|Phillies on the Edge|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on July 29, 2010
Before the first pitch of the season was thrown, the Phillies were prohibitive favorites to win not just the NL East but to be the only elite team in the entire National League. Barring a playoff upset, the team which acquired Roy Halladay to be their ace during the offseason was already being written in for another World Series appearance.
Now, in late July the Phillies have righted their and climbed back into second, entering Wednesday just 3.5 games behind the Braves, and ahead of the Mets who've proven themselves to be one of the worst road teams in the game and are coming off a 2-7 road trip which knocked them back to third. But the Phillies still aren't hitting much. Last week, almost unnoticed, they took some steps to change that by firing hitting coach Milt Thompson.
And while there are signs that the Phillies are coming out of their offensive doldrums, the question is just how much are they going to be able to count on their veterans down the road especially if they do trade Jayson Werth to add Roy Oswalt to their pitching staff.
Of their offensive stars, the only players who haven't disappointed so far have been Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard and Placido Polanco. Chase Utley is on the shelf for another six or so weeks and has only gone .277-11-37, while Jimmy Rollins is struggling with average and has shown little in the way of the power (four home runs) or speed (five steals) that the Phillies have counted on over the past decade. Outfielder Shane Victorino is hitting under .250 (and was just placed on the disabled list) and Raul Ibanez fell off an offensive cliff towards the end of last season and has only begun to show signs of life since the All-Star Break, and part of that maybe be due to batting third in the lineup in the slot usually occupied by Utley.
That should be worrisome, especially since the Phillies are essentially an old team at this point and only a single one of their regular starters (Victorino) is on the right side of 30. Perhaps that's most apparent in the middle infield slots, where players tend not to age quite as gracefully offensively. It might also account for the alarming frequency of injuries that their players seem to be experiencing this season.
That gives rise to the thought that perhaps this offensive slump has been more than an offensive slump, but indicative of true decline in the overall skill set of the team. That would hardly be an unexpected phenomenon. The prime years are past for almost all of the regulars and unlike the Yankees the Phillies aren't injecting a lot of new young superstar talent into the roster.
And they don't have the pitching of the Yankees either. After ace Halladay, the only starter better than league average has been Cole Hamels who despite a his solid ERA has managed only seven wins so far this season. With some better offensive support that record would probably be a bit better, but it's the rest of the staff who's made the potential for an Oswalt trade a priority.
But if the team is trading its most reliable hitter in Werth to make room for Oswalt, you have to wonder if they'll have enough hitting to use that deal to get back to the playoffs. Next year will be a big question, too, as any team who gets Oswalt will have to exercise his 2011 option at $16 million and the Phillies are tied to their home grown stars who are all over 30 and will be more likely to decline than improve over the next few seasons.