Hamels and Harper: The Rematch

For all the hand-wringing about Cole Hamels hitting Nationals wunderkind Bryce Harper in the small of his back a few weeks ago, the reunion between the polarizing, arrogant, potentially franchise-saving prospect and a man who was once a polarizing, arrogant, franchise-saving prospect went largely without incident. Harper went 1-for-3 with a walk, and Hamels took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, eventually winding up pitching eight shutout innings, striking out eight, walking three, and allowing four hits, including Harper’s single. No one mouthed off, no one stole home, and no one got his feelings hurt.

Despite both Hamels and Harper having a reputation for being temperamental from time to time, in addition to being outstanding baseball players, neither really seemed interested in starting a second donnybrook, which is probably best for everyone. Harper reached base twice, Hamels pitched very well, becoming the first major league pitcher to win seven games this season (for whatever that’s worth), and the Phillies won the game, while the Nats took two of three on the road. Everyone goes home happy.

Sources close to the organization, however, say that Hamels seriously considered throwing inside on Harper once more, if not to hit him, then at least to get him to move his feet and back off the inside corner. What dissuaded him from doing this was not the meaningless five-game suspension laid down by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, but a conversation with his agent, John Boggs.

Boggs’ argument was that Hamels might damage his value as a free agent by continuing to throw at batters. If he hit Harper again, Boggs said, the Los Angeles Dodgers, expected to shell out big money for Hamels this offseason, might lose interest in pairing the left-hander with their own No. 1 starter, Clayton Kershaw, and look elsewhere for a pitcher to partner with, or even supersede Kershaw.

Or, as Boggs put it, “You won’t be the main ace in South Central while plunking your Bryce in the head.”

Crash Bag Vol. 3 runs tomorrow, questions permitting. Submit those to crashbaumann@gmail.com, or on Twitter with the hashtag #crashbag.

Some Reason for Optimism

It’s May 24 and the Phillies are in last place. They are barely scoring more runs than they allow, their two best hitters are injured, their bullpen is among the worst in the league, and their starting lineups have included spring training cast-offs (Juan Pierre) and other teams’ scrap (Mike Fontenot). It is quite easy to feel pessimistic about the season. Please, allow me the opportunity to turn your frown upside-down.

The Phillies are .500 and only 4.5 games behind the division leader while in last place. Other teams in last place include the Red Sox at 5.5 GB (in a similar situation as the Phillies), the Angels at 7 GB, the Cubs and Twins at 10 GB, and the Padres are 14.5 games out. On this date last year, the division leaders included only three teams that went on to clinch their division. The Brewers were in third place at 3.5 games out on May 24 last year, and went on to win the NL Central.

Due to many reasons, the Phillies have traditionally been a second-half team. We need only go back to the 2007 and ’08 seasons when the Phillies surged in September to overtake the then-division-leading New York Mets. In ’07, they were seven games out of first place on September 12, but went 13-4 the rest of the way to clinch the NL East on the last day of the season. Likewise in ’08, the Phillies were 3.5 games behind on September 10, but finished the season 13-3 to win the division by three games.

Here’s a look at how the Phillies fared through 45 games, and how they performed afterwards from 2006 through last year.

First 45 Games Rest of Season
 Year Win % Run Diff Win % Run Diff
2006 .511 -7 .530 100
2007 .489 6 .573 65
2008 .533 17 .581 102
2009 .556 20 .581 127
2010 .578 56 .607 122
2011 .622 32 .632 152
2012 .489 3

The Phillies never outscored the opposition by more than 60 runs through 45 games. In fact, they were +30 or better in only two seasons. Meanwhile, they outscored their opponents by 100 runs or more in the final 117 games in five of the previous six seasons.

Does this mean the 2012 Phillies are definitely going to continue the trend? No, not at all. But the potential is there and the division is, as they say, “very winnable”. The Phillies have plenty of opportunities for upward momentum when Chase Utley and Ryan Howard come back, when Jimmy Rollins finds his swing, and when the bullpen regresses up to its mean. Who knows, maybe Ruben Amaro acquires a star player at the deadline for a fourth consecutive year and that helps spur the Phillies to another successful second half. With May almost over, the Phillies’ season-to-date may have been disappointing, but it is far too early to abandon ship.