One of the most prolific guest prognosticators is back to talk about the Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies series. Kevin McGuire, blogs about the Phillies at Macho Row, but is best known for writing for College Football Talk.
WFY: Looking at the standings, the supposed worn-out and elderly Phillies are 13-13. How did the get there?
KMc:The Phillies have been incredible up and down, a team consistently inconsistent. It has been difficult to figure out the offense at times, but we do know that it has a number of holes at key positions. The top of the starting rotation has been fine and just welcomed back Cole Hamels but the bullpen has been going through some growing pains holding on to leads as well. It seems when the pitching is doing well, the offense cannot score runs and when the offense bursts out, the pitching cannot hold the fort down.
WFY: On Wednesday night’s radio broadcast of the Nats game, Charlie Slowes mentioned that the Phillies were essentially going with a three man rotation right now due to days off. Is this accurate? I see Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett and Cole Hamels are the probable starters for the series, while the Nats still have not announced theirs. We know Jordan Zimmermann won’t pitch, though Gio Gonzalez could on Sunday. The Nats rotation is all messed up right now.
KMc:The Phillies are skipping Kyle Kendricks spot in the rotation this weekend to go with the top three pitchers this weekend. Cliff Lee has had two rough outing but has been brilliant at other times. AJ Burnett has been a solid addition to the rotation and Cole Hamels will get his third start of the season after a rough night against the Mets this week. This is a fundamental change in philosophy that comes with Ryne Sandberg and his staff compared to past years under Charlie Manuel. Sandberg is taking a bit more of an aggressive approach by adjusting the rotation so early in the yer but that is because he likely sees the importance of winning division games now instead of trying to catch up at the end of the season. If the Phillies are going to stay afloat and in the conversation, winning games against division opponents is the way to go.
WFY: What have the Phillies strengths been thus far? How good can the 2014 Phillies be?
KMc:I think the offense, as a whole, has been pretty decent this season. Chase Utley has been the clear MVP but I feel as though I have seen better at-bats from Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard early on by showing more patience. The Phillies lack strength though and have to rely on moving base runners, which has been a problem at times.
WFY: What’s going on with Dominic Brown?
KMc:He is off to a slow start and has been lacking the power we saw at times last season. At this point in his career Brown has not been living up to the hype but if I recall he was actually off to a slow start last season as well before busting out to become an All-Star candidate. He seems to have all of the physical attributes to be a really good corner outfielder in the middle of the line-up, but he needs to cut down on the strikeout-walk ratio to provide better protection behind Howard.
WFY: Who is the Phillies best player, face of the franchise, people’s champion right now?
KMc:Best player? Chase Utley. Face of the franchise? Chase Utley. People’s champion? Chase Utley.
Philadelphia loves Chase Utley and the way he plays the game. His way of preparing for a game is also something fans can get behind. He never appears to take a play off, and Philly fans love a player who hustles. I have always been more of a Jimmy Rollins fan but Utley is without a doubt the player most fans would consider the face of the franchise right now.
WFY: Is GM Ruben Amaro’s job in jeopardy or is that just WIP caller’s wishful thinking?
KMc:The pressure is on Ruben Amaro, that is not just hot sports take radio at work, but I honestly do not see the Phillies making a change at the position even if this season results another season without a playoff game. The reason I suggest that is because the Phillies have long been a Phillies family-oriented organization, and Amaro is as much a part of that family now than anyone. Firing one of their own is not a decision the Phillies do quickly (Ed Wade was general manager for eight years, Amaro is in year six). Bad contracts (notably Ryan Howard, Jonathan Paplebon) have restricted some of what the Phillies can do, and that falls on Amaro, who has acquired Cliff Lee twice and may have to be put in a position to trade him once more if things go south.
WFY: How are the new Phillies broadcasters working out?
KMc:Just so everybody understands, Comcast has more say in the Phillies broadcast teams now that they signed a new rights deal last year. That meant broadcasters handpicked by the Phillies before were no longer safe. That led to the removal of longtime Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler and former player Gary “Sarge” Matthews. The Phillies kept Tom McCarthy as the TV play-by-play voice and Comcast added former Phillies Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs in the booth. So far the new team seems to work well, although there are still some rough spots that are being worked out for the broadcasting rookies. Moyer and Stairs each bring a unique approach to the broadcast and nobody in the booth seems to want to fill all of the open air. McCarthy gets a bad reputation by some but I honestly feel he is doing just fine with his new partners. Moyer and Stairs split the games for the most part but sometimes are both in the booth.
KMc:I have not had a chance to really digest the Sunday home broadcasts, when Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt joins the broadcast as well for Sundays with Schmidt.
WFY: What’s the best book about Philadelphia baseball you have read?
KMc:The 2008 season brought a number of books to my collection, as you might expect, but the The Rotation co-written by longtime beat reporter Jim Salisbury and the well-respected Todd Zolecki may be my favorite. The book focuses on how the Phillies put together the starting rotation in 2010 that included Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and that other guy (Joe Blanton).
WFY: Who takes this series and the season season? How do you think the NL East shakes out?
KMc:I actually feel pretty good about the chances the Phillies have this weekend, but I would still lean on a healthy Nationals team to take the season series by a slight margin. My thought about the division remain the same though, and that is the team to beat plays in Atlanta. I think the Mets and Marlins will be pesky for everyone, but I think the division goes Braves, Nationals, Phillies, Mets and then the Marlins, who have two of the best players in the division by the way (Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton).