The Baseball Notebook

April 29, 2010 2:33 PM

Are The Phils Now Vulnerable?

One of the sport's great rivalries renews Friday, when the Phillies host the Mets for a weekend set. It takes place in the backdrop of a big surge out of the boys from Queens. New York has passed Philadelphia and now leads the NL East by a half-game. The Phils have been struggling with injuries to several key players--indeed, no contender has been hit as hard by the injury bug early. Perhaps they are getting it out of the way early. But let's take a closer look at the team that opened the season as the odds-on favorite to win a third straight NL pennant, a feat never accomplished in the postwar era.

The reason the 2008 team won the World Series, while the '09 version came up a little short in the Fall Classic is the bullpen. Brad Lidge was unstoppable in '08 and quite hittable the following year. This year he's been one of the players down for the count in April, but is reporting today that he will rejoin the pen starting tonight. It's not a moment too soon, because even when fully healthy, this relief corps is not one to give peace of mind to the good people of Philadelphia. Chad Durbin is the only one pitching well, while Ryan Madson, Danys Baesz and David Herndon have been nothing short of rocked. One intriguing note is that while Jose Contreras hasn't logged many innings in relief, he has pitched well getting 1-2 outs at a time. He's not going to solve their deeper problems, but just one guy like that can help a manager turn an awful pen into one that's at least manageable.

Problems in the bullpen correlate to injuries in the starting rotation. J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton have both been out, although both are expected to return in the early part of May. That can free up some arms to return to relief, including Noel Figueroa. Re-signing Pedro Martinez could do the same. Although
the starters need some help too. Roy Halladay is the only one pitching well and he has been absolutely spectacular, putting on an MVP-type performance for the first month. Clearly, Halladay is relishing the chance to pitch for a team with a real shot at a title. Cole Hamels' struggles from the end of last year and the playoffs have carried over into this year.

Philadelphia's offense has the ability to cure a lot of ills, although they haven't been immune from the injury bug. Jimmy Rollins, after a quick start in his first few games, has been out and will return in the middle of this coming month. In the meantime, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth have swung the bat well. Ryan Howard, he of the new $25 million per year contract, is hitting for power, but his OBP has slipped. The walks need to go up, lest he just become good for an occassional bash, but not a functioning member of the offense. Raul Ibanez is the reverse--he's been on base consistently, but hasn't found his power stroke yet.

Prognosis: Great offense, a stopper in the rotation and championship experience will cure a lot of ills and it will keep Philadelphia the team to beat in the NL East. But if the return of healthy players don't solve the problems, beating them suddenly becomes viable and teams like their rival an hour up the interstate will be happy enough to oblige.

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