Thursday, October 28, 2010

2010 Philadelphia Phillies Post-Mortem

With the big-market-less World Series kicking off this evening, I figured now would be the best time to give a bit of a look back at the Phillies season which ended so unfortunately this past Saturday (with me in attendance, no less...).   First, have some statistics as food for thought (as I munch on some ideas myself).

Record:  97-65 (last year -- 93-69)
Runs scored: 772 (last year -- 820)
Batting average: .260 (last year -- .258)
ERA: 3.67 (last year -- 4.16)
Games missed by players in opening-day lineup: 239 (last year -- 111)

That last statistic really tells the story of the Phillies' regular season.  For the first couple weeks of the season, the Phils were thrashing teams (despite Rollins first getting injured in that time period), scoring 7.7 runs per game in their first ten games.  Sadly, that first few games would be the only few that the team's starting lineup would play together for quite some time.  Joe Blanton, Brad Lidge, and JC Romero started the year on the DL, but other than that, the team was remarkably healthy.  Oh, wait, they weren't?  Just a quick look at the disabled list stints this year:

  • Chase Utley: July 29th-August 17th
  • Ryan Howard: August 3rd-August 21st
  • Placido Polanco: June 26th-July 17th (with a couple missed games due to injury here and there)
  • Shane Victorino: July 28th-August 12th
  • Chad Durbin: June 25th-July 16th
  • Ryan Madson: May 1st-July 8th
  • JA Happ: April 22nd-July 7th
  • Carlos Ruiz: June 19th-July 9th
  • Jimmy Rollins: Multiple stops on DL between April 14th and June 22nd
With the immortal Wilson Valdez, aka Oil-Soaked Volleyball, starting more than half of the team's games at one position or another, the team struggled to a 13-13 record in June and 15-13 in July, while much of the core was hurt.  

However, the team's fortunes changed when GM Ruben Amaro Jr. traded last year's Rookie of the Year candidate JA Happ and a couple minor leaguers to the struggling Astros for their ace, Roy Oswalt.  Despite a 6-12 record at the time, his ERA was in the low 3's, and Amaro was clearly eyeing a big move to make up for his trading of Cliff Lee in the offseason to make room for Roy Halladay.  Oswalt struggled in his first start with the team (he had just gotten off the plane from Houston several hours prior), but did not lose a game for the rest of the season, posting a 1.74 ERA.

The lineup, however, struggled mightily for stretches, the worst of which being a five-game losing streak against the Red Sox and Mets in which the team scored runs just once.  Raul Ibanez started off as terribly as he finished last year, but managed to get back on track towards the end of the year to finish with a more respectable .275 batting average, despite seeing his home runs drop 18 and his OPS drop over a hundred points.  Ryan Howard played in 17 fewer games this year, yes, but he hit 14 fewer home runs and got 33 fewer RBI's, indicating that his play was sub-par as well.  Chase Utley saw his OPS drop by 70 points.  Jayson Werth was wildly inconsistent, going crazy-hot in April/May and then going weeks without a home run, and repeating the cycle.  He also saw a drop-off in his power and run production.

The final stretch of the season was the best part of the season for Philly fans, and it was all about pitching as the team prepared for another playoff run.  The new trio of Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels (known as "H2O") went 13-1 in September with a 2.13 ERA, putting the Phillies at the front of the discussion for the National League's representative in the World Series.  Losing just seven games in September and early October to finish the season, they earned the best record in the majors and were a very popular pick to win the World Series for the second time in three years.

And it started well.  Roy Halladay threw just the second no-hitter in playoff history to start off the series against the Reds that most pundits thought that the Phillies would win handily.  The lineup (and some costly errors, let's not understate that) bailed out Oswalt in game 2 for a late win, and Cole Hamels sent the Little Red Machine home with a five-hit shutout in game 3.  However, there was an under-reported issue with the Phillies' bats, as only 7 of the 13 runs scored in the series were earned, and none of the Reds' starters are exactly aces.

Regardless, the Phillies moved on to the NLCS and faced the San Francisco Giants, the only team in the playoffs that could go starter-for-starter with the Phillies.  Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, and Matt Cain actually posted a better ERA in September than H2O, and the team allowed more than 3 runs just three times in September.  The big concern with the Giants was their potential inability to score enough runs to beat the Phillies' similarly formidable rotation and potent lineup.  
Unfortunately for the Phillies, the "potent" description was a little too apt, indicating that while the players were capable of putting runs on the scoreboard, the results were not there.  The team hit just .216 (.178 with runners in scoring position) in the series, and in the clinching game left 11 men on base, a stat you just can't let happen if you're contending for a championship.  

Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, who hit .296 and .341 respectively in last year's playoffs, hit just .212 and .192 in these playoffs.  Howard and Ibanez did not record a single RBI between them, and the team hit just 4 home runs in 9 playoff games (they hit 166 in 162 games during the regular season, and that was with guys on the shelf).  The pitching staff did their job (with the minor exception of Oswalt, who never really brought his dominant stuff outside of the first two innings of the NLCS game 6 loss), and what used to be this team's strength was its undoing this season.  

Not to mention that Phillies pitching couldn't keep Freddy Sanchez, Andres Torres, or Cody Ross off the bases.  Well, Ross wasn't usually on the bases long, as he hit three home runs in the first two games of the series.  The Giants' situational lefty, Javier Lopez, shut down the key lefties in the heart of the order, and closer Brian Wilson was scary good.  Or just scary.  Probably the latter causing the former.  

Anyway, we didn't deserve to win the NLCS because we didn't hit for crap, especially when it counted. The worst part is that this team was probably, on paper at least, the best of the last four years in which we won the NL East.  Much of the roster, in particular the starting rotation, will be back next year for another run, and maybe another year after that if Oswalt's 2012 option is picked up.  However, the issue of Jayson Werth's free agency and the age of most of the key players on the team (here's looking at you, Raul) will loom over the team until they come up with a plan for the future beyond 2011.  With Howard (at an egregious price, mind you) and Utley locked up for several years and Halladay and Hamels here for a little while as well, the team should be able to contend for about the next five years, but the window of opportunity for another championship is closing in 2012 at the latest.  Ruben Amaro has worked some wonders to try to get this team into the best position to win as possible, and now he needs to get his magic fingers working on keeping it that way, ideally through building back up the farm system after clearing it out for all those starting pitchers.

Early thoughts on next season?  With the pitching staff and most of the lineup intact and (god-willing) fewer injuries, we should be able to cruise to a playoff berth yet again.  However, young teams like the Padres and Reds worry me, as well as the possible dreaded rematch with those Giants.  Having said that, I still think that there is no reason why the Phillies don't win 90 games yet again and make it to the NLCS for the fourth straight year.

Unfortunately, this year we're left to not watch the World Series this year, just like everybody else.  Yes, that's a knock on the participants.

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