Chase Utley is finally back. He emphatically showed us he was far from through as a ballplayer by hitting a home run in his first at bat, legging out an infield hit and making a fine defensive play in what amounted to an unassisted rundown – all in his first game back Wednesday night.
On Thursday, he nearly beat out a strikeout wild pitch.
But for all of Utley’s heroics and his demonstrating that his knees are fine (for now), the Phillies are 0-2 with Utley in the lineup.
Of course, it’s not Chase Utley’s fault.
Giving up 16 runs in a 9-inning stretch of baseball will put you in the loss column frequently.
Eric Fisher has said repeatedly that the Phillies can’t sit around waiting for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (and now Roy Halladay) to come back – that they have to try to win games regardless of who is in the lineup.
I have said repeatedly that Ruben Amaro, Jr. did a poor job of constructing the bullpen (with the exception of throwing huge money at closer Jonathan Papelbon) and rounding out the team with low-salaried role players (with the exception of Juan Pierre).
There are about 17 players who are contributing meaningfully on the Phillies. That leaves 8 as dead wood. That ratio simply won’t cut it.
.500 ball isn’t good enough: I talked about the myth of a tight NL East race several weeks ago, pointing out that a long stretch of near-.500 ball early forces a team to play at a .600-.620 clip later in order to contend.
The Phillies now sit at 36-42, in last place in the NL East, 9 games out of first place, and 5.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Right now, that last playoff berth would go to Atlanta or Pittsburgh, both 40-35 – but they are at the top of a logjam of 4 40+ win teams. It’s fair to say that 88 games will be needed at minimum to make the playoffs, though a number as high as 91 may ultimately be the dividing line.
In order to get to 88 wins, the Phillies would have to finish 52-32 (.619 winning percentage). To get to 91 wins, they’d have to go 55-29 (.655 winning percentage).
By the way, the Yankees, at .622, have the majors’ top winning percentage, compiled in less than 84 games. The reality is that the Phllies will have to be the majors’ best team from here on in if they want to close the gap.
If the Phillies can’t achieve that for another 20 games while they wait for Halladay and Howard to return, and presuming they play .500 ball over those 20 games, they’d need to go something between 42-22 and 45-19 to get there.
For the record, the Phillies did go 49-19 down the stretch in 2010…but before we can count on lightning striking again, does anyone seriously believe that the 2012 team is as good as the 2010 team, or that the rest of the NL East in 2012 is as weak as it was in 2010?
I didn’t think so.
Vote for Chooch: This week, Carlos Ruiz took over the top spot in the MLB batting race, peaking at .364 after Wednesday’s game before fouling out as a pinch-hitter Thursday,
Despite the Phillies’ great track record of selling out games and sending players like Shane Victorino to the All-Star game in the “Final Vote” contest, Ruiz has lagged in the All-Star voting behind Yadier Molina and Buster Posey, despite being legitimately deserving.
As much as I’m rooting for Ruiz, the realist in me tells me to root for Molina, since his former manager Tony La Russa will come out of retirement to manage the NL squad and will undoubtedly pick Molina as a reserve if Posey were to win the fan vote. It’s not clear that there’s room for 3 catchers, and it’s possible that the Phillies could be represented by Cole Hamels and/or Jonathan Papelbon instead of Ruiz.
Let’s see how things unfold over the next week, with the All-Star selection show set for Sunday and the “Final Vote” to take place immediately afterward.
No relief in sight: On Friday night, a rainout caused the need for the bullpen to pitch the entire game Wednesday, “headlined” by Raul Valdes. The result was 11 runs allowed. On Saturday, Jonathan Papelbon blew a save but got the win on Jim Thome‘s walk-off home run.
So we ask this question – is there a pitcher in the Phillies’ bullpen who has pitched 3 or more scoreless outings in a row?
Un-Savery characters: Part of the fallout from Wednesday night’s bullpen-for-nine-innings ugliness was the demotion of Joe Savery (5 earned runs) and the designation for assignment (finally!) of Chad Qualls, who came in after the Phillies narrowed the gap to 8-7, only to promptly put the game out of reach at 11-7. Brian Sanches and Jeremy Horst (acquired in the off-season for Wilson Valdez) join the bullpen merry-go-round.
The clueless Qualls had this to say, implying that one bad outing cost him his job, when in fact the damage has been cumulative and unrelenting: “I feel like I’m a big league pitcher. I’ve been doing this for a long time. If I go out there [Wednesday] and have a 1-2-3 inning, we’re not having this conversation. It’s a little weird that we’re here.”
Qualls may have to go to AAA Lehigh Valley in order to collect the rest of his 2012 pay, if no other MLB team is willing to acquire him and if the Phillies stop short of releasing him. Stay tuned.
Looking ahead: The Phillies head out on the road to play a weekend series in Miami. Marlins Park is the only current major league venue that the Phillies have not yet played in.
If the Phillies win the series in Miami, they will arrive in New York as no worse than the 4th place team in the NL East, after an off-day Monday. In New York, they will get a look at the best pitcher in the National League, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who carries an 11-1 record into Friday.
If the Mets keep Dickey on his regular turn, he’d face Cliff Lee Thursday, at which point he’d be on a regular turn for the following Tuesday’s All-Star game start.
Trivia answer: There are two Phillies relievers currently with a 3-game scoreless streak. Neither opened the season with the Phils.