Phillies/Padres Series Preview II

The Washington Nationals are so revitalizing, aren’t they? If the Phillies hadn’t played the Nationals at all this season, they’d be 18-18. Instead, they’re 28-20 in first place in the NL East following another sweep of the Nats at home. Now, they fly westward to San Diego to meet up with the Padres at Petco Park.

There are no bargains with the surprisingly-competitive Padres when it comes to starting pitching. After Kevin Correia, the Phillies have the privilege of facing Jake Peavy and Chris Young, two extremely good starting pitchers. Young has had a quality start in five out of his last six starts, and in three of them, he gave up only one run. Peavy has been more pedestrian this season than he had been in his previous two, but is still formidable.

The Padres, as they usually do, have one of the worst offenses in the Majors, averaging less than four runs per game. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez and center fielder Scott Hairston are the only ones hitting at an elite level on a consistent basis. The rest are hovering around the league average or below.

Even worse, the Padres are passive base runners, attemping just 29 stolen bases so far this season. The average NL team has attempted 41; the Phillies have attempted 47. Only two teams — the Brewers and Braves — have fewer base-stealing attempts than the Padres.

The Phillies will take their first shot at replacing Brett Myers in the rotation when prospect Antonio Bastardo takes the hill on Tuesday. PhuturePhillies has a scouting report from Baseball America on Bastardo:

His best pitch is a changeup with good action and depth, and he sets it up with an 87-91 mph fastball. His breaking ball is a slurvy mid 80’s pitch, and he struggles to command it effectively at times. He’s small and wiry, which combined with his injury history leads to questions about his durability.

Be surprised if Bastardo goes longer than five innings unless he pitches absolutely lights-out, and be upset if he does go longer (unless) as he does have stamina/durbility concerns as mentioned above.

The Phillies are usually conservative when it comes to rookies making their big league debuts, though. J.A. Happ only went four innings in his debut in 2007 against the New York Mets. Fabio Castro went five as did Zack Segovia as well in ’07.

Overall, this series pits the National League’s best road team (Phillies, 16-6) against the NL’s second-best home team (Padres, 17-6). The Phillies dropped the previous series between the two teams in Philadelphia, losing two of three.

Let’s get to the match-ups.

Hitting:

Philadelphia Phillies @ San Diego Padres, June 1-3

Philadelphia Phillies @ San Diego Padres, June 1-3

Pitching:

Philadelphia Phillies @ San Diego Padres, June 1-3

Philadelphia Phillies @ San Diego Padres, June 1-3

BDD: Offensive Pro- and Re-gression

At Baseball Daily Digest, I take a look at the bullpens in baseball that have taken a step forward as well as those that have taken a step back.

[…] Put pictures of National relievers (who have pitched 10 or more innings) up on a dartboard and try to hit one with an ERA under 4. You have a one-in-ten chance. Who is the half-eaten banana in the city landfill that is the Nationals’ bullpen? Lefty Ron Villone. In fact, his ERA is not only lower than 4, it’s lower than 0.01. He’s yet to allow a run. Manny Acta might want to let this guy pitch every inning of relief for the rest of the season.

Howard Goes Yard Twice; Bastardo Gets Call

It hasn’t been a good week for the Phillies. They dropped yet another series at home, losing two of three to the Florida Marlins before the Washington Nationals arrived. Then they learned that they’d be losing their statistically-best starting pitcher  for most or all of the season due to a frayed labrum. Overall, what should have been a glorious year coming off of a World Series championship has instead been filled with unmet expectations, tragedy, and declining health and production.

But there have been many bright spots during the season as well, such as Raul Ibanez seemingly defying the laws of nature, putting up MVP-caliber numbers as an old man in baseball years. Ryan Madson has been harder to hit than Lyoto Machida. Oh, and that Ryan Howard fellow — he can rake. And apparently, he can pick it with the glove all of a sudden as well.

Eric Seidman of FanGraphs sent me an E-mail a couple days ago:

Odd Howard stat – he’s got almost identical OBP/SLG to last season right now
2008: .251/.339/.543
2009: .263/.338/.542

I asked him if I remembered correctly that people were bagging on Howard at this time for various reasons related to his hitting. His response: “Well he wasn’t playing Travis Lee-esque defense last year!”

How good has Howard been? He has a 10.2 UZR/150 compared to 2.4 last year and 0.4 in 2007. His UZR/150 this season is fifth-best in the Majors, behind Travis Ishikawa, Chris Davis, Lyle Overbay, and Kevin Youkilis. He committed his first error last Tuesday, but has otherwise been shattering defensive expectations.

Antonio BastardoMore uplifting news: pitching prospect Antonio Bastardo will get to make his Major League debut on Tuesday, filling in for Brett Myers — at least in the short-term. Bastardo has been dominating in the Minors: in nearly 35 innings in AA Reading, he had a 1.83 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 7 walks. Following a quick promotion to AAA Lehigh Valley, he put up a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings with 12 strikeouts and 3 walks.

His ERA has been under 4 at every level and if you exclude his first year in the Gulf Coast League in 2006, it’s been under 3 at every level. There’s a huge difference between dominating Minor League hitters and doing the same at the Major League level, but if there’s anyone in the Phillies’ farm system that can do it at the present moment, it’s Bastardo.

Thankfully, it seems like GM Ruben Amaro will not be following in the footsteps of previous GM’s Gillick and Wade and settling for mediocre pitchers at the trading deadline. From what’s been said, it seems like Amaro is going to wait a while and see how the rotation shapes up, and if he needs to, he’s going to go big or go home. No Jason Marquis or Brad Penny.

Remember the Ed Wade days, when the days leading up to the July 31 trading deadline were among the most excruciating? You were legitimately worried that you’d lose your top prospects for Jack Taschner-type relief pitchers. I can’t believe I’m saying this already, after not pulling any punches on him over the winter, but I actually trust Amaro not to screw up. What do you think? Am I being too naive, or has Amaro earned that level of trust based on what he did in the off-season and what he’s done and said so far during the regular season?