Monday, May 1, 2006

Team City Record Win % GB
New York 16-8 .667 --
Atlanta 10-14 .416 6.0
Philadelphia 10-14 .416 6.0
Washington 8-17 .320 8.5
Florida 6-16 .272 9.0

Finishing the first month of the 2006 baseball season at 10-14, the Phillies look to bounce back with a strong May similar to their May last year, when they rattled off ten wins in a row due in part to Bobby Abreu, who took home Player of the Month honors after hitting .396 and 11 homeruns. Aside from closer Tom Gordon's near perfection -- six saves in six opportunities with an 0.84 ERA -- there has not been a silver lining in the clouds that have hung over the ballclub. Pat Burrell leads the team in homeruns and RBI with 7 and 21 respectively, and Ryan Howard leads the team with a .306 batting average.

As a team, the Phillies National League ranks range from poor to mediocre: sixteenth in hitting with runners in scoring position (.225); sixteenth in on-base allowed (.298); fifteenth in ERA (5.21); fifteenth in WHIP (1.56); fifteenth in OPS allowed (.837); thirteenth in runs scored (108); twelfth in fielding percentage (.981); tenth in hits (211); tenth in on-base percentage (.330); ninth in stolen bases (13); eighth in homeruns (29); eighth in batting average (.261); seventh in slugging percentage (.427); sixth in stolen base success rate (76%); sixth in strikeouts-to-walks ratio (2.06); and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (6.93).

The Phillies salvaged what seemed to be an irreparable 0-6 start to the season by winning their seventh with a walk-off three-run homerun to left-centerfield courtesy of Bobby Abreu. Another walk-off was provided by Ryan Howard: a single in the tenth inning against the Nationals to move the Phillies closer to .500 at 6-8. As it stands, the 10-14 Phillies sit in second place along with the Atlanta Braves, six games behind the duly noted New York Mets. The road doesn't get any easier for the Phils, as they open May up with four games against division rivals -- two in Florida, two at home against Atlanta -- then play the Mets six times in two weeks -- May 9-11 and 23-25 -- and close out the month with three against Washington.

With the season past and present outlined, here's "Hot, Neutral, and Cold."

Player Statistics Observations
Tom Gordon

0.84 ERA
6 SV
Gordon has, for now, erased any thoughts that he was too old or didn't have what it takes to be a top-rank closer, especially one filling in for the shoes of the departed Billy Wagner. His fastball is surging at 96 MPH, and his cutter is hard and devastating. However, Gordon's age and injury liability are still worries in the back of the minds of the collective Philadelphia area. Gordon, as it stands, is outperforming Wagner, who is making substantially more money in the media capital of the world.

Pat Burrell

7 HR
21 RBI
Despite a nagging foot injury that has slowed him down (he was thrown out twice at second on sure doubles); Burrell has been the same cleanup hitter he was last year. He is only hitting .212 (7-for-33) with runners in scoring position, but that is due to change in the coming months. His foot injury, though, is still cause for concern. Manuel should consider playing Burrell at first base in games in which he gives Ryan Howard the day off.
Rheal Cormier

0.00 ERA
8 IP
With Aaron Fultz being unreliable, Rheal Cormier has been the left-handed stopgap out of the bullpen. In eight innings, he has yet to allow a run, proving that he still has what it takes in what is most likely his last year in the Major Leagues before retirement. Since Arthur Rhodes has been troubled with control issues, manager Charlie Manuel may be more willing to hand Cormier the ball in late-inning, tense situations.

Player Statistics Observations
Bobby Abreu

4 HR
20 RBI
Leading the team in on-base percentage in large part due to 24 walks, Abreu has yet to get in a rhythm, but has been productive nonetheless. His walk-off three-run homerun in the seventh game is noteworthy, as well as his .444 batting average with runners in scoring position -- best on the team. Half of his twenty-four hits have been for extra bases (8 doubles, 4 HR); and he's also stolen four bases in four tries. He will, however, have to find his rhythm if the Phillies are to have any consistency at the top of the batting order.
Ryan Howard

5 HR
12 RBI
The defending National League Rookie of the Year has typically been referred to as being in a slump; however, he has the best batting average on the ballclub at .306, as well as the second-most homeruns with five. His .300 (3-for-10) average with runners in scoring position and two outs is respectable, as well, but he is a tremendous strikeout liability, as evidenced by his 24 strikeouts in 85 at-bats (one strikeout every 3.5 at-bats); but that is to be expected of a power hitter like Howard. Howard has typically been in the lower part of the lineup (6th or 7th); explaining Howard's low RBI total. If Manuel moves Howard into a higher spot in the batting order, Howard will emerge as the true offensive threat everyone expects him to be. However, until he is moved, don't expect to see him get anything to hit, protected by David Bell, a .247 hitter.

