Category: Philadelphia Phillies

Kendrick Keeps Cardinals Grounded

Kyle Kendrick led the Philadelphia Phillies to a 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals while having pitched his first career shutout.  The 4-0 victory marks the fourth consecutive victory for the Phillies, and their third consecutive victory over the Cardinals in this series.

If Charles Dickens wrote Kendrick’s bio, it would be entitled “A Tale of Two Pitchers” due to Kendrick’s lack of consistency.  When Kendrick pitches, you never know if you will see the erratic pitcher who struggles to find the strike zone and then manages to throw the fattest strikes you will ever see, or if you will see the ground ball wizard who throws strikes and minimizes his pitch count.  Lately, the Phillies have been seeing the latter form of Kendrick.

Kendrick needed only 94 pitches (70 strikes) to get through his first shutout.  Although the Cardinals are currently without Allen Craig and Lance Berkman, they are still a very formidable hitting team.  Kendrick kept the Cardinals offense grounded, as he amassed 14 ground balls and nine fly balls in his nine innings of work.  In addition to his first career shutout, Kendrick notched his first win of the 2012 season (1-4, 4.10 ERA).

In his last three starts, Kyle Kendrick is 1-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and he has thrown strikes on 67% of his pitches.

Although Kendrick’s overall numbers are unimpressive on the 2012 season, he is pitching to his potential recently.  Through 22 innings in his last three starts, Kendrick is 1-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 12 strikeouts and two walks.  In his past three starts, Kendrick has been a strike-throwing machine, having amassed 195 strikes and 96 balls (67% strike rate).  In those three starts, Kendrick amassed 34 ground balls and 19 fly balls for an impressive 1.79 GB/FB ratio!  Among Phillies starters, Kendrick’s 0.88 GB/FB ratio trails only Cliff Lee’s 1.27 this season.

As for the offense, Shane Victorino hit an RBI double to take the 1-0 lead in the 4th inning.  John Mayberry Jr. hit a two-run double in the sixth, followed by a Freddy Galvis RBI groundout (also in the sixth).

In my Phillies 2012 preview, I made a bold statement:  I said the Phillies offense would be better off without Howard.  While I cannot say I have been right thus far, I cannot say that I was wrong, either.  While the Phillies have lacked in run production at times this season, they are indeed a better hitting team than last season.  In the 2011 season, the Phillies ranked 16th in the MLB with a .253 AVG.  The Phillies currently rank fifth in the MLB with a .266 AVG.

In addition to the improved contact hitting, the Phillies are seeing a recent surge in their run production.  During their current four-game winning streak, the Phillies scored 23 runs (nearly six runs per game).  Over their past 11 games, the Phillies are 7-4 with 55 runs scored (five runs per game).  This recent surge in run production is especially impressive in spite of the continuance of Jimmy Rollins’ season-long slump (Rollins did miss several games recently as he was on paternity leave).

The Phillies will attempt to sweep the Cardinals in this four-game series as Roy Halladay (4-4, 3.58 ERA) pitches against Adam Wainwright (3-5, 4.78 ERA).

Notes

  • Although this was Kyle Kendrick’s first career shutout, it was his second career complete game
  • Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright pitched a complete game shutout in his latest outing against the San Diego Padres
  • Congratulations to Jimmy Rollins and his wife on the birth of their first child!

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

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Polanco Joins 2K Club

On May 14, 2012, Placido Polanco became baseball’s newest member of the 2,000-hit club.  Polanco’s 2,000th career hit was delivered in dramatic fashion, as he hit his first home run of the season – a two-run shot – in the late innings of the Philadelphia Phillies’ 5-1 victory against the Houston Astros. 

Polanco is the 269th player in MLB history to reach 2,000 career hits.  While Polanco is by no means a future Hall-of-Famer, collecting 2,000 hits is still an impressive feat and should not be scoffed at by baseball fans.  How difficult is it to collect 2,000 hits in a career?  If a player registered 13 seasons of 150 hits, he would have 1,950 hits (50 hits short).  In other words, a player would have to reach 150 hits in 13 of 14 MLB seasons to reach 2,000 career hits.  To put that in perspective:  Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs (3,010 career hits) only had 11 150-hit seasons in his 18-season career! 

Polanco is the 269th player in MLB history to reach 2,000 career hits.

To reach 2,000 hits, a player would have to be not only somewhat injury-free, but he must also be lucky enough to receive many at-bats in a season.  If a player receives 500 at-bats in a season, then he must finish the season with a .300 AVG (150 hits in 500 at-bats is a .300 AVG).  Hitting .300 for 13 out of 14 seasons is no small task.  If a player cannot remain that consistent, he will need to be fortunate enough to have more than 500 at-bats in some seasons and collect some 200-hit seasons.

