We’re halfway finished the 2008 season. At the half mark the Phils were 43-38 (they’ve since won one), definitely not a great record. The good news is the Phils are in first place, and have spent 33 days in that position, with a largest lead of four games. So we have to be happy with the result but not at all satisfied, considering recent play.
Here’s the bottom line, at the top: The Phillies are good enough to make the playoffs, but there are visible holes, and those holes will not let the Phils win a pennant, let alone the World Series.
Still, looking at the first half as a whole it’s been better than worse. Not much better, but there’s reason to be optimistic. Here’s a report card so far, and my thoughts on what the Phils need to do in the second half to succeed:
Cole Hamels: A-
The ace of the Phils staff is having another strong season, matching up with other aces and going deep into games. He has had a couple shaky outings, but nothing to scream about.
Brett Myers: F
An absolute turnaround. His velocity is down, he has lost faith in his fastball placement and his composure is seemingly out the window. Whether the Phils put him back in the bullpen, trade him, DL him or demote him, there’s no good solution.
Jamie Moyer: B
With Moyer everything is face value. He’s always good for five innings, maybe six, sometimes seven and very rarely more than that. He’s dominated young teams and has had trouble with experienced teams. He gets fantastic run support, but a 4.09 ERA is nothing to sneeze at.
Kyle Kendrick: C+
It’s been an up and down season for Kendrick, but it looks as if he’s pushing forward. Some teams have figured him out, but he’s starting to use that changeup successfully. Basically some downsides, then some buts …
Adam Eaton: C-
Definitely better than last season, Eaton still hasn’t lived up to the $24M hype. While he hasn’t received run support, his 4.86 ERA means he can go six innings, but give up 3-4 runs each time out. Not great, but for a fifth starter it ain’t terrible.
STARTING ROTATION: We’re charmed to have five guys who haven’t missed a start, but they’re not the best collective five out there: one ace, a couple No. 4s and an incredible failure who was supposed to be a No. 2. They usually do enough to lead to wins, but it’s painfully obvious they need another shutdown starter if they want to contend for the brass ring.
Clay Condrey: C
As a long man he’s not bad, but that’s really all he is. There have been moments where I’ve been impressed by his fastball and breaking pitch; still, you can’t think of plugging Clay into the late innings.
Rudy Seanez: B
It’s been nice to have middle relief that can get outs, so Seanez has been a nice chip to have in the cabinet. He’s not much more than middle relief, however, as he can have some poor outings. But when you compare Seanez to Jose Mesa and Matt Smith, there’s no question who you’d rather have.
Ryan Madson: B
Madson had an auspicious start to the season, giving up a bunch of runs. But in time he’s proved to be an integral piece of the bullpen, as his ERA has dropped to 2.90 and his role has increased into the swing man role. He could be much more by the end of this season.
Chad Durbin: A-
The one major key to the bullpen’s success, Durbin has been a saving grace. He’s worked long innings and middle relief. Now he’s been moved to a setup role, though that may not last for too long. Still, middle relief had always been an Achilles heel for this team â€” not anymore.
JC Romero: B+
The Savior continued his strong play from last season with a scoreless streak that ran until May. Early on he let a few inherited runners score, but lately he’s been huge. Yes he may walk his share (21 in 31 innings), but when he needs that big strikeout he usually gets it. And that’s the point.
Tom Gordon: C+
Flash started the season horribly and we immediately jumped on the “get him outta’ here” wagon. He settled in from there, pitching terrific as the prime setup man. Lately, though, his shoulder has become an issue, affecting his play, and it’s evident he’ll be hitting the DL soon. The Phils will need to fix this problem quickly.
Brad Lidge: A+
The Phils took a gamble trading for Lidge, but boy has it paid off. Lights Out has been exactly that, converting all 18 of his save opportunities while holding a ridiculous 0.84 ERA. Possibly the Phils first-half MVP.
BULLPEN: A great season so far for the ‘pen, thanks to new additions Lidge, Durbin and Seanez. There’s trouble ahead, however, with Gordon likely to sit and nobody primed to be the setup man. They’ll likely need to make a move for a setup man and keep reinforcements close.
Carlos Ruiz: D+
Horrible hitter, good catcher. With a .219 AVG and .601 OPS Ruiz hasn’t done anything offensively. Seeing him in the lineup normally elicits groans. But he does catch his pitchers pretty well. While you can’t discern anything from his performance with Hamels (who’s just good), he does a much better job than Chris Coste with Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton. A tough catch-22.
Chris Coste: B+
Very good hitter, mediocre catcher. To be fair Coste isn’t a bad catcher, but his pitchers fare considerably worse than Ruiz’s. Still, Coste is a solid, professional bat, hitting .314 with 7 HR and 20 RBI. He might be the best backup catcher in the game.
CATCHERS: We’ve been so down on Ruiz’s hitting that we’ve been calling for Lou Marson or Jason Jaramillo to head south immediately. Yes, Ruiz probably isn’t a Major League starting catcher, so at some point soon they’ll need to address it. For now it’s good to have the balance of slick-hitting Coste and pitcher’s-catcher Ruiz.
