We’re almost ⅓ through the season and just now getting to the first Washington Nationals vs. Philadelphia Phillies series. As always, I’ve invited Kevin McGuire of Macho Row (and several other sites) to talk baseball. PREVIOUSLY: 2011 | 2012
WFY: Only a game separates the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies in the standings – just like we expected right? While there is some angst over being in second place a mere game over .500 in D.C., how is the Delaware Valley handing the Phils situation?
KMc: The people, they are not happy. This Phillies team is going to keep their heads slightly above water long enough to keep some of the most optimist of fans waiting for something to spark, but if you take a good hard and honest look at the team you can see the flaws in the roster. More importantly you can see the flaws in the management of the team, with a keen eye on the general manager. The problem with this Phillies team is they are consistently inconsistent. They can win two of three in San Francisco and make you think things have finally changed, and the next night they can putrid on offense and/or defense against the Marlins. This is why they enter the weekend just under .500. Even if they happen to leave D.C. this weekend with two or three wins, it will take more to convince anyone they have truly turned any corner.
WFY: What in the name of Tommy Greene is going on with the Phillies starting pitching? Roy Halladay is out, Cole Hamels has a mere win. Somebody must be picking up the slack if they are a game under .500.
KMc: Roy Halladay was hurt when he arrived in the spring, and probably when he was pitching last season. It was disappointing and painful to watch while he was on the mound this season, but at least there was a reason for his struggles. Cole Hamels is a totally different story. Hamels has not had command of his pitches this season and has shown how frustrated he can get when things are not going well. There does not seem to be any injury concern here so hopefully it is just something Hamels can change mentally with his approach. I would like to believe he will be able to do that if he can come out on the winning end of two or three games in a row. That said, he gets no run support either. If the Phillies could just be .500 in starts by Hamels, we would be talking about a second place team chasing the Atlanta Braves instead of a team struggling to reach the .500 mark.
So while Hamels struggles and Halladay’s season is placed in jeopardy, we have seen Kyle Kendrick put together a solid season and prospects Jonathan Pettibone and Tyler Cloyd do enough to give the team a chance to win some games. Kendrick has adapted well in pressure situations but I’m not totally on board with believing it will be sustained for the entire season. Pettibone has been impressive with his approach on the mound as well, but I wonder how long it will be until opposing bats figure him out a little more, and how he responds to that. The Phillies have lost just once with him on the mound so he has certainly been a pleasant surprise since being called up to fill in. The jury is still out on Cloyd after two starts. I have a feeling he could be sent down for some other pitcher at some point but he has done his job admirably as well.
WFY: How weird was it seeing John Lannan in a Phillies uniform? When is he due back? Is his place in the rotation secure?
KMc: Very strange considering the history between he and the Phillies, notably Chase Utley. But once a player puts on your uniform all is forgotten or forgiven it seems. He was actually pretty solid in his Phillies debut but his season was quickly put on pause with an early injury. From what I have read it appears Lannan is beginning to get back to throwing but there is no real timeline for his return just yet. It’s not going to be any time too soon though, so right now it is anyone’s guess. I’ll have to wait and see how the rest of this rotation is playing before really assessing if his spot in the rotation is secure or not. Right now I would think his spot is secure, as he would replace one of the two extra spots currently filled by minor league pitchers Pettibone or (more likely) Cloyd. But if this rotation sees solid production out of their minor league arms and the Carlos Zambrano experiment pays off, Lannan could become a bullpen option. But that is a lot of ifs.
WFY: Is it safe to assume that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are battling injuries right now?
KMc: Yes. Utley underwent an MRI, which we are still waiting for the results a sI type this up, after being scratched from the lineup following batting practice the other day. Howard also underwent an MRI recently but he quickly returned to the lineup. You can tell Howard does not move as he once did, so there may still be some concerns there that he is battling back from.
WFY: Dominic Brown was supposed to be a big deal, but when I last checked in he had not put it together yet, has he? How about the rest of the outfielders?
KMc: He’s not there yet, but he has his moments. Brown’s at-bats will sometimes leave fans frustrated with early swings leading to easy outs and 32 strikeouts to just nine walks. His defense has led to some miscues in the field as well, but he also has his positive moments on offense and defense that show what he may be capable of. On a team that lacks power, Brown leads the team with eight home runs and he is just one RBI behind the team lead with 24 (Howard and Utley have 25 each), so he has some value on the club right now. The problem is we were led to expect so much more from Brown after the team traded away so many prospects the past few years but refused to move Brown. I do believe that giving him a full-time job this season though will pay off and show us whether or not he can be considered the real deal. I think it is too early to call him a bust, but he is certainly a long way from being compared to Bryce Harper or Mike Trout.
WFY: Around 2011 it looked like we might be headed for a great, two-sided Nats-Phillies rivalry, but then the Phillies seemed to get old quickly and the Nats ascending earlier than expected, so the two teams didn’t battle for divisional positioning like we expected. They wound up splitting the series though with the Phillies getting hot in the second half. Has the perspective changed up there? Where do the Nats rate as Phillies rivals these days?