Although Boggs only had 11 150-hit seasons in his 18-year MLB career, he was a dominant player at times.  In 1985, Boggs posted his best season with 161 games played and a staggering 240 hits (Boggs achieved 200-plus hits seven times in his career)!  For his career, Boggs averaged 200 hits and 609 at-bats per 162 games played.  In his 18 MLB seasons, Boggs appeared in less than 150 games 12 times.  In the 2011 MLB season, only 19 players had 600 or more at-bats; 15 of them had 609 or more at-bats.

If 2,000 hits – the equivalent of hitting .300 (150/500) for 13 out of 14 seasons – seems difficult enough, achieving a Boggs-like 3,000 hits is more tremendously difficult.  Achieving 3,000 hits would be the equivalent of 20 150-hit seasons (Boggs only played 18 seasons and achieved 150 hits 11 times).  Baseball fans should comprehend the great difficulty in achieving 2,000 hits, let alone 3,000 and appreciate the long-term productivity that players display in achieving either of those milestones.  Below is a list of some notable players who failed to reach the 2,000-hit club (currently active players are noted by *).

Jeff Conine:  1,982 hits (.285 AVG)
Fred Lynn:  1,960 hits (.283 AVG)
*Jason Giambi:  1,954 hits (.281 AVG)
*Carlos Beltran:  1,953 hits (.283 AVG)
Jim Edmonds:  1,949 hits (.284 AVG)
Steve Sax:  1,949 hits (.281 AVG)
Juan Gonzalez:  1,936 hits (.295 AVG)
Devon White:  1,934 hits (.263 AVG)
Gil Hodges:  1,921 hits (.273 AVG)
*David Ortiz:  1,807 hits (.285 AVG)
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson:  1,772 hits (.356 AVG)

Shoeless Joe’s final MLB season was in 1920 before the bans of the players involved in the “Black Sox” scandal went into effect.  At that time, Jackson was 32 years of age.  It is reasonable to assume he would have reached 2,000 hits with ease; however, 3,000 hits would have been difficult even for the great Shoeless Joe.  Several of my favorite players also failed to reach 2,000 career hits:  Sean Casey (.302 AVG) had 1,531 hits and John Kruk (.300 AVG) had 1,170 hits.

In my opinion, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.  Jones (.304 career AVG) currently has 2,642 hits.  Jones – who is 40 years of age – might have been approaching – if not already having surpassed – 3,000 hits at this time if it were not for the misfortune of missing many games over the years due to injuries.  For Jones to reach the heralded 3,000-hit milestone, he would certainly have to play beyond the 2012 MLB season.  The fact that Jones is this close to 3,000 hits is even more remarkable when one considers how many games he missed due to injuries over the years and how many walks he draws on a regular basis each season.

I hope my readers now have a greater understanding and appreciation for the difficulty involved in achieving milestones.  Even if a milestone like 2,000 hits is not a Hall-of-Fame benchmark, it is still an impressive feat that required long-term consistency and should be appreciated.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Chase Utley Retires

Major League Baseball has been full of surprises in 2012.  Manny Ramirez came out of retirement to sign with the Oakland Athletics, Ryan Braun reportedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and appealed his 50-game suspension (and won his appeal) and Albert Pujols left the St. Louis Cardinals to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (there’s a mouthful).  Although these stories grabbed the headlines, they pale in comparison to Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley’s stunning retirement.

From 2005 to 2009, Utley hit .301 and averaged 29 home runs and 101 RBIs. Utley won the NL MVP in 2005 and four Silver Slugger awards.

According to sources close to the Phillies, Utley informed Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. that he is retiring.  Amaro has been unavailable to comment thus far.  It is believed that Amaro and Utley are scheduling a press conference for later in the week (perhaps Thursday).

Utley – drafted by the Phillies with the 15th overall pick out of UCLA in the 2000 MLB entry draft – hit .290 with 188 home runs in his nine MLB seasons.  Utley won the National League MVP in 2005, was a five-time All-Star and won four Silver Slugger awards.  Utley played a large part in the Phillies’ success in the past decade and won the World Series in 2008.

Utley was perhaps the best second baseman in baseball for a span of five years.  From 2005-2009, Utley hit .301 and averaged 29 home runs and 101 RBIs.  Unfortunately, Utley has struggled with knee injuries in the past two seasons.  Utley missed over 40 games last season due to his right knee; this time it is his left knee that ails him.  Although the condition of Utley’s knee is degenerative, he initially discussed the possibility of rehab and playing through the pain in the 2012 season.

