In Which We Dump On the Phillies

“The Dodgers can’t win because they don’t have an ace,” we’ve been hearing for months.

“The Dodgers starting pitching is full of questions,” we read. (Seriously, Kruk? The Red Sox have zero holes? When they don’t know who their #3 starter is, and when you even point out in the same article that their middle relief has issues? ESPN: your home for idiocy.)

“The Dodgers have plenty of reasons to worry,” says Ken Rosenthal.

It’s as though this team doesn’t have the best record in the league anymore, right? And at 14-7 in September, they’re not struggling down the stretch. Yet everyone is convinced they’re going to be huge underdogs in the first round regardless of who they play.

Well, it’s looking more and more like that first-round opponent is going to be the Phillies, and they’re hardly without problems of their own. No disrespect to the Phillies, who’ve had a solid season and obviously bounced the the Dodgers in the NLCS on the way to a title last year, but this is not a team without their own faults. To wit:


lidgesweats.jpgRemember when Brad Lidge was the best closer in baseball? Yeah, me neither.

It’s never a good sign when Baseball Prospectus is doing articles on you that don’t just point out how bad you’ve been this season, but try to properly place you in the annals of historic awfulness. This is a guy who would have stood out on the 1962 Mets:

As the data in this article suggests, this is not merely a poorly closed season, but rather one of the worst two or three closed seasons in major league history, if not the worst-closed season ever. Only four closers since 1954 have been given the opportunity to save games while posting ERAs north of 6.00, a list on which Lidge currently sports the second-worst mark. There have also only been nine pitcher-seasons in the same span throughout which a reliever had the opportunity to save 30 or more games with a WXRL below -1.00 wins, a list that Lidge’s current -1.93 mark tops.

That article is a few weeks old, so the stats may have changed, but they’re certainly not getting better. He blew another save against the Marlins on Wednesday, prompting Jayson Stark to report:

But after Lidge’s latest blown-save nightmare Wednesday in Florida, one scout in attendance reported that Lidge “is pitching with little or no confidence or conviction.” And boy, is that the understatement of the millennium.

Of the 22 pitches he threw, only 12 were strikes. And of the six balls in the strike zone that the Marlins swung at, according to pitch FX, the four they put in play went: hit, line-drive out, hit, hit.

In other words, when he throws a strikes these days, it’s turned into batting practice. And every other pitch he throws is an attempt to trick the hitter into swinging at a pitch that isn’t a strike. I regret to report, however, that every team in the league has caught onto that.

Just remember that, impatient jackasses who whine whenever Jonathan Broxton is so brazen as to allow a baserunner.

Okay, so Lidge is toast. Where do the Phillies turn? If Broxton went down, George Sherrill could step right in, and beyond him there’s worse ideas than giving Belisario/Troncoso/Kuo a crack. Oh, right…

You wouldn’t believe who might have to step in for Lidge if I told you.

Former closer Brett Myers had missed most of the season with a hip injury, and had been expected to step in and help Lidge out – except he’s now sidelined with shoulder soreness. From the same Stark article, an explanation of other Phillies options:

So why haven’t the Phillies pulled the plug on Lidge? Because manager Charlie Manuel finally concluded this month that he had nowhere else to turn.

According to one friend of Manuel, the manager came to the conclusion that A) Ryan Madson isn’t ready to close, B) the rest of his bullpen is a M*A*S*H* unit and C) it’s not as if the ninth inning is the only inning the Phillies have to cover. So Manuel’s inclination was to leave Madson in his eighth-inning comfort zone and pray that Lidge figures it out.

So if not Madson or Myers, then who?

Wait for it….

wait for it…

Here’s the same scout’s surprising nomination for an emergency closer: Chan Ho Park, if his hamstring heals up: “Throws strikes. Handles pressure. And has stuff.”

Before he got hurt, Park had a 1.84 ERA over his last 34 appearances, with 44 strikeouts in 44 innings. But in 432 career trips to the old pitcher’s mound, he’s converted exactly two of them into saves.

Yes! Old friend Corpsey McPark. That’s really who you want to go into a 9th inning playoff situation with, isn’t it?

But wait, the Phillies still have some more issues to contend with!

The clock has struck midnight on Raul Ibanez.

“Hey, 33 homers and a .912 OPS? That’s pretty impressive, what’s there to complain about?”

