By Barry Jeffrey Jr.:
With a runner in scoring position and 2 outs, down a run in the bottom of the 9th inning, the Phillies had the man they wanted at the bat. Ryan Howard, the Big Piece, former Rookie of the Year and NL MVP, Silver Slugger, and All Star and he had a chance to make things right. The results though were less than stellar. As a packed Citizen’s Bank Park crowd and millions of Phillies fans across the world watched, the slugger was caught looking on a called third strike to end the game and the Phillies hopes of being the first National League team to make it to the World Series three straight years.
The best record in baseball, two time defending NL champions, and the team that swept the Reds and shut down their top offense. All that meant little as a scrappy Giants team managed to put together a winning formula to send the Phillies golfing. The worst part is, it happened on our own turf. They celebrated in our house, rubbing more salt in the wounds many a fan was feeling after the vaunted Phillies offense sputtered, like it had for most of the regular season. Even worse, was the defensive lapses from a team that has been solid defensively for years.
Chase Utley looked more like Marlon Anderson in the field. Ryan Howard was abysmal at key times. Raul Ibanez made people wonder if Greg Luzinski was playing left, at his present age. Sure fielding Jimmy Rollins had a several shaky moments. Even the Gold Glover Shane Victorino had some defensive gaffs, though he made up for a few with his arm.
The only group on the team that really can not be faulted is the pitching. While not shut down like they were in the Reds series, or even down the stretch, the Phillies pitching kept the team in every game. Roy Halladay, despite a groin injury was valiant in game 5. Roy Oswalt was very good in his 2 starts. Cole Hamels was outstanding once again and showed glimpses of 2008. Ryan Madson was shut down until asked to go a second inning in game 6, where he gave up an end of the bat home run to Juan Uribe that sealed the Phillies sarcophagus. With the exception of Chad Durbin’s implosion in game 4, the fans received a great effort on the part of the staff.
The offense, well we are still waiting for most of them to show up. Ryan Howard finished the entire playoffs with no runs, no runs batted in, and no homers. While he was getting hits, it was not while anyone was on base. Not that anyone in front of him was actually getting on base for the most part. Chase Utley not only was fielding like Marlon Anderson, he was hitting like him too. Shane Victorino was an abject failure for the most part at lead off and it took Rollins quite some time to get his legs back under him. No one knows where Raul Ibanez was for the entire playoffs until the final two games. He certainly was not at the plate. Carlos Ruiz, the team’s most consistent playoff performer had some struggles VS the Giants pitchers. Ross Gload was snake bitten, with some good rips, right at people. Jayson Werth and Placido Polanco were the two batters who actually produced for the most part. Yet even they had some struggles.
Charlie Manuel himself, made some questionable calls. Ben Francisco over Mike Sweeney in game 6, pulling Blanton early in game 4, Roy Oswalt in relief during the same game are some of the head scratchers many fans are discussing. Some of them are being discussed in a not so civil way. No one can figure out why Sweeney, a much more capable contact hitter, was not pinch hitting over Francisco, who is more of a free swinger. Many are pointing to that moment as a major lost opportunity and turning point in the game 6 loss.
Well now the season is over. No matter how you cut it, with the objective to win the World Series, it is a failure. They fell short of their goal as a team and the best record in baseball does not matter with that. However, the best record in baseball is still something to build on. Even with the results not being what everyone, especially the fans, wanted the fact that this team produced with injuries galore and a inconsistent offense says something.
So, now with the fall what happens now? Jayson Werth is a free agent and likely will be gone. Many members of the bullpen pitchers are also free agents. Of the bench, Gregg Dobbs and Mike Sweeney are free agents. Jamie Moyer is the only starter not signed for 2011.
I would love to see the Phillies re-sign Werth, though the price is going to be big. I would re-sign him even if it means trading Shane Victorino. Victorino is a high energy player, a very good defensive player, and a definite speed threat on the bases. That being said, Werth is the more important player. Werth is the only legitimate right handed power bat in the line up. He also is very good defensively and a much better offensive player than Victorino. Though both can be frustrating at times, I would still rather Werth’s patience and count working. With Dom Brown about to step into the picture, I think it would be easier for the youngster to reproduce Victorino’s numbers than it would be to replace Werth’s. If Werth does leave, Michael Cuddyer with the Twins may be a potential acquisition for right field.
Of the bullpen pitchers, the Phillies want to re-sign Durbin. Myself, I would rather let Durbin walk and offer another one year contract to Jose Contreras, with an option year. Contreras did good work for the Phillies this season, even giving them an option at closer when Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson were both out with injuries. Madson and Lidge will still be the back end of the bullpen, but hopefully Danys Baez will be somewhere else. The Phils want to give their younger pitchers a shot at filling the pen slots. This is something I agree with. Antonio Bastardo looked good at the end of the season as a left handed option down the stretch. He should be a viable and much cheaper option than JC Romero. Scott Mathieson, Michaels Stutes, Michael Schwimer, Yohan Flande, BJ Rosenberg (if healthy and ready), and Vance Worley may all get shots at bullpen slots. One of the biggest reasons Bruce Sutter was brought aboard was to work with all the younger pitchers to get them ready for 2011. David Herndon is probably going to start his season at AAA since the rule 5 pick had never pitched above AA before having to be on the Phils for the year due to the Rule 5 rules. Joe Savery is a wild card on whether he is going to be pitching or playing the field. At this point I do not believe the Phillies are counting on the former 1st rounder to contribute in the pitching department at all. There are several free agents the Phillies could look at but price will be factor in bringing any of them in. Also look for several minor league contracts with spring training invites to help flush the pen out.