Utley’s retirement could not have come at a worse time for the Phillies.  Infielder Michael Martinez will start the 2012 season on the disabled list (along with slugging first baseman Ryan Howard).  It is unlikely that Placido Polanco will move back to second base at all; Polanco is likely going to stay at third base and 21 year-old Freddy Galvis will take Utley’s place.  Galvis hit .278 between the AA and AAA level in 2011.

News of Utley’s retirement not only brings a somber mood to the Phillies clubhouse and fan base, but could also conceivably slam the door shut on the Phillies’ 2012 World Series hopes.  Although Utley struggled with injuries during the past two seasons, Phillies fans will always remember him for being one of the best second basemen in his all-too-brief career.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

APRIL FOOLS!

2012 Phillies Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies were the 2011 favorites to represent the National League in the World Series, only to fall short in the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.  The series went the distance as Chris Carpenter pitched the game of his life in a memorable 1-0 pitching duel against Roy Halladay in the fifth and final game; the Cardinals went on to win the 2011 World Series.  The loss left fans with the dreaded “what if?” feeling; however, the NLDS loss demonstrated that the Phillies needed to improve their consistency with the bats.

Spring training is here and I firmly believe the Phillies will again be widely regarded as favorites to represent the NL in the World Series.  The Phillies still have a mighty pitching rotation which features Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.  There have been murmurs that Roy Oswalt might return to the Phillies; if Oswalt indeed returns and is healthy, that would only improve the pitching rotation.  Slugging first baseman Ryan Howard will start the season on the disabled list, as he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the fifth game of the NLDS.  Early indications are that Howard may return perhaps in late May.  Even in the absence of Howard, the Phillies shall remain a high-scoring team and possibly a more consistent offensive team this season.

Lineup
C:  Carlos Ruiz
1B:  TBD [Ty Wigginton]
2B:  Chase Utley
3B:  Placido Polanco
SS:  Jimmy Rollins
LF:  TBD [John Mayberry Jr.]
CF:  Shane Victorino
RF:  Hunter Pence

With or without Ryan Howard, Hunter Pence (.314 AVG, 22 HR and 97 RBI) will be the go-to guy in the Phillies lineup.

The Phillies lineup from 2011 is generally intact; however, manager Charlie Manuel will have some interesting options and plenty of flexibility in juggling his lineup this season.  Domonic Brown could have a chance to start in left field; however, I believe Brown will start the 2012 season with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (AAA).

With Brown possibly starting the season in AAA, I foresee John Mayberry Jr. starting in left field and Ty Wigginton sharing playing time with Jim Thome at first base.  Wigginton is a solid right-handed bat and should help the Phillies hit left-handed pitching.

Although I believe Thome and Wigginton will share time at first base, Wigginton will more than likely get the nod when the opposition starts a left-handed pitcher.

Bench
Michael Martinez
Brian Schneider
Laynce Nix
Jim Thome
Juan Pierre

Martinez is virtually assured a spot on the 25-man roster because he is a versatile infielder who can play multiple positions.  You can chalk up a spot for Schneider as well, because every team will run with at least two catchers on the roster.  Nix and Thome will serve as good power bats to have on the bench and get the occasional start.  Pierre is a non-roster invite; however, I am confident that Pierre will win a roster spot.  Pierre has been a good contact hitter in his MLB career and has been one of the best at swiping bases.  Pierre did have an off year in 2011; however, I believe he will return to his normal self this season.  Pierre’s speed and steady hitting will provide Manuel with options to juggle his lineup from time to time; when Pierre starts, I believe you may see him leading off the lineup.  Displayed below is what I believe the ordinary starting lineup and batting order may look like in 2012:

Batting order
SS (Jimmy Rollins)
3B (Placido Polanco)
RF (Hunter Pence)
2B (Chase Utley)
LF (John Mayberry Jr.)
CF (Shane Victorino)
1B (Ty Wigginton)
C (Carlos Ruiz)
P (Pitcher)

Starting rotation
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton
Vance Worley

Rumors have been swirling that the Phillies are willing to trade Blanton; the difficulty will be in finding somebody who is willing to take on Blanton’s $8.50 million salary.  Blanton is a solid pitcher; however, he has struggled with injuries in the past two years.  I do believe Blanton will remain with the Phillies for the time being; however, if he pitches well, he could be traded in the midst of the season (should the Phillies wish to do so).  If by some unforeseen circumstances Blanton either starts the season on the DL or is traded, I believe non-roster invite Joel Pineiro could steal a starting pitching job in the rotation.  Other possibilities to replace Blanton include Phillippe Aumont or Kyle Kendrick.

