All Pieces In Place – It’s Time To Put Up Or Shut Up

Doc’s Return Marks Phils Return To Health

by Charles Oliver aka Bloggo Schloggo

Now that all the major pieces to the Phillies puzzle are back in place and healthy there are no excuses. It’s now or never time to make a strong run in the second half of the season for a chance at the post season. With the addition of a second wild card spot available this year the Phils still have a valid shot at competing in October. It’s going to be quite a chore and an uphill battle requiring lots of winning. Skipper Manuel has had a way of steering the team into playing it’s best baseball after the all-star game while running the Phillies show as recent history shows.

The Phillies logo during their 1950 World Seri...

The Phillies logo during their 1950 World Series year.

The Phils won 102 games last year and had the best record in baseball. This year they are going to have to play their hearts out with little room for error to win 88 games which is probably about what they’ll need to make it in as a wild card.

There has been a lot of chatter about the Phils being sellers before the trading deadline. I for one believe that would be a bad move. Especially dumping Cole Hamel who has been the teams most consistent starter this year. The team basically has the same starting line-up and starting pitching staff as last year which is an array of proven winners. With everyone back and active off the DL there is no reason why with the level of talent they that they have can’t find their way back to becoming consistent winners.

The main issues they now face are crawling out of the deep hole they dug for themselves in the first half of the season and the talent performing up to its capabilities.

As I write this the Phils have won 3 games in a row with Doc on the mound tonight against the Dodgers. Ryan Howard hit his 1st home run of the season last night. It was to left field which is a good sign anytime Howard is projecting his power to the opposite field. Halladay having a strong performance tonight and another Phils win could be the start of something good. Psychologically the club could get a major boost and start playing with the fire we’ve seen in recent past seasons when they were perennial division champs.

Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard

The Nationals aren’t going away and have proven they are for real. Catching and over taking them at this point is pretty much all but an impossibility. Stranger things have happened though. As we remember last season the Cardinals weren’t on anyone’s radar and we know what they did much to the chagrin of Phillies fans figuring the Phightins were on their way to another World Series and once again being world champions.

The Mets, Marlins and Braves also will have a large say in where the Phillies fortunes take them. It’s a tough division to find yourself 13 games off the pace and sitting in the cellar. The Phils are 10 games behind with an elimination number of 63 with 61 games left to make it as a wild card. There isn’t much wiggle room there. They are ranked 9th in the wild card standings.

The Phillies main weakness is not getting hits when it really counts. They are hitting the ball ranking 2nd only behind the Cardinals with 827 total hits. However they are ranked  6th and 7th in runs scored and RBIs – with 386 and 370 respectively. How many times have we seen runners in scoring position zero to two outs left standing there as an inning or game ends?

PHILLIES 2011 Post All-Star Break Hitting Stats

RK   G     AB    R     H     2B  3B HR SB

6th  977 2473 329 633  120 18  75  35

RBI  BB  SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS

316  232 467 35  13  .256 .323  .410 .733

PHILLIES 2011 Post All-Star Break Pitching Stats

RK    W  L  ERA   G   GS  SV  SVO    IP        H

12th  45 26 3.02  242  71   22   28     645.2  580

R   ER  HR  BB SO  AVG WHIP

234 217 57 178 593 .241   1.17

Post Script—–  Watching tonight’s game and Doc’s return to the mound. Ryan Howard took a 4 pitch walk. Batting .143 it was refreshing not to see the big guy swing at a pitch miles outside of the strike zone. Despite the homer last night he still looks uncomfortable at the plate as he did last season. Letting pitches he should cream float on by and swinging and lunging at pitches he couldn’t reach or hit with the side of a barn.

Through the first 5 innings Halladay has looked very good yielding 2 runs and having good command of his pitches. The Phils batters have managed but one run having left runners on second base in three innings against a rookie making his first MLB start named Fife. His performance thus far has not been Barney Fife like.

Hunter Pence

Hunter Pence

Howard walked again in the 6th. Maybe he should concentrate on walks and let Chooch take care of the clean up duties. Hunter Pence batting .224 with two outs and runners in scoring position punched a single out to Kemp and appeared to have scored Howard. The ump said he was out. It looked like Howard had got his hand on home plate before the tag. Having seen the replay it’s hard to tell. Whatever it was close but, just another zero on the scoreboard.

In the 8th Pence batted with the bases loaded, two out and hit a single up the middle scoring two. Ruiz was cut down sliding into 3rd to end the inning. The Phils had only 4 hits in the game before Pence’s timely two run single. Phils take the lead 3-2.

For the first time in their last 39 games trailing after 7 innings the Phillies turned it around and won the game. Another healthy sign. Papelbon got the save. That’s 4 wins in a row. They are doing what they have to do. Will their winning ways continue? It’s a mighty tough mountain to climb. Time will tell.

Big moves by Nats, Marlins put heat on Phillies

Free-agent deals could reshape balance of power in NL East

By Mark Bowman  / MLB.com

When Cliff Lee returned to Philadelphia, there was a sense the Phillies’ reign at the top of the National League East standings might last as long as he, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels stayed together in the same starting rotation.

