There Are 41 Games Left, and the Phillies Need Information
Tonight, the Phillies open up a three-game series against the Giants in San Francisco. With a 53-68 record and 11 games out of the second wild card, the season is realistically over and has been for quite some time.
The journey that has left them 15 games under .500 hasn’t been entirely fruitless, however. The Phillies learned a lot about some players: Domonic Brown still needs work, Ryan Howard is over the hill, Ken Giles is pretty good, and the bullpen in general has the potential to be great. That’s vaguely-stated, but those are some of the overarching themes the Phillies will take with them into the off-season, when there will be plenty of roster turnover.
Kyle Kendrick will become a free agent. Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd, John Mayberry, and Antonio Bastardo may be traded. It’s possible that the Phillies will begin to fill in their new roster starting with a rotation led by David Buchanan and a bullpen with Giles at the back end, and with Jake Diekman and/or Justin De Fratus in the set-up roles. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins could each change their minds about refusing to waive their 10-and-5 rights as well, which would leave the Phillies with a starting lineup that includes Carlos Ruiz, Howard, Cody Asche, Brown, and Ben Revere.
So what about that future? We’ll likely see some of it in September, as Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis could rejoin the team (Galvis could even return sooner, perhaps later this month). 2014 first-round pick Aaron Nola may be given a chance to win a rotation spot out of spring training. Jesse Biddle is back with Double-A Reading after a mental and physical break, and could go to Triple-A Lehigh Valley for the first time in his professional career next season. 19-year-old shortstop J.P. Crawford could begin next season with Reading.
We know who’s likely out, and who’s likely in, and where many of the question marks remain. As a result, the Phillies’ job between now and the end of the regular season is to attempt to answer as many of those questions as possible by obtaining information. The Phillies obtain that information by, well, watching the players. Here are some of those questions:
- What, exactly, is Darin Ruf? Can he handle major league pitching — from both sides — on a regular basis, or will he eventually be relegated to a bench role? The only way to find out is to play him. Thus, between now and the end of the season, Ruf should be getting most of the playing time at first base regardless of match-ups.
- Is Maikel Franco ready? Franco started the 2014 season, his first ever at Triple-A, slowly but has caught on lately, posting a .798 OPS with five doubles and five home runs in 109 plate appearances since the All-Star break. Bringing him up in September for an up close and personal look will give the Phillies around 100-125 plate appearances to see what he can do against big league pitching, and how he handles third base defensively.
- Where does Cody Asche fit in? If the Phillies truly believe Franco is their third baseman of the future, then Asche will have to find another position (outfield was briefly discussed), accept a bench role, or the Phillies will have to consider moving him. If the Phillies consider Asche to be of importance, then Franco has to slide across the diamond to first base, which will nudge out Ruf. And unless the Phillies think Ruf can hit and play a passable outfield, he is the odd man out. Two of the three should be getting a lot of playing time over the final 41 games which will help the Phillies make this decision.
- What about Freddy Galvis? Galvis missed two months with a fractured clavicle. Since returning to Triple-A, Galvis has slashed .289/.337/.526 with 16 extra-base hits in 106 plate appearances. Obviously, there’s no room for him at first base, and both second base and shortstop are usurped by 10-and-5ers Utley and Rollins. Getting Galvis playing time is of much less importance than it is for Franco and Ruf, so he can serve in a super-utility role through the end of the season. Even if Galvis is horrible, he should still wind up with a bench role to start next season, but some information is still better than no information. The same goes for Cesar Hernandez. As a result, we should see Andres Blanco and Reid Brignac leave to create roster space for the duo.
- Can Dom Brown figure it out? Brown started each of the last two games after getting more or less two weeks off following a battle with strep throat. Ruf and Grady Sizemore got the playing time in left field in Brown’s place. Sizemore has absolutely no long-term future with the Phillies, so he should be reduced to a bench role over the final 41 games, and Brown should start as much as possible. Lots of people seem to have their minds made up about Brown — just as they did about Pat Burrell after 2003 — but it hurts no one to give Brown the rest of the season to see if he can’t make some kind of positive stride. He turns 27 in September and can still be a very productive member of the Phillies once they get back into contending shape a couple seasons from now. There are zero reasons to close the book on him.
There are a few less pressing questions as well, such as Jake Diekman’s ability to handle right-handed hitters, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez‘s potential, and Cole Hamels’ ability to stay healthy (he continues to be, by far, the most overworked pitcher in baseball). Ultimately, the rest of the season is a freeroll and the Phillies can choose to use it in a responsible and productive way, or they can continue to stay the course and try to eke out as many meaningless wins as possible.