Hamels is coming off the best season of his career.  Hamels had a very misleading 14-9 record that was damaged by a lack of run support at times; however, he set career-bests in ERA (2.79), complete games (3), WHIP (0.99) and K/BB ratio (4.41).  Hamels signed a one-year extension for $15 million to remain with the Phillies in 2012; he will be a free agent in the offseason.  I believe it will be difficult for Hamels to duplicate his 2011 numbers; however, he has the ability to do so and is one of the better young pitchers in the game today.  Look for the Phillies to lock Hamels up with a long-term agreement before the season begins to avoid any unnecessary distractions.

Bullpen
Jonathan Papelbon
Jose Contreras
Michael Stutes
Chad Qualls
Kyle Kendrick
Antonio Bastardo
David Herndon

The Phillies will likely run a seven-man bullpen this season.  If you have any concerns about the Phillies bullpen, you can take a deep breath and relax.  The bullpen should be strong in the 2012 season.  First of all, the Phillies’ starting pitching rotation will keep the bullpen fresh and spare them from the rigors of a 162-game season.  When you consistently have Halladay and Lee pitching 7-9 innings and Hamels pitching 6-8 innings, you have a fresh bullpen.

Papelbon is a proven closer who will shut the opposition down; like any closer not named Mariano Rivera, he will have his blow-ups now and then.  More often than not, Papelbon gets the job done.  Qualls is an underrated signing that brings stability to the young bullpen.  When Qualls is on top of his game, he is a ground ball pitcher who will negate the effects of hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.  Qualls has consistently pitched better in the later stages of the season in his MLB career.

If Kendrick does not move to the starting rotation, you will see him in the bullpen.  Kendrick did a solid job in the 2011 season out of the bullpen with a 3.41 ERA in 19 relief appearances; as a reliever, Kendrick conceded only one home run in 31.2 innings.  Herndon had a very strong finish to the 2011 season as he posted a 1.55 ERA and held hitters to a .216 AVG in his final 22 outings.  I believe Herndon will be assured a roster spot.

Bastardo will be assured a roster spot; however, I admit I have concerns about him.  Earlier in his career, I was unimpressed with his pitching and his lack of control.  In the 2011 season, he surprised me with his dominance as one of the best relief pitchers in baseball for much of the season.  Bastardo was 6-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2011 as he struck out 70 hitters in 58 innings (10.9 strikeouts per nine innings); however, he struggled in the later stages of the 2011 season.  In his first 36 games, Bastardo had a 0.82 ERA and 0.76 WHIP; in his final 28 games, Bastardo had a 5.04 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.  If Bastardo’s late-season struggles carry over into the 2012 season, then the Phillies will likely be without an effective left-handed reliever unless they carry two in their bullpen.

Joe Savery was 4-0 with two saves, a 1.80 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 25 innings through 18 relief appearances with the Iron Pigs (AAA) in 2011.

There is a chance that Contreras might be unavailable to start the season.  If Contreras were to accompany Howard on the DL, then young lefty Joe Savery or veteran Dontrelle Willis could fill the void.  If the Phillies want a second lefty in the bullpen, I would prefer Savery before Willis.  Willis has been an inconsistent and wild pitcher in his MLB career and has passed his peak.  Frankly, I would value Willis more for his hitting than his pitching!

The 26 year-old Savery needs to be given an opportunity to shine as an MLB regular.  In 2.2 innings of work at the MLB level last season, Savery allowed no runs, no walks and one hit while striking out two hitters.  At the AAA level with the Iron Pigs, Savery was 4-0 with two saves and a 1.80 ERA in 18 relief appearances.  In 25 innings, Savery struck out 26 batters and walked six.

If the Phillies run a seven-man bullpen, I would like to see Savery in there along with Bastardo; however, I do not know how that will be arranged unless Kendrick moves into the starting rotation or Contreras starts the season on the DL.  Regardless of what transpires, I am very confident in Savery’s ability and would like to see him get the opportunity to perform at the MLB level.

I firmly believe the 2012 NL representative in the World Series will either be the Phillies or the Cardinals; however, I give the edge to the Phillies at this time.  In Howard’s absence, the Phillies might hit fewer home runs; however, they shall still be a high-scoring team and a more consistent hitting team.  The pitching rotation will be strong again and the bullpen has no shortage of depth.  Health permitting, the Phillies will be a team with very few weaknesses – if any – and win the NL East yet again and possibly the World Series.

