As the Phillies have slumped lately in fallen behind Atlanta and New York in the NL East, a lot of attention has gone to the failure of the bats, highlighted by three straight shutouts at the hands of the Mets. That the two-time defending NL champs have struggled at the plate is no secret, but the offensive problems are getting disproportionate attention. Philly has the kind of offense that can snap out of it in a big way and help may be on the way as soon as this weekend if Jimmy Rollins comes off the disabled list. Where Charlie Manuel has a bigger long-term concern is whether he has enough pitching to get his team across the finish line again.
Roy Halladay has been fantastic, and Cole Hamels has been acceptable, but the next three spots in the rotation are all very weak. Joe Blanton has been awful, and even with last night's solid win in the Bronx,
Jamie Moyer has been below average, as has Kyle Kendrick. Across the board, Manuel needs his starters to step it up. Hamels needs to join Halladay as a real ace. Moyer and Kendrick need to became above average #3s. And Blanton needs to get his ERA below 7, lest I be accused of going overboard on expectations.
The bullpen has been even worse, with seven blown saves, although Brad Lidge's return from the DL will hopefully address that. Lidge has closed his first four chances with a 2.00 ERA before getting hurt, so if he's back into form, the Phils at least have the ninth inning taken care of. Jose Contreras has been a pleasant surprise, with a 1.31 ERA, so this may be a case of a bullpen just needing a little time to get the right people into their roles. If that's the case, relief pitching won't be a problem the rest of the way.
Overall, I see Philadelphia making a surge and re-taking this division, although Atlanta is not going quietly
and we'll have to see if the Mets look to make a midseason upgrade. The Phils have been hit by injuries, particularly to Rollins and Lidge and that dark cloud is being lifted. They can also look for better offense from Shane Victorino (.313 OBP) and Ryan Howard will undoubtedly have a stretch where he'll singlehandedly carry the offense. The key will be getting the pitching improvements outlined above, and I believe the odds say they will do it.
The Mets have been able to surpass the Phillies in the standings in large part because of the play of David Wright, who leads the pack among National League third basemen. With a .380 OBP, and a .526 slugging percentage while playing in pitcher-friendly Citi Field, Wright merits an edge over Cincinnati's Scott Rolen and Washington's Ryan Zimmerman. Wright has more ABs than Zimmerman, and while Rolen deserves a big hat-tip for his role in lifting the Reds into a tie for first place,
he does play in a good hitter's park.
Others to keep an eye on the rest of the eye are San Francisco's Pablo Sandoval, the best in the league last year. He hasn't really kicked into gear this year, although this is another one who hits in less-than-ideal conditions. And Casey McGahee is a rising star in Milwaukee who's not far from joining the elite.