The bench is pretty solid with Wilson Valdez finally breaking through to claim the utility role from Juan Castro. Strong defense and a rocket arm are his fortes. He can play third, short, and second base and make plays at all three. On the offensive side his bat is nothing to write home to your mother about and he hits into a large number of double plays. He does not have a lot of power but he can run pretty well on the bases. He did an able job filling in for Utley, Rollins, and Polanco during the season. Ross Gload is an excellent contact hitter and very good pinch hitter. He is the first go to bat from the left side. He is also the best defensive firstbaseman on the roster, though he never gets used for defense. He also can fill in leftfield and rightfield. Playoff goat Ben Francisco will be the 4th outfielder again. I know many Phillies fans do not want him around, but he is right handed, cost effective, and plays all three outfield spots making him somewhat useful as the extra outfielder. Plus the Phillies really have no one else at this point to replace him with. Gregg Dobbs is gone. Many fans are rejoicing at this. Dobbs received chance after chance and many loyalty at bats from Manuel over the year. He did very little with most of them. He also cannot field at third base and has no range in leftfield or rightfield limiting his usefulness even more.
Mike Sweeney is also a free agent but I hope the Phillies bring him back. Both for him being a right handed bat with some pop and for his presence in the clubhouse. Despite only being with the team for a short time, Sweeney integrated himself into the fabric of the roster. One of the first people out of the dugout during walk off wins, one of the first to congratulate his teammates, and installing an energy and spirit to the bench. He also did not complain at all about his role and was very willing to accept it. One thing I would like to see the Phillies do for the bench is to sign a super utility guy who can play both infield and outfield. Willie Bloomquist is an example. Though the one I do want is a familiar face. Nick Punto. Punto like Valdez , plays the infield positions with very good defense at second, short, and third. He also has the ability to play the outfield, though has not as much time out there as some of the other super utility types. He will not be a hitter, but he has in the past drawn some walks and he does provide some valuable speed off the bench. With Utley, Rollins, and Polanco all in their 30’s and having missed time this last season I think it is a very good idea to have more than one middle infielder on the team for the bench. Bloomquist as previously mentioned is a good choice for this slot as well, but I think Punto has a much greater glove for the infield positions. Jerry Hairston Jr. is another but I believe the Padres are bringing him back. I would also love to see the team reacquire Michael Taylor. I still believe he can play in this league, even after an injury plagued down year in the Oakland farm system.
Starting pitching, this is where Phillies are strongest. I believe Jamie Moyer will probably be back in Seattle as I do not see the Phillies re-signing him for another go unless it’s at a reduced price. I doubt he would be happy with that. He also didn’t seem very happy about having to battle for the 5th starter job last spring training so I don’t see him being happy about having to do it again next year. Even losing Moyer, who pitched well at times, defying his age, the rotation is one of the most solid in baseball. Of course the main reason for that is H2O. Roy Halladay is everything you want in a pitcher. He is the Ace. Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels are top notch pitchers in their own ways. Each can dominate a game. Despite this I still want Cliff Lee. I know it’s a pipe dream, but I do. One through four, best rotation since the 1993-95 Braves, possibly best since the early 70s Orioles four 20 game winner staff. I know, like I said it is a pipe dream I can only do with APBA baseball. Joe Blanton was solid down the stretch after shaking off the rust from his injury and an awful start. He is a decent number 4 pitcher. Kyle Kendrick had moments but he is still frustrating. Not many other teams do have a 5th starter that is a major contributor to the rotation, so I don’t look on Kendrick with total disdain as many do. Kendrick will be pushed by Worley who wants to start. The Phillies may also take a flyer on a lower priced veteran pitcher to compete Blanton and Kendrick for a tail end slot as well. We can only hope it is not Nate Robertson.
One thing I really hope happens this off season is that the Phillies get a better hitting coach. Retread Greg Gross was not much of a upgrade over Milt Thompson. While I know the hitting coach really is not a major factor, maybe someone with some fresh ideas from outside may actually be able to help an offense that was supposed to be dominant but sputtered to inconsistency. Another move I think the Phillies need to make is to retain Davey Lopes. The man has done wonders for this team’s base stealing. Rich Dubee and Sam Perlozzo are fine at their positions. Bench Coach Pete Mackanin may be in the running for one of the open coaching jobs across baseball. If he does leave I hope the Phillies bring in a good baseball man for the job. I also hope Perlozzo does extra time with Ryan Howard on his defense in the spring since he has regressed.
Well a season gone and a disappointing ending once again. The off season is now beginning. Hope in Ruben Amaro still abounds as fans believe he will help put our Phillies back where we want them to be. Chase Utley said it best for all of us. Champions… World F’N Champions.
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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