I say the over/under for the Phillies’ wins this season will be 98.  The Phillies must remain sharp and be on top of their game, because I believe the Atlanta Braves have the potential to steal the NL East crown if the Phillies get complacent.  Phillies fans have every reason to be excited for the 2012 season, as the Phillies will again be regarded as one of the favorites to appear in the World Series.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

2012 Phillies Offseason Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies recently made a big statement by signing free agent first baseman Jim Thome.  By signing Thome, the Phillies are letting the world know that they are ready to replace Ryan Howard during his time on the disabled list and gear up for a 2012 World Series run with or without Howard.

While the Thome signing was one I foresaw, there are other signings I would like to see the Phillies pursue:  Michael Cuddyer, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, Darren Oliver and John Mayberry.

Michael Cuddyer

If the Phillies sign Cuddyer, it is possible that he may be the starting second baseman and the team may move Chase Utley to first base.  If Utley were moved to first, then Jim Thome would serve as a backup who gets the occasional start and serves as a good power bat on the bench.

If Utley remains at second base, then Cuddyer could perhaps play first base while Ryan Howard remains on the disabled list.  If there are no plans to start Cuddyer at first base, then he could possibly start in left field to replace Raul Ibanez.

Cuddyer is a logical option for the Phillies.  He is a solid right-handed bat – which the Phillies sorely need – who can hit for average and power; more importantly, Cuddyer can hit left-handed pitching.  His versatility will be a useful tool, especially if the Phillies suffer a string of injuries in their lineup.

Dilemma at first base

While Howard is on the disabled list, the Phillies will not miss his strikeouts and poor situational hitting; however, they will miss his power and run production.  I believe Thome will serve well as a power hitter, especially in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Ballpark; however, Thome has a history of back ailments.

The Phillies need to plan to have a replacement for Thome at first base if his back flares up.  If they indeed sign Cuddyer, he could be Thome’s replacement at first base while John Mayberry (if they re-sign him) or Domonic Brown could play in left field.

Why the Phillies need Jimmy Rollins

I believe the Phillies need to re-sign free agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins.  While Rollins does not hit for an extremely high average (.268 AVG in 2011) or sport a high on-base percentage (.338 OBP in 2011), he is vital to the Phillies’ success.  Rollins is a switch-hitter, excellent base runner and a superb shortstop.

Do not underestimate the importance of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino to the Phillies' success.

The flaws in Rollins’ offensive game merely call for a change in the batting order.  Rather than batting Rollins in the leadoff spot, I prefer to see him batting sixth or seventh in the 2012 season.

Rollins has some power in his bat and should not be discouraged from using it in the sixth or seventh spot; furthermore, his speed will be a deadly weapon in the bottom third of the order.

When Rollins is on base in the bottom third of the order, a base hit will likely score a run.  Rollins’ speed also presents the hit-and-run as an option in the bottom of the order.  If the pitcher is up to bat, Rollins’ speed will enable him to advance the next base on some less-than-ideal bunts (if he does not already steal second or third base).  If Rollins is on third base, the squeeze play is an option, regardless of who the batter may be.

Although Rollins is not a leadoff hitter in the truest sense of the title, he is a dangerous player whose success plays an important role in any team’s pursuit of victory.  His switch-hitting and his speed would be wonderful tools to have in the bottom of the Phillies’ batting order; furthermore, his superb defense saves them many runs.  It is important that the Phillies re-sign Rollins and let him finish his career with the team.  The only way I would excuse the absence of Rollins is if the Phillies were to sign free agent shortstop Jose Reyes and name him as their new leadoff hitter (I see Babe Ruth coming back before Reyes signs with the Phillies).  Personally, I prefer Rollins for his excellent defense.

If the Phillies re-sign Rollins, I hope to see him moved to the bottom third of the order and Shane Victorino moved up to the leadoff spot.  Victorino is a more consistent hitter than Rollins and is capable of consistently hitting over .280 in a given season.

Shane Victorino AVG by season
2006:  .287
2007:  .281
2008:  .293
2009:  .292
2010:  .259
2011:  .279

Victorino’s .355 OBP in 2011 bests Rollins’ .338 OBP.  While Victorino does tend to strike out at a slightly higher pace than Rollins, he sports a better OBP and AVG.  From this information, one can surmise that Victorino waits for better pitches to hit than Rollins does and that his swings are normally of a higher quality than Rollins’ swings.  For those reasons, Victorino should be the leadoff hitter.

My 2012 Phillies starting lineup

If Ruben Amaro’s thought process is the same as mine, then Rollins will be re-signed and remain a member of the Phillies.  Cuddyer’s skill as a right-handed hitter and his versatility will be brought to the club and become the starting left fielder.

