the eighth inning until the Phillies’ lead was cut to 5-4. Chad Qualls allowed the tying run to score in the eighth, and the Phillies eventually lost in extra innings.
IN A PINCH: Thanks to Ron Opher for allowing me to pinch-hit on Phillies Notebook this week. Like Jim Thome, I will now return to my previous role, which features a lot less baseball action.