May 09, 2005

Phils-Cubs series wrap

The Phillies fall to Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs Sunday, but exit Wrigley with a 2-1 series win. The Phils look to build on great pitching from Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber and Brett Myers, and hope to improve their frazzled offense when they open a series tonight in Milwaukee.

Yesterday marked the first time I’ve seen Carlos Zambrano outside of SportCenter highlights, and he couldn’t have been more impressive. The worst mismatch was Zambrano vs. Ryan Howard. Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Howard. Zambrano got the kid to chase several outside breaking pitches, resulting in weak Steve Jeltz-like dribblers. No need to call on your bullpen when you have a guy like Zambrano – 138 pitches, 88 of them for strikes. The performance was just what the doctor ordered to snap the Cubbies 7-game skid.

Brett Myers continues to be a walking-talking example of why win/loss records don’t measure a pitcher’s true worth. Myers is 2-2, and pitched brilliantly yet again, proving his hot start is no fluke.

Counting yesterday’s performance, I’d put Myers on the short list of the best pitchers in the NL this season, including Mike Hampton, Dontrelle Willis, Roger Clemens, Tim Hudson, John Patterson, A.J. Burnett and teammate Jon Lieber.

With even an average offense, I’m certain the Phillies would be right in the NL mix, but ...

The offense stinks
Among teams in the NL:
OBP (.331, 12th)
SLG (.362, 16th, last behind Pittsburgh with .382)
Runs (127, 14th)
AVG (.245, 16th, last behind Astros with .246)
HR (24, 14th)
AVG w/ scoring position (.238, 13th)
SLG w/ scoring position (.357, last, among leaders in this category early in season)
BB (126, 3rd!, as they wait for the PERFECT pitch to hit into play ... less than 25 percent of the time).

Here’s the lineup Zambrano and the Cubs needed to beat yesterday:

J. Rollins (.237)
C. Utley(.300)
P. Polanco (.241)
B. Abreu (.278)
D. Bell (.229)
R. Howard (.071)
M. Byrd (.500)
T. Pratt (.174)
B. Myers

Don’t think for a second that Charlie Manuel’s decision to play Placido Polanco in left and bat him third yesterday was a random act. The Phillies made every effort to showcase Poly in front of the Cubs this series, a possible suitor for the displaced and disgruntled second baseman.

After a red-hot spring, Polanco hasn’t carried that momentum forward. He was robbed a number of times this series, but overall, his general lack of power – a measly .280 SLG – isn’t what I’d call a solid option to hit third or even second.

In our Polanco / Utley poll, I voted in favor of the platoon, but right now I’d vote for additional ABs for Chase Utley against LHP, unless it's Mike Hampton or someone of that caliber. I still think Polanco is a better option against most LHP, but Manuel should move to get Utley more ABs because he's basically their third-best power option right now.

The rest
Like Poly, there are too many others in this lineup, top to bottom, putting up anemic numbers, providing no power whatsoever and not driving in runners on base. How’s this for a stat: David Bell has nine extra-base hits this season, but only nine runs.

The wasteful ABs start at the top. Jimmy Rollins has been a poor table-setter, only reaching base to the tune of .285 OBP. Earlier I asked readers which NL East shortstop would have the best season, and the majority voted for J-Roll. Right now, he’s tied with Rafael Furcal in VORP with a 4.2 rating. They’re both not getting their fleet rear-ends on base, with Furcal posting a slightly better .295 OBP.

The Phillies need Jim Thome back, and I’m hoping his early struggles were due to this isolated back injury. I’m a Howard supporter, but I’ll reiterate my position on the big slugging prospect: Jim Thome is unquestionably the best option at first base, and the right move regarding Howard would have been to trade him this winter. He’s blocked out of a starting spot, and his stock might never be higher than it was after 46 minor league homers. But since they have him, and with the offense struggling, he should stay on the rest of the season. With injuries, his bat won't collect cobwebs.

The Phils also need Kenny Lofton back, as the center field platoon with Jason Michaels represents one of the only offensive bright spots this season. He’s no peach in the field, but his .938 OPS, in limited chances, is still tops on the team.


At 6:44 PM, Blogger Garth said...

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Thanks and I hope you take advantage of this exciting new opportunity!

At 11:54 PM, Blogger That Dude said...

How can Manuel keep Utley and J-Mike out of the everyday lineup at this point? POlanco should be playing 3rd and J-MIk's OBP is worthy of getting more ab's. His baserunning scares me, but considering how anemic the offense can be at times, I'll take the trade off.

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sick and tired of phillies players and coaches bitching about the fans. All I have to say is we were here long before you and we'll be after you, if your so sensitive maybe you should work in a bakery or something. signed, superfan,
Skinhead Bob
(formerly sideshow bob)


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