Best Case Scenario

Let’s be honest: it’s looking really bad for the Phillies on July 5. Baseball Prospectus pins their playoff odds at under three percent and there isn’t any one player that would transform the Phillies from NL East cellar dwellers into the behemoth of old. That said, however, the Phillies aren’t quite ready to pull the plug. There are only four games left until the All-Star break, but all are within the division, and they do play the 31-50 Colorado Rockies and 38-43 Milwaukee Brewers after the break, providing some potential ground for a comeback.

If the Phillies are to mount an offensive against the rest of the National League, they will need a lot to go right. Even to reach the second Wild Card, they would need to play roughly .640 baseball over the remaining 79 games (~50 wins). Although the Phillies are well-known as a second-half team (313-192 in the second-half since 2005), that’s asking a lot from a team with so many flaws. In fact, many of those flaws would have to outright go away overnight, but again, it’s not impossible. Here’s an incomplete list of things that need to happen for the Phillies to keep themselves afloat:

Carlos Ruiz Must Continue Hitting at a Mike Piazza Level

“Chooch”, or “Choice” as Ryan Howard likes to call him, currently has a 172 OPS+. Only one catcher has ever finished a season with a 172 OPS+ or better: Mike Piazza, twice.

Player OPS+ Year Age Tm G PA OPS Pos
Mike Piazza 185 1997 28 LAD 152 633 1.070 *2/D
Mike Piazza 172 1995 26 LAD 112 475 1.006 *2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/5/2012.

Asking Ruiz, who entered the season with a 106 OPS+, to continue hitting at that level is a touch unrealistic, but then again, nothing about Ruiz’s 2012 has been realistic.

Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay Must Make Triumphant Returns

The Phillies have withstood injuries to three of their most important players, recently getting Chase Utley back while Howard and Halladay each hope to be back shortly after the All-Star break. In their stead, the Phillies simply have not been able to replace either player. First basemen have collectively compiled a .736 OPS so far this season. When compared to Howard’s career-worst .835 OPS last year, it becomes clear that the Ty Wigginton/John Mayberry/Hector Luna combination is simply not cutting it.

Likewise, the Phillies’ starting rotation went south once Halladay went on the disabled list after his May 27 start. In the month of June, Phillies starters compiled a 4.99 ERA as the team lost 19 of 28 games. Kyle Kendrick, ostensibly Halladay’s fill-in, posted a 6.96 ERA in six June starts.

However, getting Howard back at 2011-12 levels and Halladay at his 2012 3.98 ERA level simply won’t be enough to cut it. The Phillies need an MVP-caliber performance from Howard and a return to Halladay’s Cy Young form. Anything less and a comeback simply won’t be in the cards for the Phillies. Comebacks of historic proportions require some outstanding performances from your team’s best players.

Shane Victorino‘s Platoon Split Must Disappear

Victorino’s struggles from the left-handed batter’s box have been well-publicized. The switch-hitter has posted a .976 OPS as a right-hander, but a very disappointing .602 OPS as a lefty in more than three times the plate appearances. He was an MVP candidate through August last year with a comparably-sized platoon split, but he was .787 as a lefty. Shane has arguably been the most disappointing part of the Phillies’ lineup as he and Hunter Pence were considered the backbone prior to Ruiz’s breaking out.

This is, of course, assuming that the Phillies don’t move Victorino prior to the July 31 trading deadline. But even so, Victorino correcting his lack of success against right-handed pitching would no doubt help the Phillies move him as well, so it works both ways.

Juan Pierre Must Continue Being Average

Pierre finished the 2010 season with a 79 OPS+, then followed up with a 78 OPS+last year. His career average is 84. His current OPS+ is 104. It’s been a renaissance for the well-traveled outfielder, and he has been a surprisingly productive member of the Phillies’ everyday lineup. Pierre currently sports a .322 batting average with 20 stolen bases in 23 attempts — one of only three Phillies with more than four stolen bases along with Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. It’s certainly an out-of-character performance for Pierre, but the Phillies will need him to keep it up over the final three months if they have any hope of pushing their way up the NL East standings.

Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton‘s Results Must Match their Performance

Lee’s season-to-date has been a hot topic of conversation, especially lately, but Blanton has had a comparably mismatched 2012. Blanton and Lee are #1 and 3 in the league, respectively, in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.9, 4.9). Only six qualified NL pitchers posted a K/BB above 4.0 last year, and five of them had an ERA at 3.10 or lower; the other was Jordan Zimmermann (3.78). Lee’s ERA is at 3.98 while Blanton’s has ballooned to 4.85. Because pitchers have a lot of control over their strikeouts and walks, they are the most informative and the most predictive, which means we should expect better results from both pitchers even in the short-term, looking towards the second half of the season.

Jonathan Papelbon Needs to be Used

Earlier in the season, the Phillies were willingly not using their $50 million closer. Recently, though, they simply didn’t have any spots to use him because they were losing so often. Between June 24 and July 3, Papelbon appeared in only one of the Phillies’  ten games. He appeared in yesterday’s win over the New York Mets with a seven-run lead, just to get some work. Jim Salisbury even wondered if Papelbon would have needed a rehab start to stay fresh if he hadn’t been brought in yesterday. Whether it’s protecting the standard 1-3 run leads or working in high-leverage situations, even in tie games on the road, the Phillies need to make use of their best and most consistent reliever.

