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Friday, September 04, 2009

How Good are the Phillies?

Or not.

A sign of a good team is that when they're not in high gear they still win. So, you have to admit that taking 2 of 3 from the Giants (who arguably have the best pitching in baseball) while only scoring 3 runs over three games is pretty impressive. That means that the Phillies can pitch, too, and that they know how to win, especially against good teams. That's good.

But. . . the bottom of their lineup doesn't scare anyone, does it? We've heard a lot in the past couple of days about how the AL teams have tougher lineups, as evidenced by how well John Smoltz and Brad Penny have fared since getting exiled from Boston and landing in St. Louis and San Francisco, respectively. Well, Pedro Feliz is pushing 35 and still doesn't really know the strike zone (I wonder whether the Phillies will re-sign him after this season), Carlos Ruiz is having a decent year (with about a .340 on-base percentage) but won't hit more than .250, and, well, the pitchers can't hit. Also, the Phillies' bench is languishing, with the exception of Ben Francisco. Matt Stairs is about 0-28 since July, Greg Dobbs is having a bad year and on the DL, Eric Bruntlett, unassisted walk-off triple play and all, is still 50 basis points or so from reaching the Mendoza line, and back-up catcher Paul Bako isn't on the Major League roster because of his bat. Are these fatal flaws?

Perhaps not. The biggest question is the bullpen. From what I gather, J.C. Romero won't be able to help in the post-season, leaving the Phillies with one bona fide lefty option in the bullpen (Scott Eyre), unless you count Jack Taschner, who will be eligible for the post-season because the team called him up on August 31 (and who fared poorly in Philadelphia during a longer stint at the beginning of the season) and Jamie Moyer (who, because he now looks to be the 6th starter on a team that only will need four, might not even make the post-season roster). Middle reliever Chad Durbin has struggled, long reliever Clay Condrey is rebounding from an injury and closer Brad Lidge is about as reliable as a bank that remains on the critical list even after having received TARP money. The pluses -- righty set-up man Ryan Madson is very good, Lidge has pitched reasonably well in the past three games, and Brett Myers came off the disabled list today and will be available for late-game action (he also served well in the closer's role in 2007).

Another question is the timeliness of the team's hitting. They rely upon the home run more than any other team, and, they don't hit well with runners in scoring position. Yet, they are among the NL leaders in runs scored and can score runs. In droves. So, another question is whether any team wilts under the light of a bright microscope, or do all of these concerns combine to present flaws big enough to prevent another World Series victory?

The answer: that's why they play the games. The Phillies still have to seal up the NL East in September and try to get the best record in the NL so as to seal up home-field advantage for all playoff games. If they do that and go into the post-season strong, they have a solid chance to return to the World Series and, yes, repeat.


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