Sputtering Along

While the Phillies’ starting pitching has been immaculate — and J.A. Happ’s start tonight wasn’t terrible — their offense has hit the skids. In the last two weeks, Cole Hamels, Happ, Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton have all had ERA’s at 3.00 or lower. Meanwhile, here’s a look at the hitters over the last week:

  • Jimmy Rollins: .471 OPS
  • Shane Victorino: .320 OPS
  • Chase Utley: 1.099
  • Ryan Howard: 1.437
  • Raul Ibanez: .500
  • Jayson Werth: .769
  • Pedro Feliz: .733
  • Carlos Ruiz: (not enough PA to qualify)

It’s great that Utley and Howard are hitting well lately, but there’s nobody on base when they get hits. That would also explain the recent whining about the Phillies’ failure to hit with runners in scoring position (though overall they’re among the best): Utley and Howard are the ones getting on base, leaving it to the struggling Ibanez and the 7-8-9 hitters to knock them in.

Overall, it shouldn’t concern anyone as these issues don’t tend to linger for the Phillies, who own the National League’s best offense. Additionally, they’ve run into two good pitching staffs owned by the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants, who have the National League’s fourth (4.02 RPG) and best (3.77 RPG) pitching, respectively . If the struggles continue into the next two series against the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, then you can start to worry.

However, if you’re impatient and you need to use some energy worrying about something, then check out this graph of Raul Ibanez’s production by month:

The Phillies haven’t had a day off since August 17. Raul Ibanez has only had one day off. Since the 17th, Ibanez has a line of .143/.294/.238. Now, I’m not saying fatigue is the only reason for his struggles, but more rest could help him out. It’s not like the Phillies don’t have another capable outfielder — they have Ben Francisco, acquired in the Cliff Lee trade.

The PECOTA-adjusted Baseball Prospectus post-season odds put the Phillies at 96.5% to make the playoffs. Damn good odds if you ask me. It’s worth the risk of sitting Ibanez and the offense completely going into a tailspin in order to recharge him for the playoffs. Collapses like that of the New York Mets in 2007 and ’08 are historically rare.

Assuming a Phillies loss and a Marlins win tonight, the Phillies will have a 7.5-game lead on the Braves and 8.5 on the Fish. Let’s say the Phillies play .450 baseball the rest of the way (they won’t, as their remaining schedule is relatively easy) for the final 32 games. That’s 14 wins (rounding down) and 18 losses, putting them at 90-72.

The 70-63 Braves would have to go 21-8 (.724) or the 69-64 Marlins would have to go 22-7 (.759) in order for the Phillies to lose the division.

That’s a risk I’m willing to take. Rest Raul Ibanez. In fact, rest everybody, especially the pitchers near the middle of September.