Memorial Day: Not only is it the unofficial start to summer, but it’s the perfect time to take stock in a baseball season. We’ve reached the quarter pole, and as June and the Dog Days creep into the picture, teams are beginning to shape into either contenders or pretenders. Yes, the Nationals probably won’t win anything again.
And in the rest of the National League, the Dodgers are running away with the West and it might be a three- to four-team race in the Central. The East? While Florida should hang around, it’s the Phillies, Mets and Braves lunging for first. And on stock day, the Phils are in good shape.
The 24-18 defending champs are high off a thrilling weekend set at the Boogie Down. The offense has carried the torch while pitching has scuffled, but there’s hope for the arms: Cole Hamels is healthy and dealing, Brett Myers has composed a string of solid starts, JA Happ has entered the rotation with gusto. Meanwhile, the bullpen is in great shape, save for the mysterious reeling of Brad Lidge.
Let’s look at what’s good and bad for our boys through 42:
Contributions on offense: There will be slumps and hot streaks. Ryan Howard was hot early. Then Chase Utley. Then Jimmy Rollins. Pedro Feliz is struggling now, but Carlos Ruiz has picked up his game. Shane Victorino is starting to see his way out of a cold swing. Yet the Phils continue to bash the ball to the tune of 5.69 runs per game. A season is filled with bulk contributions — so far guys are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.
Ribbie: I saved a special space for Raul Ibanez, who hasn’t let up 25 percent through the season. He’s a special player. He hits to all fields, hits for power, hits in the clutch, fields well enough, can throw out runners, possesses workable speed for a 37-year-old man. Again, he’s 37. Where did this come from? Could he have been doing this for years in Philadelphia? He’s seventh in the majors in hitting (.352), third in runs batted in (43) and first in home runs (17). He’s threatening the Triple Crown. Ibanez has fueled this offense consistently since game one.
Top-line pitching: Finally, Brett Myers is settling into a pitcher’s role. His 4.34 ERA is still decreasing, while his 43/19 K/BB ratio is pretty solid. His bend-not-break start in Yankee Stadium shows his capability against good teams. If he can remain at that high level all season, Myers would suffice in the No. 2 role behind Cole Hamels, who has solidified himself this season as one of baseball’s best arms.
Middle relief: Thank Clay Condrey — this man’s been doubling down all season with success. In 24.2 innings he’s held a 2.19 ERA, taking the Chad Durbin 2008 torch as most underrated valuable player on the team. Not to be outdone is Ryan Madson, the all-world setup man with a 2.95 ERA and sick 23/6 K/BB ratio. Chad Durbin (4.32) has taken some tough licks but remains a crucial workhorse. JC Romero’s return should help organize the bullpen into the machine it represented last season.
Back-end starting pitching: Answers are necessary concerning Joe Blanton (2-3, 7.11 ERA) and Jamie Moyer (3-4, 7.62 ERA). Two poor pitchers can’t exist in one rotation, and a change might come before the All-Star break. The need for an acquired pitcher is high with doubts concerning prospect Carlos Carrasco and carbon copies Kyle Kendrick and Andrew Carpenter.
Brad Lidge: His ERA (9.15) is a poor indicator, but what’s worse is his 2.08 WHIP. The results are simple: He allows two baserunners and one run per inning. A closer cannot do this. His knee is likely still bothering him, affecting his slider, which isn’t hitting enough for batters to be fooled. Lidge needs time away from the big leagues; maybe a return at the halfway mark would show better results.
Poor bench: John Mayberry Jr. adds necessary pop to a bench that hasn’t pulled its weight so far. The main culprit, surprisingly, is Greg Dobbs (.143 AVG, .229 SLG), who might be victim of not getting enough time. That might change as Feliz dips toward career norms. So there is hope the bench improves; if Dobbs gets better, the bench looks great.
The bad aspects of the Phillies 2009 season seem like small hurdles. The bench can improve with some tweaking of playing time. Lidge is a great concern, but bullpen depth is strong and there’s time to figure out the reason for failure. And a trade-deadline move might secure the rotation. Despite these problems, the good are outweighing, showing completely in New York. Big pitchers are pitching big. The offense is developing into a clutch machine again. The 24-18 record is justified. The Phillies are on pace to finish about 92-70, which is dead on with the 2008 team. That should win the tight and competitive East again.