This upcoming series the Braves face the Phillies in Atlanta -- believe it or not, it's the fifth series of the year and the first time we're facing an NL East team. The Phillies come in as the top team in the NL East, but the Marlins tamed them in the last two games of their series together. To help us get a better picture of what the Phills look like this year we go behind enemy lines with blogger Peter Baker of the Phillies blog The Good Phight.
A: So much depends on who's injured the worst, and how long they're injured, but it's likely to be Jimmy Rollins. Although he had a pronounced down season in 2009, Rollins was red-hot out of the gate this season. He's a plus-plus defender and has great power for a middle infielder, even if his on-base skills leave something to be desired. Calf strains are notoriously tricky, and particularly for a guy whose speed is such a big part of his game, this is something that's likely to hinder his performance even if/when he does return to the lineup.
As for Lidge, this team made it to the sixth game of a World Series with Brad Lidge posting arguably the worst relief pitching season ever. Plug whomever you want in the closer role; they're unlikely to be worse than Lidge 2009.
The Blanton thing is touch-and-go. He seemed poised for a big season this year, and oblique injuries are also tricky. With the recent news about J.A. Happ, the rotation is suddenly looking very thin. Someone call Pedro Martinez pronto.
Q: The Phillies have gotten off to a hot start, but it's been against hapless teams like the Nats and 'Stros. When you finally faced a decent team, you lost the series to the Marlins and your offense was shutdown. What have you learned about the Phillies from the first two weeks of the season? Can they compete with good teams?
A: I'm having a really hard time processing the portion of the question about whether the Phillies can "compete with good teams." First, this is a team whose core has been to the last two World Series, winning one of them. Of course they can "compete with good teams." When the Braves got no-hit on Saturday, did that prove that they wouldn't hit good pitching all season?
Second, there was one three game series against the Marlins, for crying out loud, and two games where the offense took the day off. Look, the Phillies' offense is not the unstoppable juggernaut that was plating 8+ runs a game for the first three series, nor are they the lame bozos of the last two games in the Florida series. It's a really, really good lineup; two bad games do not change that.
Plus, it's worth noting that the Washington Nationals are 4-2 in their non-Phillies games this season. Small sample sizes are a bitch, huh?
Q: Journeyman fill-in Juan Castro has done great for the Phillies so far. Is there any reason to think that he can keep this up? Can you point to anything to explain the hot stats of Placido Polanco and Chase Utley?
A: No. He's a really bad Major League baseball player. Anyone can have a few good games and he's only hit a couple of balls really hard so far. I'm just hoping he'll be able to catch the ball and collect a hit now and then until Rollins gets back.
Chase Utley: He's one of the five best players in baseball, that's why he's doing so well.
Placido Polanco: The step-down in talent level from the American League to National League probably has something to do with it. Plus, contact hitters like Polanco are more likely to benefit from good luck BABIP-driven hot streaks. He's hitting .373 on balls in play so far, which won't hold. I'm actually more pleased with his defense at third base; I was worried coming into the season that he wouldn't be able to cut it defensively at the hot corner after not playing the position regularly since 2005. He's shown himself to be more than up to the task.
A: Sigh. There are budget issues, obviously, and a decision from the front office to try to restock the farm system. One can question the quality of the haul they got back for Cliff Lee, though. We'll never know if Lee would have suffered the injuries that are keeping him on the shelf for the first month of the season had he not left Philadelphia.
Generally, the Phillies knew they could afford one "ace" and had every indication that Lee was looking for a big free agent payday after 2010 (i.e., only the Yankees and maybe Red Sox could pay him). In the alternative, they knew they could lock Roy Halladay in at a below market rate for several years. In that sense, the "trade" was perfectly reasonable.
Would I have kept Lee for the 2010 season? Probably. Don't forget he would have netted the team two draft picks if he'd signed elsewhere for 2011. But I am sympathetic to the path that Ruben Amaro, Jr. took. I want this team to be good for awhile, not just one or two more seasons.
Q: What area of the the Phillies concerns you the most? Which area concerns you the least?
A: Biggest concern: Now, the starting rotation. The Phillies are relying on two very, very scary pitchers in Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer to pitch 40% of their games in the early going. And with the latest news about J.A. Happ, it's looking more and more like Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, and cover your eyes, at least until Joe Blanton gets back.
I'm also very concerned with Raul Ibanez, and whether he can hold up for the rest of the season, much less through 2011.
Least concern: The offense. This team will score plenty of runs.