The Dip: Like It Or Not, We're Still In it

What a bad place to be. In the thick of a wild card chase, waiting for injured players to return and healthy players to play better, deciding whether to trade one of our best players – while at the same time trying to figure out whether we are good enough (honestly) to make any noise in the post season (if in fact we actually get there). So many unknown variables to deal with. As it stands, the Phillies are not one of the best four teams in the National League. It’s also true that any team in the current wild card cluster is capable of going on a run, improbable or not, that puts them in the playoffs. So, Ruben Amaro has to watch his team for the next couple of weeks and decide whether the Phils are contenders or pretenders, and based on his decision, he will proceed accordingly. Some background:

Some fans are convinced that Cliff Lee’s departure took the heart right out of the team before the season ever began. The Halladay/Lee “thing” showed that the Phils wanted to stay very good yet stopped short of daring to be great. Last I checked, Cliff Lee does not hit home runs, steal bases, or field. He cannot pitch every day of the week and does not have a medical degree. Cliff Lee’s absence is not the problem. Injuries have compromised the Phils’ proficiency in every area: pitching, fielding, and hitting. Old timers say that injuries are not an excuse for losing. Actually, that’s not true. Injuries can be an excuse as to why you’re losing. You’re just not supposed to say it. Any sane person can understand that when you lose a zillion player games – all star player games at that – to injuries, that your team is probably not gonna play well, if not flat out suck. Mets fans learned that the hard way. So, what to do now? I think the Phillies’ fate revolves in large part around what the Phils decide to do with three key players: Jayson Werth, Joe Blanton, and Brad Lidge.

Jayson Werth is not playing well. He looks clueless at the plate. He is also, by his own admission, eagerly awaiting the end of the season so he can sign a big, fat contract…the one he has been “waiting his whole life for.” Is Jayson’s little slump a product of the Free Agent Blues – grinding his bat into sawdust and tightening up at the prospect of one less zero at the end of his next contract? Hey, I don’t know. But I do know that Ruben can replace Jayson’s current production by trading him for another righty bat and probably a lefty reliever. If you don’t believe me, compare Jayson’s stats with that of other outfielders and you’ll find that he’s not so special this year. But of course, he could get hot. Sitting around and waiting for someone to get “get hot” seems like a waste of time to me. If I find the right deal, I trade him.

The Phils have made it known they are looking for starting pitching. Joe Blanton is a good pitcher having a bad year. But Joe has a justified track record where he turns it on in the second half of seasons. Joe is a stone cold 14-10, 3.90, 200 IP guy – and those numbers don’t grow on trees. You gotta trust him to come around and lay off the temptation to trade for an Oswalt or Haren, mainly because the Phils have a bigger problem in…

Brad Lidge. He is not a major league closer anymore. While the in-the-dirt slider is still one of the best out pitches in the game, he cannot get ahead of hitters consistently enough to get in the position to throw it. His fastball is not fast and, unless perfectly placed, is a candidate to leave the park at any time. That little baby slider that he throws is fine but if he gets it up, it gets hit. In short, he does not have enough “stuff” on any of his his pitches not named “slider” to get away with a misplaced pitch. And he gets hit. A true closer must give you more than sporadic periods of effectiveness – and Lidge doesn’t offer that. The Phils will win nothing with him finishing games. If I am Ruben Amaro, I fill this hole before I look for another starter. Some more quick analysis shows why.

We know that Ibanez is an albatross and isn’t going anywhere. Domonic Brown is not getting called up before September. Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick will continue to provide little at the back of the rotation. J.A. Happ probably won’t contribute soon. Utley has to come back faster than forecast. These things, you just have to hope to be surprised and see some good things happen. Hope for a little luck, let’s say.

In conclusion, at some point in the not too distant future, RAJ is gonna have to take a hard look in the mirror and decide who this team really is. Whatever decision he makes he’ll get killed for it and that comes with the job. If he decides to push all in, then I think it’s OK to trade Werth for immediate help to address our need areas. If not (and that would take a mean losing streak), then try and clear the decks: Werth, Moyer, Madson, Lidge, Ibanez can all go, while paying some salary along the way. But before that decision has to be made there is some baseball left to play. Go Phils.

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