The group projects keep rolling along. ESPN asked a representative from each of the Sweet Spot blogs to discuss their team and what to expect in the second half. You can read my answers here, but you can also catch them and the responses of others over at ESPN. I wanted to see what Paul and Jeff had to say, though, so I emailed them to get their thoughts.
What’s the most important thing that needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
Bill: Although the Phillies finished off the first half on a high note, scoring 14 runs against the Atlanta Braves, the offense will need to pick up if the Phillies want to create more distance between themselves and the Braves in the NL East race. The Phillies averaged a bit over 4.1 runs per game, which is right around the league average, and the team overall had an OPS+ below 100 (below 100 is below-average). The rotation is great, but run-scoring is as important as run-prevention.
Paul: Call this a toss-up between (1) get healthy and (2) improve the offense. It’s not as apocalyptically bad as some of us might have feared for a while, but it’s still not exactly 2007, either. I’d rank the need to find a capable left fielder above strengthening the bullpen, although both could certainly be used, especially if arms continue to get injured. Starting pitching, it appears, will not be an area of need in this deadline season.
Jeff: Continue Domonic Brown’s Development. The young outfielder has shown flashes of the potential that made him our one untouchable prospect over the past few years. Heading into the stretch run, his development in the Phillies best chance to add a weapon to the lineup. With continued trust from Charlie, and the at bats that come with it, Dom could really be hitting his stride come October.
Top item on trade deadline shopping list
Bill: A right-handed bat, ideally. The Phillies have been linked to names such as Josh Willingham and Michael Cuddyer, but they have to worry about hitting the luxury tax. Most likely, any moves the Phillies make will be small in nature. Otherwise, they will be looking at relief pitchers, but that’s a distant second priority.
Paul: See above: improve the offense. Really, the search shouldn’t be limited to a corner outfielder. With Placido Polanco slumping miserably and now coming up lame, adding a player who could provide some pop and passable defense at the hot corner could be good insurance. Adding on the the bullpen is less of a luxury now with so many arms hurt – despite the emergence of so many previously unheralded hurlers – so that could also be considered an area to target. Really, I believe the calls of financial restrictions this year; I don’t think the Phils have much payroll flexibility to work with, so unless they can find cheap options at every turn, they may have to settle for picking one improvement and living with it.
Jeff: Carlos Beltran. It’s going to be hard to convince the Mets to send him within the division, but he’s a perfect target for the Phillies. Beltran has put up a .878 OPS while playing average defense in right field this season. The switch hitter doesn’t struggle from either side of the plate, and his defense would likely be above average in left field. The Mets also lack leverage due to Beltran’s full no trade clause and since they are contractually obligated to not offer him arbitration (that would net them draft picks when he leaves). The Phils may need to convince the Mets to pay some of his salary to avoid the luxury tax. But this is the one possible trade piece I see that could greatly enhance the Phils World Series chances. It’s a “swing for the fences” move, and we have just the GM to do it.
Player to watch in the second half
Bill: Domonic Brown. Recently on the blog, I wrote about Brown’s surprisingly productive first half and why there is reason for optimism with the highly-touted rookie. The outfield corners have been an offensive black hole for the Phillies, so if they can get Brown to take it to the next level, they should be just fine.
Paul: Ryan Howard, for better or for worse. He’s made a reputation of being a hot second-half hitter, and if he can provide power along 2007 or ’09 lines, the Phils could be in even better shape. He may or may not continue this trend of explosive Augusts and Septembers, no one can really say for sure. Facing weaker, expanded-roster pitchers in September could be a boost for everyone, and I’m sure the pitchers wouldn’t complain about not having to pitch in a tight game every start. Who knows? An extra run here or there could mean the difference between using a starter for another inning or saving pitches for deeper in the stretch run and into the playoffs. Maybe.
Jeff: Ryan Howard. Philly’s most debated player could be incredibly important in the second half. The Phillies’ lineup is a completely different beast when Howard is on a hot streak. He’s known for being better after the All Star break. If that’s true again, it could go a long way into reestablishing the Phils as one of the NL’s best offensive teams.
Feel free to provide your own answers to the three prompts in the comments.