The All-Star game is the metaphorical halfway point of the season and traditionally a time for baseball pundits to hand out midseason grades. Rather than closely follow tradition (and seriously, how bad could any grade be for a team with the best record in baseball?), I’d like to discuss how the Phillies will look for the rest of the season, what changes they should make, and most importantly, will they succeed in the post season? Right now, the two areas the Phillies most need to address are an inconsistent offense and the soft middle of their bullpen. The offense has been an issue all year, but what to do? As stated in an earlier post, the available trade acquisitions, or, at least those discussed in rumors, represent marginal improvement at best. (never underestimate the ability of Phils GM Ruben Amaro to surprise with a blockbuster out of , ahem, left field). The Phillies would most likely be better off allowing their younger players (Domonic Brown and John Mayberry) to grow while sharing playing time with seasoned veterans Raul Ibanez and Ben Francisco. Manager Charlie Manual has been harping on the players to take more intelligent at bats (Jimmy, in other words, when the opposition has just walked the pitcher on four pitches there is no need to swing at the first pitch) and the lineup has started to finally show signs of listening. Ryan Howard’s homerun numbers may be down but his RBI remain near the top of the league because of his willingness to take what the pitcher gives, cut down his swing and drive in runs with a base hit, sac fly, or ground ball. Chase Utley (rounding into form), and even Shane Victorino have shown similar tendencies. If they can keep up this trend in the second half with the pitching they have they should win the division going away. This approach will serve them well in the playoffs as well, where all pitching is tough and runs are at a premium.
The bullpen issues should also resolve themselves. Key performances from youngsters Antonio Bastardo , Michael Stutes, and even Juan Perez have been offset by mediocre (or worse) showings by David Herndon, Andrew Carpenter, Scott Mathieson (just optioned back to Lehigh Valley) and Danys Baez. Waiting in the wings, however, are rehabbing veterans Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, and further down the road Joe Blanton, Roy Oswalt and Jose Conteras. Their return will allow the productive kids to slide back to more supportive rolls and the non-productive kids to slide back to Triple A. Danys Baez has been a mentor to the young guns, teaching them about preparation, focus, how to shake off a bad outing (he should know), and for this he gets to stay. (If they get to him the game is out of hand anyway). You know what they say, those who can’t do…teach.
The Phillies, in other words, are in great shape, both for reaching the post-season and for succeeding there as well.