Resilient Phillies have had their fill of problems
The most popular preseason choices for the World Series — the Red Sox and Phillies — match up in interleague play starting Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
It’s probably not surprising that their records are among the best in baseball, but how they’ve gotten to this point was not exactly the way anyone had scripted it. The Red Sox started 0-6 and 2-10. The Phillies’ lineup has been in shambles all season, but they have managed to win with superb starting pitching and a much-better-than-expected bullpen.
If these are the two best teams in baseball, then they are so with blemishes — particularly Philadelphia — though they have the ability to polish themselves by October.
Here’s a look at some issues with the good, bad, and ugly Phillies:
■Cliff Lee, the free agent prize, was 4-5 with a 3.94 ERA after getting demolished by the Nationals, 10-2, on May 31. In four starts since then, he is 4-0 with a 0.27 ERA. After a complete-game shutout of the Cardinals Wednesday, he’d thrown 23 straight scoreless innings.
■Roy Oswalt says his back hurts when he sits, walks, and sleeps, and he has gone on the disabled list. He is very troubled about his future, as are the Phillies. This could be a devastating loss.
■As of Friday, Cole Hamels (who started yesterday) and Roy Halladay (scheduled to start today) were both 9-3 with a 2.51 ERA. They have lived up to their billing.
■ After closer Brad Lidge and setup man Jose Contreras were lost, there was real concern. Philadelphia considered trading for a closer, but Ryan Madson saved the day. He has a 2.03 ERA and is 15 for 16 in save situations, surprising everyone who thought he didn’t have it in him to close. New set-up man Antonio Bastardo has a 0.96 ERA and has allowed 11 hits in 28 innings. He has held opponents to a .120 average. Madson, though, has come up with a sore hand and will miss some or all of the Boston series, so Bastardo and Mike Stutes may be used to close.
■ Early in the season, there were complaints that the Phillies’ lineup — like Boston’s — was too lefthanded. Some believe this has resulted in an inability to generate much offense (they are 10th in the National League in runs), especially against strong lefthanded starters and good situational lefties. All of Ryan Howard’s 16 homers were against righthanded pitchers (though he is hitting a respectable .264 vs. lefties) and we saw what Giants lefty Javier Lopez did to him in the playoffs last season. Heading into the weekend, the Phillies had scored three or fewer runs in 39 of their first 74 games.
Phillies scouts have been on the lookout for a righthanded bat, though general manager Ruben Amaro has said the payroll is maxed out. One name that was the subject of speculation early in the season was Mike Cameron, but his $8 million price tag would seem to be too high, unless the Red Sox were willing to eat a lot of it in return for a quality prospect.
Charlie Manuel, one of the best “tell it like it is’’ managers left in the game, has been very open about needing another bat.
“We could use a hitter in our lineup, at least one,’’ he said. “We could definitely use a solid righthanded hitter. I don’t want something like we got. I want something better.’’
Those are direct and strong words.
One righthanded hitter who seems to be on a lot of teams’ radar is Oakland’s Josh Willingham, but he recently went on the disabled list. Switch-hitting Carlos Beltran also could be had, but he’s in the division, with the Mets.
Right before the Phillies beat the Cardinals Wednesday, Manuel — again, very direct — lit into his offense for being impatient. And when asked how you can ensure better at-bats, he said, “You don’t. That’s preparation. That’s focus. That’s what it is. It’s up to you to do that. There’s nobody living who can help you do that.
“We can talk about it, but you’ve got to learn that yourself and work on that yourself. If you’re gonna chase balls 2-and-0, sinkers down and away, balls over your head . . .
“It’s kind of up to the player. And a lot of times they don’t want to hear it. When you talk about swinging at bad pitches, especially when you’re up in the count, what are you doing wrong? I’d say that’s what you’re doing wrong. You’re getting yourself out.
“You can say whatever you want. But they’ve got the wood in their hand. They’re standing there. They’re getting paid to hit, you know?’’
To illustrate Manuel’s frustration, the Phillies had three players (Lenny Dykstra, Darren Daulton, John Kruk) on their 1993 World Series team with 100 or more walks. But only Pat Burrell has walked 100 times for the Phillies since 2008. Jayson Werth walked 85 times last season before departing to Washington as a free agent in the offseason.