Ryan Howard: C+
Hop on the roller coaster. Okay, he’s the league leader in RBI (67), is fifth in home runs (20) and gets it done with runners on base (1.040 OPS). Yet he carries that ugly .215 AVG and has 113 strikeouts. When he hits the ball he makes things happen, and that is the bottom line with Howard. As much as we can rail on his average and fielding abilities (still not good), he gets the job done. For now it’s a C+, but I do expect that to go up.
Chase Utley: A+
Aside from an ugly 0-for-28 slide, Utley has been the league’s top player. He’s on pace for a record season and has literally carried the team offensively for most of the season. What I like most â€” his 3 triples and 7 steals. He’s the world’s top All-Star game votegetter, a wildly popular guy and so far, the best thing to happen to this team offensively in 2008.
Pedro Feliz: C
Critics point to his .743 OPS and say he’s not a consistent hitter. No, he’s not. And he makes a lot of bad outs. But he is productive enough to be your No. 7 hitter, and that’s what he’s been this season. He’ll nail his career averages, and we knew he would. The difference is his defense: He makes tough plays look easy and nothing impresses me more than his rifle arm. I love watching him unleash one from deep third to first.
Jimmy Rollins: C-
Badly injured for the first time ever, Rollins has been an enigma in 2008. The MVP has struggled to get into a groove, and it doesn’t help swinging at first and second pitches. He has to improve, and should (unless there’s more to that injury), but right now he’s not been the player he needs to be to help lead this team back to the playoffs.
Greg Dobbs: A-
Best pinch hitter in baseball? Likely. Hitting .330 with 2 HR and 18 RBI, Dobbs has made a killing out of being a name call. He’s one of the keys to this team’s success so far, and there’s no reason to think he can keep it going.
Eric Bruntlett: C+
He had one poor game (the first as a starter after the Rollins injury), but for the most part has been a solid defensive player and nice light-hitter. But I won’t let you think he’s been all good (.239 AVG, .636 OPS). For the amount of time he’s used he’s not a bad option.
INFIELDERS: To me the key is Rollins. No matter how poorly Howard hits he’ll get ribbies. And Utley should be all-world all season. Feliz is Feliz. But Rollins has had a poor 2008 (actually it’s quite close to his career averages), and if he can play a little better this team should be fine.
Pat Burrell: B+
Luckily for the Phils, The Bat has stepped it up in the first half (pretty much being a substitute for Rollins). The .270 average isn’t bad for Burrell, but the best stuff is his production (19 HR, 49 RBI). He’s close to having another 30 HR, 100 RBI season. Steady as she goes, really.
Shane Victorino: B
Also injured for a bit, Vic has started to come alive. His .347 OBP isn’t terrible and when he gets on, he makes things happen, stealing 20 bases and scoring 50 runs despite playing 68 of the 81 games. And yeah, he plays great defense. More production would be nice, but so far there’s not much to complain about.
Geoff Jenkins: D-
One of two absolute busts of Phillies acquisitions, Jenkins hasn’t been consistent at all. A .239 hitter so far, we’d like to think he’ll get better (as he works on his swing). But I’m not holding out too much hope.
Jayson Werth: B
Take out the three-homer game and Werth has been just a little above average. Truth is he’s a good hitter who has had a small slump or two. While I don’t expect him to be the No. 4 production option, he’s done well enough to be considered as such for a stretch this season.
So Taguchi: F
The other bust so far has been Taguchi, who is nowhere near the league-best pinch hitter he was in 2007. A .206 average? Come on, So. Even his defense has been incredibly poor. He doesn’t have it anymore, and the Phils should consider a replacement for him (a contact-hitting utility guy would be fantastic). The Phils have been looking into Ryan Freel (everything but contact-hitting).
OUTFIELDERS: If the Phils want to grab CC Sabathia or something close they may need to part with an outfielder (Victorino or Werth). I wouldn’t want to. They’re the glues of this unit. We know Burrell will probably hit his averages, and we’re not expecting much more from Jenkins. It’s essential Vic and Werth remain with the Phils and keep hitting.
The Others: Chris Snelling, TJ Bohn and Brad Harman I won’t grade, as they really didn’t get enough time to justify a grade.
SO FAR: We know the holes (one starting pitcher, one healthy setup man, one slick hitting utility man) and we know who has to improve (Brett Myers, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Geoff Jenkins). I have faith the Phils will remain in first or close to it as the season progresses, and I do feel this team will win the NL East as it stands today. The Marlins are inexperienced and have too many obvious holes. The Mets are tired, dramatic and paper thin. The Braves have health issues and can’t get consistent anything. The division is the Phils for the taking.
But once you get past the division the holes become problems. If the Phils want to compete with the Cubs, and ultimately Red Sox and Angels, they’ll need that shutdown pitcher. And they’ll need some reinforcements. Can they do it? Absolutely. Should they bet the farm? Go deep (without ridding Vic or Werth) to get a Sabathia, Rich Harden or Erik Bedard. Let Pat Gillick work his magic to find that diamond-in-the-rough reliever and hitter. Then re-sign Lidge, try to re-sign Burrell, extend Hamels and go year-by-year with Howard (or trade him for a king’s ransom).
Really, despite the slightly above average record, this is the Phils year to win it all. There will be no better year. They need to push, make the moves that require that push, then push some more. We know what they can do, and we know how they need to do it. Now they need to put it together.