Roy Halladay

One year later, Philadelphia still proudly possesses its Big Three. But with the Marlins and Nationals making significant improvements over the past couple months, the Phillies will enter 2012 knowing the Braves are not the only legitimate threat between them and their sixth consecutive NL East crown.

“Day in and day out, you have to say it’s the best division in baseball,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told MLB.com. “The consistent play within the division is amazing. Atlanta should be better. The Marlins definitely have gotten better with [Jose] Reyes and Josh Johnson will be back. Washington will be very competitive.”

The Phillies made one significant decision in retaining veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but that move alone may not be enough to keep Philadelphia atop the division given the new look the Marlins have committed to this offseason.

As they prepare to move into their new stadium with their new, always-entertaining manager, Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins further enhanced the excitement surrounding their club with the signings of shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell and veteran starting pitcher Mark Buehrle.

To further bolster their pitching staff, the Marlins opened 2012 by acquiring Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs. Along with making the clubhouse even more interesting, Zambrano has the potential to significantly improve a starting rotation that will once again be anchored by Johnson.

Ozzie Guillén managed the White Sox from 2004 ...

While proving aggressive on both the trade and free-agent markets, the once “low-revenue” Marlins were also in pursuit of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The club’s efforts appear to demonstrate that it is committed to the kind of successful product necessary to avoid the attendance issues that existed in their previous stadium.

“Ozzie and [president of baseball operations] Larry [Beinfest] think this team is a playoff team today,” said Marlins president David Samson. “All sorts of stuff has to happen to win it. We just have to make it.”

With the assets gained from this year’s free-agent market, the Marlins provided themselves reason to believe they can immediately compete against the Phillies, and against the improvements the Braves and Nationals both expect to make over the next few years with their prized young players and prospects.

The core of the Nationals’ future is centered around Bryce Harper, one of the most highly touted prospects in the game’s history, and Stephen Strasburg. Now more than a year removed from Tommy John surgery, the right-handed Strasburg is prepared to legitimize himself as one of the game’s elite starters.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson finished 2011 excited about the contributions Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann could provide the club’s rotation for many years to come. Two days before Christmas, the Nats’ skipper received yet another gift in the form of talented 26-year-old left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who was acquired from the A’s to further solidify Washington’s starting rotation.

Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmerman

“Gonzalez brings a presence in our rotation,” Nationals general manger Mike Rizzo said. “He has had success. He has been a workhorse. He is very young; he just turned 26. He has accomplished a lot of things before his 26th birthday. It gives us a young core of starting pitchers at the Major League level that is in the realm of something that we never had here before.”With the acquisition of Gonzalez and the healthy return of Adam LaRoche, the Nationals are seemingly on the path they envisioned when they signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract last winter.

The Braves have thus far chosen to essentially stay on the same path that led them to game’s fourth-best record through this past August. An epic September collapse prevented the club from reaching the playoffs for a second straight year but also gave general manager Frank Wren some motivation entering this offseason.

But instead of trading Julio Teheran or any of his other highly regarded pitching prospects, Wren has remained patient in his attempt to upgrade his lineup with a power-hitting outfielder. There is a chance he could still cross this item off his wish list by trading Jair Jurrjens or Martin Prado.

Yet as of Jan. 1, the Braves still had not received the kind of offer they had hoped for in exchange for Jurrjens or Prado. Wren’s only significant move this offseason was to create $5 million of payroll flexibility by trading Derek Lowe and a portion of his burdensome contract.

“We have a good club,” Wren said.  “I keep going back, and I’ll stand by this, on Aug. 26, we had the fourth-best record in all of baseball. Our team didn’t get bad in 30 days. Our team went through a bad streak in 30 days. We have a good team.”

Baseball, Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies...

The Phillies also believe they can build on their 2011 success by staying active in the marketplace.  The defending NL East champs signed closer Jonathan Papelbon away from the Red Sox to account for Ryan Madson’s departure via free agency. In addition, Philadelphia signed Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome to strengthen its bench and compensate for the absence of Ryan Howard, who will likely miss at least all of April recovering from a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon.

When Howard returns, he’ll be reunited with Rollins, his longtime teammate who tested the free-agent market before re-signing with the Phillies in December. They’ll once again be part of a strong lineup assigned to support Halladay, Lee and Hamels.

“I like our club a lot,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “I think we’re one of the best clubs in the National League. And that’s our job, to make sure we’re contenders every year. And I think with the club we have now, barring injury, we’ll be there.”

Though Roy Oswalt is poised to depart the heralded Philadelphia rotation via free agency this winter, the Phillies still seem to be the favorites to win the NL East. However, they certainly do not appear to be the overwhelming favorites they were at this point last year.

“Everybody is getting better in that division,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The Phillies are the Phillies. The Marlins are getting better. Washington is getting … dangerous. They’re getting close. They’ve got some good players. Your expectations are we should be in the playoffs. It’s a tough division.”

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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