Phillies Hope to Avoid Late Season Slump
by Robert Ferringo - 06/29/2007
While the New York Mets have stumbled and bumbled their way through a putrid June, I was able to take solace in the fact that the one team that might have been just as bad was their rivals, the Atlanta Braves. The fact that the Mets, my favorite team, could go 8-15 over the past four weeks yet remain in first place in the National League East has been my only solace, and the only reason why I haven't tried to burn down Carlos Delgado's house yet.
But while discussing the plight of the less-than-Amazin's with my fellow Mets fans during that time there's been one recurrent theme: what about Philadelphia? My response is always the same: if there's one team in the East I'm not worried about, it's the Phillies.
The Phillies are a sideshow organization in the NL East. These hucksters and used car salesmen always seem to bilk someone who knows way too much about baseball into to picking them to win the division (I'm looking at you, Buster Olney). Without fail, those prognosticators get to recoil in horror at the inevitable August collapse in Philadelphia.
To be honest, I don't see much reason to predict otherwise for this year's version of the Phighting Phils. Their bullpen is shaky, the backend of their rotation doesn't scare anyone and they are easily exploited by left-handed pitching. However, if we know that the Phillies aren't going to implode until at least around the anniversary of our dropping The Bomb on Hiroshima then that means we still have about six weeks where we can cash in on the talent that they do have.
Philadelphia has quietly been playing consistent baseball over the past two months. Of course, they naturally lost, 9-6, to the Reds on the day that I started writing this story (it's what they do). But until that little setback they had won 14 of their last 22 games and were 26-18 (59.1 percent) between May 9 and June 27. They've also managed to net +668 in profit this month for backers.
During that time the Phillies have shown strong consistency and remarkable resiliency. They have lost back-to-back contests only twice in their last 47 games. They've proven to have a short memory, and dating back to last season they are an impressive 35-17 following a loss.
The Phillies have made their move on the strength of their superstars and the front-end hurlers.
It starts at the top of the batting order, where mouthy Jimmy Rollins has managed a .298 average and 15 RBI over the past month, while No. 3 hitter Chase Utley has been incredible while batting .400. Fellow All-Star Ryan Howard has been equally impressive, crushing nine home runs over the past 30 days while managing a .296 average and 26 RBI.
But the big names aren't the only ones doing damage, as a pair of quintessential Phillies has made solid contributions as well. Shane Victorino and Aaron Roward are tough, gritty, rough-around-the-edges ball players that play big in the clutch and would run through a wall for their team. (In Rowand's case he would at least try to run through a wall.) Rowand is hitting .293 in June and the pair has combined for eight home runs and 26 RBI over that period.
Philadelphia is currently fifth in the Majors in runs per game, eighth in homers and sixth in OPS. That type of offensive support has definitely made it easier to be a Phillies starter. This is good, because the Phillies starting rotation kind of sucks.
However, one guy that is most assuredly the Real Deal is Cole Hamels. The smooth southpaw is 9-3 on the season and the Phillies have won nine of his past 11 outings. Hamels is a legit ace, and is now treated as one. He's been posted as a favorite of -170 or higher in three of his last five outings. The good news: the Phillies have won and covered the run line each of those three starts. It's going to be difficult to find value on the soft-tossing lefty, but he's still a strong wager when you can.
Beyond Hamels, the Phillies have received seven quality starts from veterans Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton over their last 10 combined outings. This is significant not only because, along with Hamels, it means that the Phillies are getting more consistency at the top of the rotation but also because a majority of those starts came against big bopping American League lineups. If that pair can continue to contribute then the Phillies should be able to put together a solid July as well.
But now for the bad news: Philadelphia's bullpen is still a wreck. The Phillies are 24th in the Majors in bullpen E.R.A. and are still incredibly shaky in the middle relief. Any time you're relying on Antonio Alfonseca and his six-fingered fastball you're in rough shape. Granted, they are without closers Tom Gordon and Brett Myers, but that also makes their recent run of success that much more impressive.
Gordon and Myers will be back around the All-Star Break, bolstering a unit in desperate need of some extra arms. It's that leakiness at the back end of the pitching staff that makes me nervous about wagering on the Phillies. But again, they're a gritty group and if they're able to keep their heads above water until the break then I think they could remain a profitable venture through July.
Philadelphia has a big four-game series with the first place Mets this weekend. They trail in the standings by just 3.5 games, so a sweep or a series win could really do some damage. However, it's going to be all about whether or not the regulars can keep producing against a solid Mets staff, and whether or not the pen will be able to weather the storm of late-inning rallies that New York is known for.
Of course, this series won't matter much when the Phils start August with a 2-10 run.
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