It's early. The All-Star break is still a few weeks away. It's impossible to know what will happen between now and October, let alone in the playoffs.
But after two full months of baseball, it's clear that the Philadelphia Phillies are good enough to make another postseason run. It's also clear that they are far from perfect.
Reports have indicated that General Manager Ruben Amaro is fully prepared to make a move (or moves) prior to the July 31 trading deadline in order to put his team in a better position to succeed. Specifically, the Phillies are in the market for a starting pitcher and a right-handed bat off the bench. I also feel they need an upgrade in the bullpen, but there have been no specific rumors to that effect.
How the organization addresses these needs is key to how far the team will go.
Move No. 1: Land a Starting Pitcher
Even before Brett Myers underwent potentially season-ending surgery, the Phillies were on the lookout for another starter. The entire rotation struggled out of the gates and only a recent run of quality starts has relieved them of the dubious distinction of having the worst ERA in the league.
Cole Hamels (4.62 ERA) and Joe Blanton (5.17 ERA) have both shown improvement in recent appearances and will be expected to step up their games for the rest of the season. The Phillies can't afford to worry about their established starters with the question marks they have in rest of the rotation
Offseason acquisition Chan Ho Park narrowly beat out J. Happ in spring training for the fifth spot, but the Phillies pulled the trigger after he put up a 7.08 ERA in eight starts. Happ was given an opportunity to strut his stuff and is 2-0 with a 3.42 ERA in four starts, but is still an unknown commodity.
Rookie left-hander Antonio Bastardo was called up when Myers went on the DL and was impressive in his first two starts. But Bastardo is clearly a work in progress, as he showed in his last start against Boston (1 IP, 4 ER, 3 BB). The Phillies are comfortable with Bastardo for now, but appear to view him as a short-term solution.
Finally, the Phillies aren't quite sure what to do with veteran Jamie Moyer. The 46-year-old had an ERA of 8.15 after seven starts and gave up seven or more hits in his first nine appearances. Though he's given up only six runs in his last 19 innings, the Phillies have to be wary of the aging left-hander. Is he still good enough to pitch when it counts?
Finding a veteran starter who can step in as No. 2 or No. 3 in the rotation is the most important task facing Amaro. Fortunately, he has the pieces to do it.
Infielder Jason Donald and catcher Lou Marson, both currently at triple A Lehigh Valley, are both highly sought after. Outfielder Michael Taylor is tearing it up for double A Reading. And there are a handful of interesting pitching prospects sprinkled throughout the Phillies farm system.
I can't even speculate about what combination of prospects the Phils would be willing to part with or who they would expect in return. GMs get paid big bucks to figure that out. But I do know that the Phillies need to have confidence in more than just Hamels and Blanton this fall if they expect to compete for another trophy.
Move No. 2: Replace Taschner
There hasn't been much discussion in the media about Phillies relievers not named Brad Lidge. The struggles of the closer and the starting rotation have turned attention away from the rest of the staff, which overall has been very good.
But Jack Taschner needs to go.
Taschner is essentially just a warm body in the bullpen, nothing more. In 17 appearances this season, only twice has he entered a close game. He pitched a scoreless 10th inning to record a win against the Mets and he gave up two runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Braves to earn a blown save and a loss.
His 15 other appearances have all been in games that the Phillies were losing or winning by at least four runs. Manager Charlie Manuel simply doesn't trust him with a lead.
Consider that Sergio Escalona came into a one-run game in his first major league appearance (and got the win).
Taschner has the worst WHIP on the staff (1.81), having given up 25 hits and 16 walks in 22.2 innings. His WHIP climbs to a ridiculous 2.50 when facing lefties, who are hitting .292 off of him. These are hardly adequate numbers for a left-handed reliever.
Given the Phillies struggles with their rotation, they can't afford Taschner taking up a spot in the bullpen. They should either stick with Escalona when Lidge comes back, or if they aren't comfortable with the rookie, pursue other options through trade.
One option that comes to mind is Octavio Dotel, who may or may not be on the block for the White Sox. Either way, Taschner shouldn't be here in August.
Move No. 3: Bring In A Right-Handed Bat
For the most part, the Phillies are happy with their bench players. Greg Dobbs has struggled so far this season, but has been one of the best pinch hitters in the majors since 2007. Matt Stairs is as legitimate a threat to homer off the bench as anyone in baseball. Chris Coste has been a solid, if unremarkable backup catcher. And Eric Bruntlett is a reasonable option as a late-inning defensive replacement in the infield or outfield.
The problem is that the Phillies are sorely lacking a right-handed offensive option off the bench to complement their left-handed strength. With Bruntlett hitting just .149, the Phillies have called up Paul Bako as a third catcher to free up Coste for more at bats.
The organization is high on outfielder John Mayberry Jr., who they brought up for a few games last month. But they want him to play regularly and probably won't bring him back up until September.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see what Amaro can come up with.
Move No. 4: Win The World Series
Alright, so it's easier said then done. It took how many years for the Phillies to win their first two trophies? But they certainly have a shot to repeat.
The biggest reason for optimism? It isn't their record or their three-game lead over the Mets. It's their history. This team is nothing if not a second-half team.
Here is the Phillies starting lineup listed with career first-half and second-half batting averages:
- SS Jimmy Rollins (.265/.287)
- CF Shane Victorino (.271/.299)
- 2B Chase Utley (.302/.293)
- 1B Ryan Howard (.254/.302)
- LF Raul Ibanez (.284/.292)
- RF Jayson Werth (.257/.265)
- 3B Pedro Feliz (.262/.244)
- C Carlos Ruiz (.244/.253)
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