Brett Myers

3.23 ERA
30.2 IP
As the rest of the starting rotation wilted under the pressure to perform well out of the gate, Brett Myers has remained steadfast in doing his job every fifth day. His 3.23 ERA is lowest among the five starters, and Phillies fans are clamoring for the 25-year-old to be named the official ace of the starting rotation, ahead of the grossly underperforming Jon Lieber. While Myers revels in the thought of being the ace, he'll continue to take the mound every fifth day and continue to do what he's done best between 2005 and present.
Player Statistics Observations
Jon Lieber
7.04 ERA
1.5 WHIP
The Phillies' opening day starter for the second year in a row, Jon Lieber has started the year in the exact opposite way he started 2005, when he went 5-0. Now 0-4, with an ERA above 7, Lieber is showing signs of loss of command. One couldn't tell from his paltry three walks, but he has typically been close to the strike zone throughout his career. Now, those borderline pitches that painted the black are crossing the middle of the plate and Lieber is paying for it. Lieber has three options he can take to succeed again: regain his command, painting the corners of the strike zone; add velocity to his fastball and offsetting his changeup; or be willing to throw more balls, and thusly be more willing to put runners on base. Whatever route Lieber takes, it must be quick for both his sake and that of his ballclub. The Phillies can ill-afford to have their premier starter struggle along with Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson. There are only so many remedies for a faulty rotation
Alex Gonzalez
0 HR
While it isn't easy to replace Tomas Perez, the most popular player on the Phillies both with the club and with the fans, Gonzalez is running out of breathing room before general manager Pat Gillick is forced to make a decision regarding his future, most likely by outright release. This infield utilityman is making Minnie Mendoza, for whom the .200-.215 "Mendoza Line" batting average is named after, look like a legendary hitter. In a 3-2 game, with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, Alex Gonzalez wrongfully swung at what was ball four in a 3-1 count and grounded into a game-ending double play, thusly continuing the Phils' losing streak to three games. The Phillies wasted no time last year in releasing underperformers Jose Offerman and Terry Adams, so Gonzalez should heed the recent history and start becoming a reliable bench player. Easier said than done, however.

Ryan Madson
8.05 ERA
2.20 WHIP
An inability to have consistent control of his curveball and a lack of an array of pitches, this three-trick pony (fastball, curveball, changeup) has struggled in his switch from bullpen to the rotation. It is impossible to pinpoint where Ryan Madson went wrong because he's gone wrong in so many ways. Whether his curveball nearly hits the head of the opposing batter, his changeup hits the dirt three feet in front of the plate, or his fastball runs right up the middle of the plate, success is hard to be found outside of Coors Field, where he got his lone victory, for Ryan Madson. If he or fellow starter Gavin Floyd continue to struggle (Floyd showed improvement in his April 30 start), reliever Ryan Franklin or Eude Brito in AAA are possible candidates to take Madson's spot in the rotation. The 6'6" right-hander has the moxie to be a successful starting pitcher, but his pitches are too mundane for him to be able to regularly succeed when he faces opposing lineups for the second and third times.
Honorable mention: Cory Lidle (2-3, 4.40 ERA)
Dishonorable mention: Arthur Rhodes (0-0, 5.87 ERA).

Many prospects have performed well in the first month, especially at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Left-handed starter Eude Brito is 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 26 IP; catcher Carlos Ruiz is hitting .408 with 6 HR and 15 RBI; Cole Hamels picked up a win in his first start at AAA, pitching seven shutout innings and striking out fourteen; Ryan Cameron is 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA and averaging a strikeout per inning. That being said, Gillick does have some options if the starting rotation and bench don't improve in the coming weeks. If moves are made, Clay Condrey and Gavin Floyd would likely get sent down, Ryan Madson would be moved back to the bullpen, and Eude Brito would move either to the rotation or to the mop-up role in the bullpen, depending on whether or not Ryan Franklin usurps Madson's spot in the rotation.

If there's one thing the Phillies can take out of their dismal month of April, it's that they're at the same spot they were at last season, so they do still have a chance in the NL East race. It is, after all, only May. With 138 games left to play, the Phillies have to play 78-60 (.565) baseball to finish at least where they were at last season. It is certainly a reasonable task, but with every runner left on base, and every inherited runner not stranded, the Phillies' playoff hopes will continue to dim as the Mets aim to pad their current six-game lead, and the Braves strive to defend, for the fifteenth time, their National League East throne.