So there you go. Even the team with the best record in baseball has problems. Lots of them, in fact.
The Red Sox, likewise, have had their share of issues, from the ineffectiveness of John Lackey (7.36 ERA) to J.D. Drew’s subpar season. They have Carl Crawford, Clay Buchholz, and Jed Lowrie on the disabled list, and they have no viable lefthanded reliever to speak of (unless you count Tommy Hottovy) — something that could have come in handy in the Phillies series.
It should be an interesting three games. The Phillies will get to see what a Red Sox lineup may look like in the World Series, while the Sox try to find a way to get David Ortiz at-bats, possibly by playing Adrian Gonzalez in right field for a game or two.
1. Adrian Gonzalez — “He and Jose Bautista are the best hitters in baseball this year,’’ said an American League executive. “That’s a nice 1-2 punch for the All-Star Game. Gonzalez should add 20-30 points to his average hitting at Fenway and in the American League parks in general. He was a hidden gem in San Diego, but now everyone is going to know who he is. He doesn’t seem to show any nervousness or extra pressure in changing markets. Great hitter.’’
2. Josh Beckett — “He’s learning how to pitch at 93-94, and he’s got the good curveball and cut fastball that he uses very effectively,’’ said a National League scout. “I’ve seen some of his starts when he didn’t have the good fastball and he won with his other stuff, which is something he hasn’t been able to do in the past.’’
3. Jon Lester — “He hasn’t pitched his best this year yet, but he’s got the results and he’s shown to be resilient and a bulldog,’’ said an AL general manager. “I think he’ll start being dominant soon. I don’t think he’s a guy that you have to worry about his innings. He can go 220-plus for you.’’
4. Jacoby Ellsbury — “Pretty tough out,’’ said an AL manager. “It’s incredible to me how poorly pitchers pitch him. And what I mean by that is all the fastballs he gets to hit. This isn’t a Punch-and-Judy leadoff hitter. This is a guy that if you throw him a fastball in the wrong spot, he’ll hit it out of the park. He’s the best leadoff man in the AL right now.’’
5. David Ortiz — “He’s one of the most dangerous hitters in the game still,’’ said an AL manager. “So if you’re not careful, he’s like the Papi of old: He’ll make you pay. If anyone thought his career was going the other way, they were dead wrong.’’
6. Dustin Pedroia — “He’s coming on, and he’ll make a case for himself, won’t he?’’ said an AL executive. “When he wasn’t hitting, he did the little things. Now he’s hitting and doing the little things. This kid is a ballplayer, and there’s no way you’re ever going to keep him down.’’
Johnson will take over the Nationals tomorrow in Los Angeles. According to team sources, Johnson has signed through the 2012 season with an option for 2013. We’ll see if he lasts that long.
If he doesn’t, one veteran Nationals official will recommend Red Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale for the permanent job. Hale also could be a candidate in Florida if McKeon doesn’t stay on next season.
While Jim Riggleman did a great job bringing along the Nationals’ young talent, it never felt to him that he would be the long-term manager, that someone else would reap the fruits when phenom righty Stephen Strasburg returned from Tommy John surgery and right fielder Bryce Harper was ready to play in the majors.
Riggleman quit after a 1-0 win over the Mariners Wednesday after leading the Nationals on an 11-1 run that put them above .500.
Johnson is obviously an accomplished manager, but the last time he managed was 2000 with the Dodgers. He did manage in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 but looked overwhelmed at times.
The Nationals official has been a longtime supporter of Hale. He believes Hale “has really learned the ins and outs of what it takes to be a big league manager. I’d be surprised if DeMarlo wasn’t the next hot managerial candidate out there because he deserves that opportunity.’’
Hale did not get any of the eight managerial openings in the offseason; finishing runner-up to John Farrell for the Toronto job was the closest he got. He could be a candidate for the Cubs job if that one opens up in the offseason.
McKeon and Johnson are taking over entirely different situations. McKeon took over a team that had lost 18 of 22, while Johnson will have a hot team that is making noise in the NL East.