Below is my 2012 Philadelphia Phillies starting lineup on opening day (provided that Amaro makes the moves I think he should):

[1]  Shane Victorino, CF
[2]  Placido Polanco, 3B
[3]  Chase Utley, 2B
[4]  Hunter Pence, RF
[5]  Jim Thome, 1B
[6]  Michael Cuddyer, LF
[7]  Jimmy Rollins, SS
[8]  Carlos Ruiz, C
[9]  Roy Halladay, SP

With the above batting order, the Phillies have hitters who can hit for average and power and their abilities can complement each other very well.  Pitchers will have difficulty in pitching around this lineup, for the way my batting order is set up, each hitter’s abilities give another hitter lineup protection.

More importantly, my batting order does not have any back-to-back left-handers.  Without having back-to-back left-handers in the lineup, this order forces a cat-and-mouse game for opposing managers who have to carefully decide when to bring in a left-handed pitcher from the bullpen.

The batting order I created above has average, power, speed, discipline, situational hitters and lineup protection.  This order can also create matchup problems that favor the Phillies and force the hand of the opposition’s manager.

Pitching

I have no concerns about the starting pitching.  Regardless of whether or not the Phillies bring back Roy Oswalt, they have four solid starters whose spots may be set in stone:  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.  The Phillies could stick a pitching machine into the fifth slot and they would still have the best pitching rotation in baseball.

The bullpen may be a slight cause for concern, however.  Free agent Brad Lidge has been injury-prone in the past few years and closer Ryan Madson is a free agent.  Young left-hander Antonio Bastardo had a brilliant start to his 2011 season; however, he faded down the stretch.

In the interest of having more than one left-hander in the bullpen, I believe the Phillies should sign veteran Darren Oliver.  Oliver is a reliable left-handed veteran still chasing the dream of winning a World Series; the Phillies are one of the few favorites who make that dream a realistic possibility.

While Jose Contreras could conceivably fill in as the team’s closer, he struggled with injuries in 2011.  Regardless of whether or not Lidge returns, it would be a blow to the Phillies’ bullpen to lose Madson.

While the possibility of Madson leaving would be a big disappointment to the Phillies, it would not be an entirely crushing blow, for the Phillies do not rely heavily on their bullpen.  If Madson does leave, the Phillies could make Contreras or Michael Stutes their closer.

My 2012 Phillies rotation
SP:  Roy Halladay
SP:  Cliff Lee
SP:  Vance Worley
SP:  Cole Hamels
SP:  Joe Blanton (if not Kyle Kendrick or Roy Oswalt)

My 2012 Phillies bullpen
RP:  Ryan Madson (closer)
RP:  Jose Contreras
RP:  Michael Stutes
RP:  Antonio Bastardo
RP:  Kyle Kendrick (if Joe Blanton or Roy Oswalt starts)
RP:  Darren Oliver (reliable left-handed veteran)

My 25-man roster on opening day (assuming everybody but Ryan Howard is healthy) would look like this with Domonic Brown starting the 2012 season in the minors:

Starting lineup
C:  Carlos Ruiz
1B:  Jim Thome
2B:  Chase Utley
3B:  Placido Polanco
SS:  Jimmy Rollins
LF:  Michael Cuddyer
CF:  Shane Victorino
RF:  Hunter Pence

Rotation
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Vance Worley
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton (if not Roy Oswalt or Kyle Kendrick)

Bullpen
Ryan Madson
Michael Stutes
Jose Contreras
Antonio Bastardo
Darren Oliver
Kyle Kendrick (if not replacing Blanton or Oswalt as 5th starter)
David Herndon

Bench
Backup catcher (I do not care who it is)
Michael Martinez, 2B/3B/SS/OF
Wilson Valdez, 2B/3B/SS
John Mayberry, OF/1B
Ben Francisco, OF

If Amaro follows the plans I have in mind, the Phillies would have a talented and versatile batting order full of hitters who complement one another and give one another lineup protection, have a strong pitching rotation, have a strong bullpen and have versatile players on the bench (several of which are right-handers that can hit left-handed pitching).

Will the ideas I have in mind come become reality with the Phillies?  I do not know; however, I would be very excited about the Phillies’ chances of winning the 2012 World Series if these ideas do become reality.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Arms Race: Kershaw vs. Halladay

The 2011 MLB season has several wild races going on.  The St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves are fighting for the NL Wild Card spot while the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are fighting for the AL Wild Card spot.  In the NL, there is also another race going on:  the race for the Cy Young Award.

Kershaw leads the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28), WHIP (0.98), strikeouts (248) and AVG against (.207)

Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers is having the best season of his career and has qualifications worthy of a Cy Young vote.

