Ryan Howard made his 2012 debut Friday night, in a home game against the Atlanta Braves. The Citizens Bank Park sellout crowd – minus a few thousand no-shows – greeted Howard with a standing ovation when he was introduced to lead off the home second, and had barely settled back into their seats when Howard launched Tim Hudson‘s second pitch into the right center field warning track triangle and coasted into second base with a double. Howard later singled – the Braves did not employ a shift – and played first base with no incident.
The Phillies, however, thanks to yet another Antonio Bastardo 8th inning meltdown, lost their third in a row and eighth in their last 9 games. They entered Saturday’s game 15 games behind the division-leading Nationals in the loss column.
Instead of blaming the team as a whole, however, with the midpoint of the 2012 season passing earlier this week, it’s time to name names and had out midterm grades:
Carlos Ruiz: A
Ruiz earned his first career All-Star berth and has been among the top handful of MLB players in batting average this season. On our Blog Talk Radio show at the beginning of the season, we talked about Ruiz potentially moving up out of the 8th spot in the batting order to 7th or even 6th, but we didn’t quite see 5th or cleanup, where Ruiz has spent most of his time since early May.
Hamels and Papelbon are the Phillies’ other All-Star representatives. Each might have earned an A without the minus, but Hamels’ performance has dipped slightly in June (2-3 with a 4.34 ERA over his last 7 starts) and he has been stuck on 10 wins since June 19. Papelbon converted his first 17 save chances, but his blown save Thursday against the Mets in a game the Phillies kept fighting to get the lead back was spirit-crushing – just a day after Cliff Lee got his first win of 2012.
Pence has been a mixed bag. In fairness, with Utley and Howard out, Pence has been asked to carry a bigger load. His contact rate has suffered, as he has predictably pressed and expanded the strike zone to try to drive in runs when he bats with runners in scoring position. At other times, he has provided the team’s only offense in quite a few games. Pence’s fielding has been terrible.
Blanton is supposed to be the fifth starter on the Phillies, but he is second on the team in wins (7) and tops in complete games (2). His ERA (4.85) is high, more of a reflection of how he’s pitched in his seven losses and his overall trouble with the longball (Blanton has given up a league-leading 19 home runs coming into Saturday’s start against the Braves). While Blanton as a #2 starter would be indicative of a bad team, that situation is not his fault.
Juan Pierre: B-
Considering that Pierre was a non-roster invitee to spring training, his contributions so far as a table-setter have been significant. But the downside is that he lacks power to play left field, and has average range at best to go with one of the worst outfield arms in all of major league baseball. It’s not his fault that the team has lacked power or that Mayberry and Brown have failed to take over in left field, but the stark reality is that relying on Pierre this much exposes the fact that the team is not that good.
Vance Worley: C+
Worley’s ability to pitch with a significant bone chip in his elbow and maintain nearly a strikeout per inning and a 3.46 ERA is a display of fortitude that should be rubbing off on more of his teammates, many of whom have given a lackluster effort. Still, with only 4 wins and a short DL stint, it’s hard to give Worley a higher grade.
To say that Halladay’s season has been disappointing would be a major understatement. Yet with the lack of complete candor about what’s been troubling him both on and off the field, it’s tough to grade him. After a rocky spring training, Halladay was pitching like the ace we know him to be throughout April. Then the wheels came off in Atlanta, Halladay took a brief personal leave from the team, and then struggled to regain his form – pitching through what had been characterized as a cranky shoulder, though it ended up being a strained
Let’s clear the air on Jimmy Rollins – he is not a leadoff hitter. Rollins is still a terrific defender. It’s arguable whether that defense alone justifies the $11 million per season over this and at least two more seasons, especially given the lack of good alternatives and Rollins’ history with the team. But using Rollins at leadoff and continuing to defer to his insistence to bat there is a disservice to the organization – especially in a year where nobody should get a free pass and everything is subject to a closer look.
To his credit, Placido Polanco has remained healthy and played very good defense at the hot corner. But the bottom line is if he doesn’t hit .300 or so, he is not an effective player, given his poor walk rate, and lack of speed and power. Polanco’s .269 average has produced a meager 26 runs and 18 RBI in nearly full-time duty. Just like with Juan Pierre, if you are using Polanco as an everyday player, you are not a very good team.
If Ty Wigginton could field well at third base, he’d be playing there every day. It may surprise you to know that Wigginton’s 9 homers and 35 RBI rank him third and fourth on the Phillies in both categories, respectively – in less than full-time duty. Wigginton’s .249 average dampens enthusiasm for him at the plate, but all in all, his season has been about what you’d expect from a guy who should be one of your two top bench options.
At first, when the Phillies were struggling to score runs, Cliff Lee was pitching well and the problem was run support. But add in a short DL stint with a strained oblique and think back to Game 2 of the 2011 NLDS and in the bigger picture, Lee has suddenly become a guy who pitches just well enough to lose. Lee may yet turn it around after finally winning his first game earlier this week – and he needs to – because otherwise, 3 more years at $87.5 million (or 4 years at $102.5 million) is looking like an albatross of a contract.
With nearly identical stats, you may ask why Shane Victorino, who also has 19 steals and defends far better, is graded lower than Ty Wigginton. The answer is based on what should be expected of the player – Victorino is a former All-Star, playing for a big contract as he becomes a free agent at the end of this season. Wigginton is a journeyman. It also doesn’t help that Victorino’s happy-go-lucky nature, which was an asset on a winning team, now projects as a seemingly indifferent attitude on a losing team.
