As we’ve alluded to on our radio show, this part of the Phillies’ season is frustratingly reminiscent of last Eagles season, at the point they fell to 4-8. Technically, the Phillies have more like 1/3 of the season left to play, while the Eagles had 1/4 – plus the NFC East’s parity (despite producing the Super Bowl champion) kept the Eagles’ playoff hopes alive until the last weekend. Unfortunately for the Phillies, there is no such luck in the NL East.
This leaves the players playing for jobs for 2013.
In the outfield, we are already getting a steady dose of Domonic Brown in left, John Mayberry Jr. in center and the newly acquired Nate Schierholtz in right. Schierholtz is confirming that he would be a good #2 hole contact hitter (at least against right-handed pitching) and showing strong defense. Brown is looking like a lot less of an adventure in the field, and made a nice play Tuesday to hustle down a ball hit to the wall by Brian McCann, field it, turn and gun down McCann at second. Mayberry, on the other hand, is still struggling at the plate against righties and, while a gifted athlete, misjudged a long drive Sunday and slammed into the short fence in center field, letting a catchable ball sail past, when he should have been able to track the ball, run straight to a spot and catch the ball with his back to the wall.
Mayberry seems destined to platoon with Schierholtz in right field next season, while Brown – who still needs to shorten his swing – is making progress as a hitter, potentially in the 2-hole against lefties and the 6th spot in the order against righties.
The Phillies must go out and get a centerfielder in the off-season…calling Michael Bourn? A bigger surprise would be failing to get Bourn and bringing back Shane Victorino. Unlikely, but not impossible. Another potential scenario is to switch Brown and Mayberry soon and see how Brown does in centerfield, which would increase the Phillies’ outfield options via free agency or trade.
Erik Kratz, now starting in place of the injured Carlos Ruiz (plantar fasciitis) behind the plate, has swung a hot bat, with extra base power. Kratz had been hovering around a .400 batting average and .900 slugging percentage. Not only that, the pitching staff has been very complementary of Kratz as a catcher – Roy Halladay in particular singled out Kratz as being “smart” at setting up hitters, calling on Halladay’s 2-seam fastball early and often on Saturday against Arizona, in Halladay’s best outing since he came off the DL (7 shutout innings on only 3 hits).
From our observations, Kratz (at age 32) has won himself the backup catcher job for 2013, since he’ll make the major league minimum – saving about $300,000 in comparison with Brian Schneider‘s 2012 pay.
It’s difficult to envision Frandsen playing every day at third in 2013, as tempting as the small paycheck for him would be on a team with so much money committed to so few players. Nevertheless, a bottom of the order with Frandsen, Freddy Galvis and the pitcher’s spot is much weaker than ideal. Figure Frandsen to be the swingman/insurance policy for Utley and Galvis at second and third.
Job situation not limited to the field: Charlie Manuel is under contract for 2013, but not beyond. It is exceeding rare for a team and a manager who have enjoyed this much success together to be in a lame duck situation, unless the manager has already indicated he would retire.
To compound the situation, there are some who believe that AAA Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg wants and will get a major league job in 2013. Coach Pete Mackanin is another one who may interview for managerial jobs and potentially fly the coop.
Should it matter that the post-Charlie Manuel managerial talent in the organization may go elsewhere?
Says here that the determination on the Phillies’ manager should be based solely on whether Charlie Manuel is the right man for the job in 2013 – not in 2014 or beyond. And while I can’t give Manuel a complete pass for the disaster that this season became, I think he deserves to keep his job for at least one more season, with many returning players and an opportunity for Ruben Amaro to provide some new talent and address the team’s weaknesses.
Not only do I think Manuel deserves the chance to return, I think he deserves better than to be a lame duck. So I will call for Manuel to get a one year extension, but the expectation for 2013 is a return to the postseason. If the Phillies miss again, expect even more roster turnover – which would be a good jumping off point to “kick Manuel upstairs” and change managers heading into 2014.
Pushing the wrong buttons: One criticism I have had about Charlie Manuel is that he seems to be more reactive than proactive. To clarify, he needs things to go blatantly wrong repeatedly before changing them (exhibit A: Chad Qualls in close games).
On Wednesday night against the Braves, the Phillies rallied from a 6-1 deficit to tie the game at 6. Enter Antonio Bastardo to load the bases after getting the first two outs.
Manuel then brought in Josh Lindblom to face Dan Ughla, which is a better matchup, but not a good situation for Lindblom, who had allowed 6 of 16 inherited runners to score. Make that 9 of 19, as Uggla cleared the bases with a double and effectively ended the game right there – the Braves went on to win 12-6.
Note to Charlie…Lindblom to only be used to start an inning.
Cole-fired: Cole Hamels treated fans to a highlight reel game on Tuesday to help justify his recent 6-year, $144 million contract extension. Hamels pitched a 5-hit shutout, but what was especially dominating about his performance was that no Braves so much as reached second base. Hamels had still faced the minimum as late as the 7th inning.
What’s particularly encouraging about this turn through the rotation is last Saturday’s seven shutout innings for Halladay, eight strong innings Sunday for Cliff Lee – despite some trouble with the longball – and then Hamels’ outing Tuesday. Halladay started the current turn with another terrific performance Friday night, holding the Cardinals to one run on two hits over eight innings.
Is there really any doubt about taking the field in 2013 with Halladay, Lee and Hamels leading the way on the mound?
Lieberthal on the Wall (of Fame): Former Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal was inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame Friday night.
Lieberthal played in a rough era for the Phillies, after their memorable 1993 pennant and before their current 5-year run atop the NL East. As such, I’ve heard quite a bit of criticism for this choice – which I find unwarranted.
To get an idea of where Mike Lieberthal stands in the pantheon of all-time Phillies catchers, check out our recent top 10 list on the subject.