Kershaw leads the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248).  Kershaw is also tied with Cole Hamels for the best WHIP (0.98) in the NL.

Kershaw is also the NL leader in AVG against (.207) and is followed by Hamels (.212 AVG).

In my eyes, Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies is the best pitcher in baseball and has been for years.  Halladay is a warrior who pitches with the mindset of pitching all nine innings every time he steps on the mound.  Halladay’s pinpoint control and robot-like consistency make him the most valuable pitcher and an ace in the truest sense of the word.

Despite Halladay’s incredible consistency and dominance, Kershaw’s dominance outshines that of Halladay’s this season in the overall body of work.  In his 19 wins, Halladay had a 1.60 ERA; Kershaw had a 0.69 ERA in his 21 wins.  Halladay was more impressive in his losses (4.12 ERA) and his no-decisions (3.07 ERA) than Kershaw was in his losses (6.99 ERA) and no-decisions (4.47 ERA); however, Kershaw’s overall body of work amounted to him leading the NL in wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and AVG against.

Kershaw was also dominant against both left-handed and right-handed hitters, as lefties hit .178 and righties hit .213 against him; lefties hit .273 and righties hit .206 against Halladay.

Those who argue that Halladay is more worthy of the Cy Young vote may point out that Halladay had a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park; Halladay did even better on the road, posting a 2.23 ERA in 17 road starts.  People may also point out that Kershaw had many starts against the offensively challenged San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres.  If you eliminate games against the Padres and Giants, then here is how Kershaw and Halladay stack up against the rest of the NL.

Halladay vs. rest of NL
30 GS (17-6)
2.41 ERA
1.05 WHIP

Kershaw vs. rest of NL
24 GS (13-5)
2.66 ERA
1.02 WHIP

As you can see from the above statistics, Halladay – despite having the better ERA – and Kershaw both had very similar numbers against the rest of the NL.  Halladay’s dominance at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park and the above numbers against the rest of the NL indeed help his case for repeating as the Cy Young Award champion this season; however, as I stated earlier, Kershaw’s overall body of work cannot be ignored.  Kershaw is the NL leader in virtually every pitching category and is therefore worthy of the vote.

No disrespect intended to Cliff Lee or Hamels, but the Cy Young Award voting should be a two-man race between Halladay and Kershaw.  There are reasons to support either pitcher; however, it should be extremely difficult to overlook Kershaw’s case.  I believe Kershaw should win, and he would get my vote.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

Three-Headed Monster

You ever see three little children fighting over a shiny toy?  Such a scene may very well symbolize the strength of the Philadelphia Phillies’ pitching this season.  Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels appear to be fighting each other for the NL Cy Young Award with each gem they pitch.

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are a combined 46-19 with a 2.52 ERA this season.

This trio of pitching wizards probably gives hitters nightmares and visions of three-headed monsters.  The Phillies’ three-headed monster is a collective 46-19 with a 2.52 ERA this season.  Their pitching numbers are virtually mirror images of each other, as all three have surrendered 56 earned runs apiece; Halladay allowed 56 in 202.2 innings while Hamels allowed 56 in 194 innings and Lee allowed 56 in 203.2 innings.

Roy Halladay (16-5, 2.49 ERA)

Halladay is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and will pitch tonight against the Milwaukee Brewers.  On the season, Halladay has 195 strikeouts and 26 walks for a 7.50 K/BB ratio.  Since the All-Star break, Halladay is 5-2 in nine starts with a 2.58 ERA.  Halladay was 3-1 in five August starts with a 2.62 ERA.

For years, I considered Halladay to be the best pitcher in baseball and I stand by that belief now.  Halladay is a warrior who wants the ball and wants to pitch all nine innings every time.  Halladay’s mentality – combined with his conditioning and abilities – may be what enables him to pitch his way out of a jam.

When viewing Halladay’s monthly splits, you will notice that he is consistent.  His worst month of the season was May, in which he went 3-2 in six starts with a 3.00 ERA.  Halladay’s ERA was under 3.00 in every other month (currently 3.00 in one September start).

Despite pitching in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, Halladay is 8-2 in 14 home starts with a 2.32 ERA this season.  Since joining the Phillies in 2010, Halladay is 20-7 with a 2.26 ERA at Citizens Bank Park!

Cliff Lee (16-7, 2.47 ERA)

While Lee’s overall numbers are most impressive, his season has been a tale of two pitchers.  In April and May, Lee looked very human with a 4.18 ERA in five April starts and a 3.78 ERA in seven May starts.  Lee also struggled with a 4.91 ERA in five July starts.  In those specific months, Lee is 5-7 in 17 starts with a 4.22 ERA.