Ah, but there’s much more to it. In much the same way I’ve been trying to explain that just because Orlando Hudson was great at the beginning of the year – and James Loney sucked for four months – doesn’t neccessarily mean that’s how they’ll be in October, Ibanez has been on an enormous downturn for two months now.

On July 20th, Ibanez hit his 25th homer in his 68th game of the year to help beat the Cubs 10-1, and on that day his line stood at .315/.374/.674 for a 1.048 OPS, his high-water mark, and he was the subject of numerous success-story articles.

Since then? Ibanez has played in 57 games and, well, let’s just say he hasn’t quite been the same: just 8 homers and a .227/.311/.419 (.730 OPS) line. Maybe he’s getting old, maybe he’s getting injured, who cares. The fact is, despite what his season long stats will say, he is not the same player now that he was in April. 

Just remember this when you read the inevitable slew of “Manny’s not the same player” stories, because his line since July 20th – remember, dealing with a bad hand much of that time – is .273/.387/.505, which may not be vintage Manny, but a .892 OPS is still 162 points higher than Ibanez. 

Their most dangerous hitter is an absolute joke against lefties – and the Dodgers will almost certainly lead off with Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw.

Ryan Howard is a beast, no doubt about it. This is his 4th year in a row topping 40 homers, and he leads the league in RBI while being 3rd in total bases and 5th in SLG. Even scarier, he’s no creation of cozy Citizens Bank Park, as his OPS on the road is actually 41 points higher, and he’s hit 26 homers on the road as compared to 16 at home.

The man simply eats fastballs for breakfast. Along with what I can only assume is a copious helping of eggs, sausage, bacon, and large animals.

So what’s the problem? Ah, yes. It’s that against fellow lefties, murderous Ryan Howard becomes one of the worst hitters in all of baseball, with a puny .197/.289/.352 line (.641 OPS) and only 6 homers.

howardwhiffs.jpgActually, I’m not exaggerating when I say that. He’s literally one of the worst hitters in baseball against lefties. Check it out – there’s 176 players in MLB this year with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Let’s look at the bottom 5 in OPS:

.612 Emilio Bonifacio  
.615 Yuniesky Betancourt
.625 Jason Kendall
.635 Edgar Renteria
.655 David Eckstein
.655 Kaz Matsui

Not a typo, friends. When Ryan Howard hits against lefties, he’s the 5th worst hitter in all of baseball. Ryan Howard is less dangerous than magical pixie elf David Eckstein, and he hits with a tiny candy cane!

Against Kershaw and Wolf, Howard has just 2 hits in 21 plate appearances. So go ahead, write all the articles you want about how James Loney is SO inferior to Howard. Against Kershaw & Wolf in the first two games, and with George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo in the pen, Howard’s a complete non-factor.

Their crappy veteran star shortstop is even worse than our crappy veteran star shortstop.

We’ve been complaining about Rafael Furcal’s mediocrity all year and begging Joe Torre to take him out of the leadoff spot; it was only a month ago where he was carrying a line of .253/.319/.344, a lousy .663 OPS. While he’s stayed off the DL, how much of an effect last year’s back surgery has had on him is anyone’s guess. Maybe he’s still feeling it, and maybe this is just what kind of player he is right now.

However, at least Furcal’s turning it around of late. In his last 24 games, he’s put up a scintillating .343/.405/.556 (.961 OPS), bumping his season OPS up to .714. If he’s really been working through his recovery all year, and only now is truly healthy, then this team might have a real weapon back on their hands – regardless of his season line.

But over in Philadelphia, Jimmy Rollins has been even worse. Since winning the 2007 NL MVP, Rollins’ OPS has dropped from .875 to .786 to .708, with a laughable .297 OBP. He had his own very nice hot streak in July, but has since sunk back to usual levels.

Put it this way: for most of the year, Rafael Furcal has been mediocre at best… and Jimmy Rollins has been worse. Now Furcal’s heating up, and Rollins is cooling off. Advantage: Dodgers.

*****

Again, none of this is to suggest that the series would be a pushover. Cliff Lee is of course superb, Cole Hamels is rounding back into 2008 form, and Chase Utley & Jayson Werth are dangerous weapons. It’s just to point out that the Dodgers aren’t the only team with serious questions.

***** 

I’m off to a wedding for the weekend, we’ll leave you in the capable hands of Vin. Enjoy watching 800 people in the stands at the Pirates games because of the G-20 and the team’s overwhelming – and historical – awfulness.

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