The moral of the story? You can never have enough good, young, pitching.
The Phillies season ended a couple of days ago, on Saturday night. Honestly, I’m not too heartbroken about it. Sure, I’m disappointed, but, honestly, I didn’t think they’d even get to play three extra games, so the losses were easier to handle. Hell, they barely held a lead during the entire series, so, after game 1’s loss, it’s not like Philadelphian hopes were sky high. We’ve seen this kind of thing before.
I like this team. I liked last year’s team, too. When they win, they’re a blast to watch. Home runs and doubles and stolen bases. Offense everywhere, desperately trying to outrun the pitching. The Phils pitchers allowed 11 runs as often as they allowed none, and they allowed 10 runs more often than either. Thankfully, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and The Bat powered a sensational offense that could keep up with the tragic work of Adam Eaton, Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Jon Lieber, JA Happ, Antonio Alfonseca, Jose Mesa, Francisco Rosario, Mike Zagurski, JD Durbin, and Matt Smith. Well, maybe they couldn’t keep up with Jose Mesa.
So, why did this team fail so very quickly in the post season? Quite obviously, the pitching. Sure, it’s easy to blame the offense, which only showed up in Game 2, but if the pitching was any good, they could’ve at least made a fight of it. Game 1 pitcher Cole Hamels is fantastic, but got roughed up for one inning, and the Phils couldn’t pull out a win. It happens. The problem is, after Cole, there’s a bunch of pitchers who could be aptly nicknamed, “Meat”. The Phils rotation contains one Probably Win in Hamels, and 4 (well, three in the playoffs) Probable Losses in everybody else.
The rest of your 2007 starting rotation was Kyle Kendrick, Kyle Lohse, Jamie Moyer, and the exiled Adam Eaton.
Kendrick is popular in Philadelphia, but, frankly, I’m going to be nervous and mildly upset if he’s in the starting rotation next year. For Philadelphians, he’s the 2007 version of Chris Coste. Coste, of course, came up to be backup catcher last season, and managed to bat .328 for the Phils in just under 200 at-bats. He was a 33 year old rookie, with an ugly swing and modest defensive abilities. But when he was brought back this year, a lot of Phillies fans, myself included, were bothered. Just about no one expects a lot out of their starting catcher, let alone their backup, and it would seem that between Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste, the Phils had enough catching to suffice.
Kendrick is different, however. His shortcomings as a pitcher (namely, the inability to miss bats) cannot be hidden as they are with Coste. Coste doesn’t get too many opportunities a year, so whenever he lucks into a hit, it’s fantastic–his legend grows. Kendrick spent all of 2007 getting lucky. If he’s a starter next year, one of three things will prove true: 1) If successful, he’s the luckiest pitcher in baseball. 2) If successful, he has some skill that I cannot yet find. 3) If he’s unsuccessful, he’s stopped possessing the kind of luck that allows every opponent line drive to sail right at Pat Burrell.
Jamie Moyer is 44 years old. There’s no need to joke about his age. I believe he has one more year on his contract, and I would expect much of the same from him next year, as he gave the Phils this year. He’ll give the Phillies some innings, but the offense is going to have to be awake for him to get wins.
Kyle Lohse is a free agent, and a mediocre pitcher who is about to get heavily overpaid. He’s probably gone.
Adam Eaton is stuck on the roster for the next two years, and he’ll be spending the offseason talking to a sports psychologist. Frankly, I don’t think his feelings are the problem, I think it’s his hanging breaking balls.
Oh, the bullpen?
Down the stretch this year, the Phillies relied heavily, and almost exclusively, upon Brett Myers, Tom Gordon, and JC Romero. Myers, of course, is a converted starter, and both Brother Goose and Mrs Thursday inform me that the Phillies intend to keep him in the bullpen. I guess he likes it there.
Gordon is almost 40, and has shoulder problems, but is mostly effective when he’s healthy. The Phils should do everything they can to keep him healthy (limit his workload, specifically), but they should not enter the season relying on him in any fashion. His injury history since getting here is too troubling for that, and it’d be a mistake to expect his presence in the eighth inning all the time.
Romero, I believe is a free agent. He’s an interesting sort of pitcher. At least, I’ve never seen anyone who can be as successful as he is while walking so many guys. As a Phillie this year, Romero pitched 36 1/3 innings, struck out 31, and walked 25. Twenty-five! He countered the walks by only allowing 15 hits, and only one of those was a round-tripper. I have no idea what to make of him. He was tragic as a Dodger last year, but decent the two years before that in Minnesota. If he can be had a decent price, I’d resign him, but again, I wouldn’t hope for too much.
Other arms? The Phils have Scott Mathieson in rehab, still. If he still throws 95, he’s a useful arm for the bullpen. Ryan Madson, who absolutely carried the bullpen for most of the season while Myers and Gordon were hurt (and, at times, even when they were healthy), should be back next year, and I think he’s their “8th inning” guy. At least, I think he’s the best bet for all the pitchers they currently have. Alfonseca, Mesa, Condrey, and Smith should never see a Phillies uniform again. Mike Zagurski and Geoff Geary, though I love them both, are fringe players at best, and neither can be relied upon in a close game.
What the Phillies need, they really don’t have, and they probably can’t get. Sure, they are going to need an upgrade at third base, and they’ll need to figure out what to do about the outfield, but the pitching is what sank the ship.
SP1 – Cole Hamels (L)
SP4 – Jamie Moyer (L)
SP5 – Adam Eaton
That’s two slots they need to fill. Almost all good major league teams fill their pitching needs from within. The Phillies have zero prospects who are ready to step in and be a 2 or 3, or even a 4 or 5.
Their bullpen, theoretically, looks something like this:
CL – Brett Myers
RP – Ryan Madson
RP – Scott Mathieson
RP – Tom Gordon
RP – JC Romero
That bullpen already looks shaky. The top 2 guys are fine, even though Madson is coming off an injury. Mathieson is coming off an injury, and has very little major league experience, and I’m not sure if he’s ever pitched out of the ‘pen before. Gordon is old, and broken down. Romero is a wildcard and could produce an ERA under 3 or over 6, depending on factors I can’t guess. Again, the Phils need somebody to pitch in that final slot, and he better be closer to Madson’s quality than to Antonio Alfonseca or Geoff Geary’s. In fact, if El Pulpo or Geary is that 6th spot, I’m going to be very sad.
By my count, the Phillies need 5 more pitchers (2 starters, 3 relievers) who are at least league average next year, and I don’t expect them to get more than 2 (Mathieson, unknown) from within the organization. Good luck, fellas. See ya in February.