The Phillies and their fans have had it pretty easy over the last few years. Being in baseball's leisure class will do that for a team, I guess. The Phillies started winning in about 2007 and really haven't stopped since, claiming the last five NL East pennants. They've been consistent winners in a large city with marketable stars in a newish stadium, and because of it they attract large crowds almost every night and can sustain one of the highest payrolls in baseball.
Everything's just sort of worked out for them because they have really good players, and if it doesn't work out, they can always just trade some prospects or something to get more really good players. This is how the Phillies ended up with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon, while the D-Backs are left trying to figure out which young, talented outfielder they're going to trade this off-season in order to replace their young, talented catcher that they can't afford. Money's a wonderful thing to have. Sure, Phillie fans would probably like to see a bit more postseason success, but when your chief complaint is participating in only two of the last four World Series, you probably shouldn't be complaining in the first place.
It's still early in the 2012, but that hasn't been the case so far. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, who are established stars in the primes of their careers, have missed the beginning the season and have been replaced by Ty Wigginton and Freddy Galvis, who are not. As a result, the offense has sputtered and been out of sync so far, and the pitching staff, stacked as it is, hasn't been consistently good enough to bail the offense out.
The Phillies are 7-9. Think about how frustrating the last week or so has been for the Diamondbacks, and then remember that the best team in baseball last year, one that can spend money at will and hasn't seen a losing record since 2002, is a game worse than the D-Backs right now. It probably won't last--the Phillies still have three starters who are preseason picks to win Cy Youngs every year--but it's nice to know that Phillie fans are getting a small taste of how the other half of Major League Baseball lives.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
Well, the Diamondbacks' offense has fallen off a cliff since they lost Young (their best hitter so far this year) and Upton (the guy who's probably going to end up being their best hitter for the rest of the year), and the fact that they're still doing significantly better on the season than the Phillies tells you quite a bit about the Phillies this year. The Phillies still have one of the best pitching staffs that money can buy, which is probably how they've produced the fourth-best FIP- in baseball. The loss of Clff Lee to the DL will hurt somewhat, but no team is better positioned to weather the loss of someone like Lee than the Phillies.
I know I've already spent a fair bit of time pointing out the offensive struggles of the Phillies so far, but this lineup should remind everyone that the offense is not actually as bad as the numbers have made it look so far. Jimmy Rollins is heavily overrated, and has been somewhere between average and below-average with the bat since 2008, but he's also not going to produce an OPS of .580 all year either, like he's doing now. Hunter Pence is still the same guy who has never had a season with an OPS below .780, and Shane Victorino was one of the very best outfielders in baseball last year. These aren't the 2008 Phillies, at least until Utley and Howard come back, but the lineup also doesn't have the same air of hopelessness that we've seen already from, say, the Padres and the Pirates.
But for now, the Phillies are led by Ty Wigginton with an OPS of .794. This is good news for the team, I guess, since it means that Wigginton is filling in nicely for Howard. However, it also means that the lineup features seven other guys who are hitting worse than Ty Wigginton, which is never a good situation. In their prime, both Pierre and Polanco were supremely annoying slap-hitters who played solid defense and were difficult to strike out. But now they're just a couple of aging veterans stuck at the top of a lineup by a manager who's trying to relive the glory days while Dominic Brown rots in the minors.
Insightful Commentary: As SenSurround mentioned in Sunday's recap, this was supposed to be Cliff Lee against Daniel Hudson, which is the sort of pitching matchup you would circle on your calendar if for some reason you were the sort of person who writes pitching matchups on calendars. Could Hudson build on his first strong start of the season while facing off against perhaps the most ruthlessly efficient pitcher in baseball? We'll never know. Instead, we a matchup between two long relievers, one a former back-of-the-rotation starter, the other a potential back-of-the-rotation starter. Who will allow and then strand more baserunners? Drama!
Insightful Commentary: Since 2009, the Phillies have given up prospects for Cliff Lee (the first time), Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence. By now, their farm system should consist entirely of 28-year-olds and toolsy teenagers from the Dominican Republic, not guys like Worley who put up an ERA of 3.01 in their first season as a start. His strikeout rate last year was actually better than it was in the minors despite his lack of a truly dominating pitch. But, yeah, I'm sure the Blue Jays are still happy with Kyle Drabek and his career 5.23 ERA...
Hudson's injury probably bought Collmenter a couple more starts to figure out whatever's bothering him. Last year, Collmenter's two main weapons were his incredibly low walk rate and his impressively high infield fly-ball rate. In other words, Collmenter succeeded last year because he limited baserunners by cutting his walks, and when he did allow baserunners, he kept them from advancing by generating a ton of pop-ups. Neither has been the case so far this year, which may account for some of his struggles.
Insightful Commentary: The startling thing is that Hamels has actually gotten better since being the ace of a pitching staff that won the World Series back in 2008. He has made himself into more of a groundball pitcher while continuing to maintain a low walk rate to go with a very healthy strikeout rate. Last year, Hamels was worth 4.9 fWAR, and it's not hard to see him doing something similar in 2012 as a 28-year-old in a contract year.
Cahill's walks were sort of charming when he was getting good results in spite of them. The term "effectively wild" springs to mind. But after three starts, his BB/9 sits at 4.74, which is too high for someone who pitches to contact as much as Cahill does. Cahill's going to have games where his sinker doesn't sink the way it should, like he did Friday against Atlanta, but he can minimize the damage by cutting down on free passes.
Final Verdict: Maybe it's the fact that the D-Backs don't have to face Halladay or Lee, or may it's the dismal performance of the Phillies' offense so far this year, but I have a good feeling about this series. I'm well aware that the D-Backs are struggling right now, and they're trotting out their former long-reliever and a pitcher who's giving up more than a run per inning for the first two games, but I think the offense will get back on track and the Diamondbacks will take the series two games to one.
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(Stats from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.)