MLB Handicapping: Phillies Due for Post-All-Star Turnaround?
by Trevor Whenham - 7/6/2012
Few teams are likely more excited for the all-star break than the Philadelphia Phillies. They headed into the season expected by most to be the serious contender that they have been for years now. Yet here they sit in dead last in the National League East.
They are 13 games behind the Nationals (in another shocking development those are the National League-leading Nationals, by the way), sit 8.5 games out of the expanded wild card race, and at 37-47 even finishing at .500 is far from a sure thing this year. It has, by every definition, been a nightmare of a year.
For bettors in the second half the questions are clear — can the Phillies turn things around and close respectably, or is the season a total write-off? If you can answer that correctly then you stand to make some good money down the stretch. Let’s take a look:
One of the most immediately obvious developments for this team is that they are just plain lousy at home. Last year on this day they were a ferocious 32-14 in their own cozy confines — convincingly the best mark in the league. This year they are just 17-24.
When a team can win games at home it has a major ripple effect throughout their season. If teams don’t fear coming into Philadelphia then they will be more relaxed and tougher to beat. If they are losing at home then road games are even more important, and they go into those games tighter. Simply put, a good team can’t be bad at home, and the Phillies are bad.
The only home series in their last seven that they won was against Colorado — hardly a force in the NL this year. Their struggles at home are far more of a symptom of the issues than the cause of them, but they are striking.
They can take some consolation in what happened in 2009, though. On this day in that year they were 17-22 at home, and they went on to capture the NL Pennant before losing the World Series in six games to the Yankees.
Why have the Phillies been as strong as they have been for the last few years? Pitching. Why are they struggling so badly this year? Pitching. That sounds like an oversimplification, but it really is that simple.
Last year at the all-star break their big three of Halladay, Hamels, and Lee were a combined 31-13, and all had WHIPs of 1.06 or lower and tiny ERAs. This year they are a combined 15-4. If you take out a solid season from Hamels — 10-4 with a 1.10 WHIP and 3.20 ERA — then things are really bleak. Plus, Halladay has been on the DL since the end of May.
As bleak as it has been it could get even worse — the combination of the lack of competitiveness and impending salary issues mean that there is a decent chance that Cole Hamels will be shipped out of town before the month ends.
Despite the bleak reality there are two reasons to be optimistic — at least somewhat. First, Halladay is throwing bullpen sessions and will return at some point, He was not himself early on, but if he’s healthy now we know how good he is capable of being. Second, it seems impossible for Lee to continue to be as unlucky as he has been. His WHIP of 1.19 is more than respectable and he has eight quality starts, yet he’s just 1-5. He has found every possible way to lose a game. Sooner or later that will turn the other way — at least theoretically.
This is perhaps the biggest single issue. Aside From Halladay they have been hit hard. Chase Utley played his first game of the season on June 27. Ryan Howard could play his first game on the year on Friday. Those three represent more than $55 million in annual salary for this team and much of their heart and soul on the mound, in the field, and at the plate.
Getting all three of them back would be a massive boost to this squad — if they can stay healthy. It’s hard to know how healthy they will be, though, or whether they can do enough to boost the squad.
My feeling is that they will give the team a lift, and that could get them to .500 and beyond, but I just don’t see it being enough to take them all the way.
This is perhaps the biggest obstacle. In order to move into the playoff picture they not only have to get better, but they have to pass teams ahead of them. That’s going to be a challenge here.
Washington might struggle to keep pitching at the level they have, but they are a solid team that won’t totally fade. The Mets are enjoying strong pitching as well and a world-class year from David Wright. Atlanta is strong on the road, and seems very motivated not to repeat a late season fade. Like the Phillies Miami has failed to meet expectations so far, but have four games on the Phillies, are showing signs of life, and should only get better.
If Philadelphia was in the NL Central then I would be a whole lot more optimistic about their chances than I am now. The wild card is tough, too, with the Mets, Braves, Reds, Cardinals, and Giants all well in front of Philadelphia and all capable of staying strong.
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