Updates on nine 1. Wily Mo Pena, OF/DH, Diamondbacks — General manager Kevin Towers felt the right time to get Pena up from Triple A Reno — where he was tearing up the Pacific Coast League — was for interleague games in American League cities. Pena obliged with a first-game homer vs. the Royals (and had a game-winner vs. Detroit Friday), but has been overmatched at times. Pena is still only 29, with enormous power. He could always hit a fastball, but he has never been comfortable at the plate against offspeed stuff. Still, he did well at Triple A, so maybe he’s ready to be the power hitter Jim Bowden, Theo Epstein, and others thought he’d be.
2. Ryan Vogelsong, RHP, Giants — He joined the Giants after Barry Zito went on the disabled list, and a funny thing happened: He has gone 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA. The 33-year-old journeyman is the first Giant to allow two or fewer runs in nine consecutive starts since Jason Schmidt in 2006. One more and he’ll tie Juan Marichal’s team record. With Bruce Bochy being the All-Star manager for the National League, he may select his guy. The Giants sure do come up with pitchers, don’t they?
3. Victor Martinez, DH/C, Tigers — Just for kicks, we figured out how the Martinez/Adrian Beltre-for-Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford swap out has gone for the Sox. Not much of a difference. V-Mart/Beltre have combined for a .293 average with 19 homers and 97 RBIs in 522 at-bats. The A-Gon/Crawford combo has a .306 average with 21 homers and 100 RBIs in 571 at-bats.
4. Mark Ellis, 2B, A’s — Giants sources say he will not be heading to San Francisco any time soon. While Ellis would be a nice pickup with Freddy Sanchez gone for the season, one Giants official pointed out, “We need RBI bats. That’s what we’re looking for right now.’’ Ellis is 34 and relegated to utility duty, but he is precisely the type of player Brian Sabean likes to get. That approach worked wonderfully last season.
5. Ben Cherington, assistant GM, Red Sox — We mentioned Chicago (Cubs) as a possible destination for Cherington, and you can add Houston. With new ownership, the Astros may make changes this offseason, and Cherington’s name is popping up.
6. Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks — Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make. Remember when Towers was shopping Upton to everyone (including the Red Sox) in the offseason? Well, Upton has hit .429 since May 29 (entering the weekend), with 10 doubles, a .505 on-base percentage, and a 1.186 OPS. As a righthanded hitter, he may have been a good long-term addition to the Red Sox, though it would likely have nixed the Crawford signing.
7. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees — Calf injuries are bad for infielders, especially shortstops, who have to use their legs more than any other position player — and especially shortstops who turn 37 today. So it was strange to hear about Jeter returning as soon as his disabled list stint is up. Fact is, he won’t. It’s going to take him about a month to resume normal activities. With Jeter just six hits shy of 3,000, it may work out that he returns when the Yankees have a homestand going, which would be perfect.
8. Jason Frasor, RHP, Blue Jays — He would be the prize among bullpen pieces Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Shawn Camp, and Jon Rauch, whom Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos may want to move at the trading deadline so he can continue to add young players to the system. The one reliever teams will ask for, but who isn’t going anywhere, is lefty Marc Rzepczynski.
9. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins — Asked a Marlins official if the “benching’’ by Jack McKeon could mean they are open to moving Ramirez, and the answer was a resounding “No!’’ They believe that if anyone is going to make Ramirez accountable, it will be McKeon. And the Marlins, who will become the Miami Marlins next season in their new ballpark, are still wrapping their marketing campaign around Ramirez and the Latin community.
Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “Caveat emptor: In his eight-year career, Erik Bedard has made 103 first-half starts, with a 40-24 record and a 3.42 ERA, but only 51 second-half starts, with a 15-21 record and a 4.15 ERA.’’ Also, Livan Hernandez (4-8) is 170-171 for his career, and at his current pace, he should overtake Tim Wakefield (197-174) as the active pitcher with the most losses. Wake also has the most wins, 19 ahead of Roy Halladay.’’ And, “Not that you asked, but Victor Martinez, who has hit over .365 as Detroit’s DH this season, has caught and played first base when the Tigers played in NL venues this season.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Greg Blosser (40) and Mike Myers (42).