The Young Relievers Must Step Up

So far this year, the Phillies have used Antonio Bastardo, Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman, Joe Savery, David Herndon, Michael Stutes, B.J. Rosenberg, and Jeremy Horst, all 26 years old or younger. Although Stutes and Herndon are out for the year, the rest can still play very important roles in the bullpen, and the Phillies will need at least a couple of them to take big strides. Bastardo in particular is a must as the Phillies see him as a critical piece of the puzzle moving forward, handing him late-inning responsibilities both last year and this year, but he currently has a 4.00 ERA and is averaging five walks per nine innings, both numbers that need to come down.

The most likely scenario for the Phillies is that, with a 12-game deficit in the NL East, they consider themselves sellers and say goodbye to franchise stalwarts Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino. Potentially, Placido Polanco, Joe Blanton, and Ty Wigginton could be moved as well. Even Carlos Ruiz can’t be considered off-limits given his age and how much his value has risen lately. Still, there is a very slim but non-zero chance that the Phillies can still make something out of this season. It will take a lot of things going right all at the same time, but we said the same thing about their playoff hopes in 2007 and ’08. The Phillies of recent vintage have always found a way to surprise us.

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15 comments

  1. Bruce C. Rayden

    July 05, 2012 08:27 PM

    I am getting tired of all your whining. You evidently do not have the credentials, or the knowledge to be spewing out so many negative thoughts. How in all of God’s creation do you qualify to give an opinion on my Phillies, and with half a season left? Go follow the Cubs. Then you will be in your element, along with Brian Anderson, the most negative announcer on the air, who is one of the Brewers on-air ‘personalities!

  2. NickFromGermantown

    July 05, 2012 09:52 PM

    Maybe we can add Juan Samuel hitting the DL from a massive rotator cuff injury? He doesn’t seem to have good judgment regarding sending people home.

  3. Billion Memes

    July 05, 2012 10:45 PM

    Bath Salts strike again.

  4. Ryan

    July 05, 2012 11:08 PM

    That loss tonight was heart breaking… It’s like anything that can go wrong has and anything else that can will… This team gets no bounces to go its way.

  5. Willie

    July 06, 2012 07:51 AM

    It was hard losing the way we did, but I hope that the young bullpen will come into their own. As a big BlueClaws fan I have seen most of them play in Lakewood and know that they are capable of being great and shutting down the opposition. Now if only Stutes can get healthy and the rest of them can pitch the way they did in Lakewood.

  6. Bliz

    July 06, 2012 08:09 AM

    Bill – not sure if you’ve posted on this, but, if the Phils trade Victorino, does that mean Dom Brown gets promoted (to the majors)? Or would they just replace Vic with JMJ? Also, regarding young bullpen arms, does anyone know how close Aumont is to being major league ready? Could we see him in the pen by some time next season?

  7. nik

    July 06, 2012 08:56 AM

    2013 begins now. Lets see what the young guys got.

  8. Pmonge

    July 06, 2012 11:20 AM

    Is it me or does Hunter Pence seem like one of the worst outfielders of all time? I like the guy and all but I see the ball come off the bat so often and feel like it’s going to be a fairly routine fly until it occurs to me that it’s going to right field and then I realize it could be trouble. Even that walk off hit by Wright last night seemed like it should have been catchable.

  9. Noah

    July 06, 2012 12:56 PM

    LTG, that was a perfect response. Well done!

  10. VANDERGRAAFK

    July 06, 2012 09:47 PM

    Of course, one could take the opposite perspective and assert that the second half will be more of the same: a perfect storm of bullpen incompetence, the lack of situational hitting and the utter lack of synchronicity among the various parts of the Phillies team. Maybe it’s wait to 2013. So far, we’ve seen the Phillies undo two of RAJ’s off-season “fixes”: Qualls and Thome. Then we can deal with the has-been Victorino and the always on the cusp, but never fully succeeding Hamels. Move Pierre to maximize his value now, throw in Polanco and Rollins if able to. Keep the starting pitching, but try to get some bullpen help. It’s a tall, tall order.

  11. Travis

    July 08, 2012 03:28 AM

    The Phils should not sell Hamels, rather build the team around him. Halladay is not getting any younger and his preformence thus far was pretty bad. The rest of the Phillies’ starters also look pretty bad (not to mention the relievers). Hamels is the best pitcher they currently have. I think they should sell Victorino, Polanco, Wigginton and Blanton and get a Cole Hamels class pitcher

  12. hk

    July 08, 2012 05:38 AM

    Travis,

    Just wondering, which “Cole Hamels class pitcher” do you think they can get for Victorino, Polanco, Wigginton and Blanton?

  13. astrojet

    July 08, 2012 07:09 AM

    They could probably get Steve Carlton for those 4 guys. Lefty is in better baseball shape than Wiggington, Blanton, and Polanco. Throw in a dozen used baseballs and you got a deal!

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