KMc: It is a shame we couldn’t see these teams be good at the same time, but I think the games have still become more fun to watch now that the Nationals have gotten better. You’ll still find plenty of Phillies fan who will shrug aside the idea of Nattitude and feel that everything the Nats do is gimmicky or forced, but they are generally the Phillies fans who started acting like the Phillies are the best thing since sliced bread in 2007. I think right now, overall, the Nationals have earned a new level of respect. The Phillies saw their NL East streak ended at the expense of the Nationals, and that deserves a tip of the hat. In terms of rivalry, I think it would be fair to say the Nationals are currently second behind the Mets, if only because it’s always fun to beat up on the Mets. I would place the Nationals above the BRaves though, because there just aren’t enough Braves fans to fuel the rivalry.
WFY: Bryce Harper appeared to earn the respect of the Phillies (especially Hamels) last season, but what do the fans think of him?
KMc: Bryce Harper is the guy we love to watch, and love to hate. I think in Philadelphia we can respect any player who goes all out every time they take the field, and that is exactly what Harper does. Sure, he’s a punk and maybe feels a little entitled form time to time, but he brings it on the field and at the plate and for that he has our respect, or at least my respect. He also speaks his mind and has a good respect for the game. What is there not to like about that?
He’s the guy we hate now, but would take on our team in an instant. You guys don’t really deserve him. He’s a Philly kinda guy. Can we have him? We’ll give you John Lannan back…
WFY: Has there been much Jayson Werth talk up there this week? He’s on the DL now.
KMc: You don’t hear people talk about Jayson Werth much any more. I think that fun has died down a little bit. Now that we are in the third year post-Werth, the animosity has passed and now he is treated more like any other player from an opposing team. Yeah, he’ll get a few more boos and insults thrown his way when he does play against the Phillies, but that doesn’t mean he is considered public enemy number one or anything.
WFY: How has Phillies fandom changed in the last decade? When I went to the first Nats game in 2005, there seemed to be a lot of nostalgia for the 1980s teams (lots of powder blue jerseys) and not too much else. When I visit the Jersey Shore, I’d see a lot more Eagles stuff than any of the other teams. That shifted late in the last decade with the Phillies winning it all, but as of last year it had receded a bit. How are things now?
KMc: Ten years the Phillies were largely an afterthought, but there was some optimism for the future. Moving in to a new stadium after decades in cavernous Veterans Stadium and a team that looked to be trying to win some baseball games started changing that fan attitude regarding the baseball team. While the last year has been a rough stretch, the Phillies have built a larger fan base, or at least a larger and more vocal fan base. Fortunately for the Phillies they have been the most successful team over the last few years in this city, which has now gone a full calendar year without a single playoff game in any of the top four sports, and that has helped keep them near the top of the sports headlines.
This is an interesting time in Philadelphia’s sports though. With the Phillies have clearly taken a step back in progress in their sport, and the Eagles are once again the franchise generating the most buzz. With Chip Kelly in town doing things new and exciting in terms of running the team, he is a breath of fresh air for the fans and he is quickly becoming one of the most popular sports figures in town. The Eagles have always been the most popular team in the city overall, with the Phillies taking a brief lead in 2008 and 2009, and it appears they once again will be the clear winners in town in terms of popularity. Now, if they can just win some games…
WFY: Has Citizen’s Bank Park changed much since I was there? I was impressed by it, that’s a pretty good ballyard, especially since it is surrounded by parking. Do they still have that stupid sign blocking the skyline?
KMc: Not too much has changed at the ballpark over the years but if it has been a few years there are some changes you may want to take note of. There is a statue of our beloved and legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas in the open area of the concourse in left field that makes for a nice photo opportunity. As far as food is concerned, Chickie’s & Pete’s has expanded from a small concession stand on the edge of Ashburn Alley to a larger standalone concession area right across from where the stand was once occupied. This allows for longer but faster-paced lines for the top concession snack in the ballpark, crab fries. The old Chickie’s & Pete’s stand has been converted to a beer garden operated by The Alley Brewing Company with a variety of domestic, export and micro brews to choose from. They also have an exclusive lager available only in Citizens Bank Park. Also, Federal Donuts has arrived for a good, cost-effective snack.
Yes, that stupid and pointless sign is still there, blocking the view of the city skyline.
WFY: Who takes this series and the season series?
KMc: While I spoke highly of Kendrick, Pettibone and Cloyd and their performance on the mound this season, I just have a weird feeling about them this weekend against the Nationals. I know Washington has been struggling this season as well, but I would find it hard to believe Washington’s offense can out-underperform the Phillies this weekend. My guess is Washington takes two of three before shipping up to Boston for some inter-league play on Monday. As for the season series, I’ll take the Nationals by a small margin. I have more faith right now the Nationals will be able to get things fixed before the Phillies do as long as the roster in Philadelphia looks like this for the entire season.