Cliff Lee is 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA in his last nine starts.

In the other months, Lee dominated as if he were playing a simple video game.  Lee was 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA in the month of June; he repeated that performance in August with a 5-0 record and 0.45 ERA.  Lee won NL pitcher of the month in both June and August.  Lee is currently 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in the month of September.

Lee’s June/August/September numbers combine for an 11-0 record with a 0.30 ERA (three earned runs allowed in 90.2 innings)!  If Lee continues his hot streak in the month of September, that may be all that is needed for him to steal the Cy Young Award away from Halladay or Hamels.

At this time, I could not vote in good conscience for Lee because Halladay and Hamels were much more consistent this season.  If Lee’s hot streak does not cool off soon and he dominates yet again in September, then he may be worthy of the Cy Young Award.  Since the All-Star break, Lee is 7-1 in nine starts with a 1.76 ERA.

Like Halladay, Lee also dominates in the Phillies’ hitter-friendly park.  For the season, Lee is 11-2 in 16 home starts with a 1.97 ERA.

Cole Hamels (14-7, 2.60 ERA)

Although Hamels gets the least fanfare among the three aces, he is as dominant as the others when his game is on.  Although Hamels has an impressive 14-7 record, he has been a victim of poor run support at times.  Like Halladay, Hamels has been consistent this season.  The only months in which Hamels had an ERA of 3.00 or higher were April (3.13 ERA in five starts) and July (3.25 ERA in five starts).

In August, a lack of run support cost Hamels several wins.  In August, Hamels was 1-1 in four starts with a 2.42 ERA.  The month of August was not the first time Hamels was a victim of poor run support, as he went 2-2 in six starts with a 1.31 ERA in the month of June.

While Hamels continues to pitch well, his numbers since the All-Star break are not on par with Lee and Halladay’s numbers; therefore, Hamels may be slipping on the Cy Young Award radar.  In nine starts since the All-Star break, Hamels is 3-3 with a 3.19 ERA.

What hitter-friendly park???

Although Citizens Bank Park has a reputation for being a hitter-friendly ballpark, the Phillies’ three-headed monster is making a mockery of that reputation.

Three aces at home this season:
Lee:  11-2, 1.97 ERA
Halladay:  8-2, 2.32 ERA
Hamels:  7-5, 2.45 ERA

Combined, this three-headed monster is a collective 26-9 at home with a 2.23 ERA!  It should be no surprise that the Phillies have the best record in baseball with such fantastic pitching numbers, especially at a hitter-friendly ballpark.

The Usurper

If Halladay, Lee and Hamels were not to win the NL Cy Young Award this season, then who would the possible usurper be?  I see Clayton Kershaw (17-5, 2.45 ERA) of the Los Angeles Dodgers as that possible trophy thief.

Clayton Kershaw is 8-1 with a 1.44 ERA in his last 10 starts.

Kershaw is having a fantastic season and may be the best young pitcher in baseball today (yes, even better than Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners).

I am surprised with how little recognition Kerhsaw received over the past two seasons.  In 2009, Kershaw had a 2.79 ERA in 30 starts; the Dodgers’ pathetic run support for him led to an 8-8 record that season.  In 2010, Kershaw dominated again with a 2.91 ERA in 32 starts; however, the Dodgers again failed to give him the run support, as his record was only 13-10.

Kershaw took matters into his own hands this season by lowering his ERA to a new career-best 2.45 at this time.  The Dodgers have provided Kershaw with enough run support this season, as he currently has 17 wins (more than Halladay, Lee or Hamels).

Since the All-Star break, Kershaw is 8-1 in 10 starts with a 1.44 ERA.  At the very least, Kershaw is forcing voters to consider him for the NL Cy Young Award.

Cy Young Chances

In the end, I think it will be a three-horse race with Halladay, Lee and Kershaw.  While Hamels has strong numbers, his numbers have cooled off in the second half and may make voters forget about him for now.  Halladay’s consistency and dominance always make him a contender for the award; Lee and Kershaw have been baseball’s hottest pitchers since the All-Star break and may steal votes from Halladay.

Hamels will likely have no effect on the Cy Young voting; however, Halladay and Lee may end up stealing votes from one another and allow Kershaw to sneak in and steal the prize.  If Kershaw begins to cool off, it will be a two-pitcher race between Halladay and Lee.  If Lee continues his hot pitching throughout the month of September, then Lee may win effortlessly.  Regardless of what Halladay does, the performances of Lee and Kershaw in the month of September may determine who wins the Cy Young Award this season.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.