Mayberry has been a huge disappointment. While his power has come around a bit, considering that this team has played without Ryan Howard and Laynce Nix just about all season, to have Mayberry unable to beat out Juan Pierre for playing time in left field or Ty Wigginton or even Hector Luna for playing time at first base is unacceptable. Mayberry’s 6-23, .229 line at the midpoint is still well below the 18-66, .252 season of a year ago.
Brian Schneider, Mike Fontenot, Erik Kratz, Jason Pridie, Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman, Raul Valdes, Jeremy Horst, Brian Sanches (not pictured – Pete Orr, Michael Martinez, Hector Luna, Jim Thome, Joe Savery, B.J. Rosenberg, David Herndon): D+
This group is a case in point about how little the role players on the Phillies have contributed. In nearly all cases, these guys have played as expected – it’s just that too many of them don’t belong in the roles they are/were thrust into.
Galvis played terrific defense and hit surprisingly well in Chase Utley‘s absence. So why does he get a D grade? It’s because of his positive PED test. Galvis was a poor hitter in the minor leagues until last season, when he broke out with 8 home runs and a .278 batting average – about 40 points higher than his career average. He hit 3 home runs for the Phillies in 2012, knocking in 24 runs in just over a third of a season. Now Galvis is sidelined with a pars fracture in his back. Pardon me for suspecting that his stepping up at the plate (and perhaps his medical condition too) is linked to his PED use, which leaves the Phillies unable to count on Galvis as a starter in the future, because you don’t know if he can play at a major league level without PEDs – plus a second positive test would bring a 100-game suspension, which would be a devastating blow to any team counting on a player and having inadequate alternatives on the bench and in the farm system.
Kendrick has pitched a complete game shutout. Problem is, he is 1-8 in his other decisions this season. In one loss, after an extended layoff between starts, Kendrick admitted he disregarded pitching coach Rich Dubee’s advice and declined to throw on the side between starts. More recently, after his 8th loss, Kendrick proclaimed that he kept the Phillies in the game, conveniently ignoring the fact that he put the team in a 5-0 hole in the first inning before settling in to pitch shutout ball the rest of the way. Kendrick got a contract extension at the beginning of the season, and all signs were that he’d be the Phillies’ 5th starter on a full-time basis next season. It may end up being that if Kendrick can bring good value in a trade, he will be moved – possibly as soon as this month – though he may just as soon stick in the rotation even after Halladay’s return, if Joe Blanton is dealt or if Vance Worley gets shut down in order to remove the bone chip in his elbow.
It’s puzzling why Charlie Manuel continued/continues to turn to these guys late and in close games. The Phillies finally pulled the plug on Qualls – who seemed to have a warped view of his lousy season. Bastardo needs a chance to sort himself out in the minors. If he’s out of options, he needs a DL stint and a 20-day rehab assignment.
Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Laynce Nix, Michael Stutes: incomplete
Charlie Manuel: D
For the most part, I have absolved Manuel of blame for this season, because Ruben Amaro has supplied precious few quality players for Manuel to work with. Nevertheless, there have been situations where Jonathan Papelbon hadn’t pitched in a few games and could have been used in the 8th and 9th of a close game and instead a Qualls or a Bastardo allowed the score to get out of hand and left Papelbon idle. Overall, Manuel’s style of trotting core players out there even after they don’t give maximum effort does not work on a losing team when the lack of a sense of urgency to win gets replaced by a sense of complacency and an epidemic of indifference. While I think the Phillies owe it to Manuel to allow him to finish out the season, I question whether he is the right man for the job going into next season.
Ruben Amaro, Jr.: F
Where do we start? With a team that has only 14 players performing at a C- or better level (and only 6 at B- or better), the concept that the entire bullpen except for Jonathan Papelbon and most of the bench has simply not contributed to the team in a positive fashion is a scathing indictment of Amaro’s abject failure to support the nucleus of the team with the low-cost complementary parts that every winning team needs, especially when injuries strike. Counting on Jose Contreras, Michael Stutes, Chad Qualls and Antonio Bastardo was a train wreck in search of a track. And don’t get me started on why Ernesto Frieri is an Angel (and nearly an All-Star reliever) and not a Phillie.
Phillies’ medical/training staff (Scott Sheridan, et al.): F
Again, where do we start? Chase Utley doesn’t check in with the team all off-season and as a consequence, shows up with the same knee condition he learned he had last year, but now in the other knee – costing him even more time than last season. Ryan Howard develops a post-surgical infection and ends up with a 6-week setback that no one admits is a setback. Michael Stutes has shoulder problems all through spring training, but is rushed back to start the season and now has more significant shoulder issues which have shelved him for nearly 3 months and counting. Jose Contreras also seems to be rushed back from September flexor tendon surgery, and blows out his elbow again after seemingly shaking off the rust and looking like he was returning to form. Three starting pitchers have had DL stints, and ace Roy Halladay apparently made about 5-6 starts with a strained lat muscle before he was finally shut down and the diagnosis was made official. Imagine if he tore his rotator cuff trying to pitch through the lat discomfort. It’s not a far-fetched hypothetical scenario – the Phillies organization was on pins and needles for several days fearing just that. The heck with loyalty – this group should be fired and replaced in the off-season. If you think I’m overreacting, consider this – if you were a player, especially a pitcher, on another team – would you be eager to sign here? And with the Phillies in need of a bullpen overhaul, this organization needs to be an attractive destination, or the Phillies’ problems will be more than a one-year aberration.
Join us next week for Phillies notebook, where we take a look at the Phillies approaching the trade deadline, and the dream and nightmare scenarios for the 2013 Phillies roster.