The Phillies are ready to make their run for another championship. They currently have the best record in baseball and are 3 1/2 games up in the National League East. I wish I could say that they are healthy, but they are getting there. So what if any thing stands in there way? I thought that we could take a look at these things and then I would give you my predictions.
The Bullpen – This seems to be where a lot of the questions lie, so I figured I’d talk about this first.
It looks like Ryan Madson is ready for his return. Ryan has made some appearances with the Clearwater Threshers and has had success and feels good. Madson was a huge part of the Phillies first half and is pretty vital to their continued successes.
Brad Lidge appears to be progressing. He hasn’t had a lot of work, and his outings so far really havn’t been all that spectacular. On Thursday night Lidge made a rehab appearance with the Reading Phillies in Trenton and gave up two runs in 2/3 of an inning. Lidge allowed one hit, one walk, hit two batters and threw three wild pitches during the seventh inning before being taken out of the game. However, his outing on Monday was a perfect outing. Lidge was unhappy with his control, but said that his arm strength is getting better and that he thinks he’s feeling well enough that he could return to the Phillies pen during the Phillies next home stand which is next Friday when the San Diego Padres come to Philadelphia.
Jose Contreras is expected to return to the bullpen at some point this season, but it is unknown at this point when exactly that will be. Currently Contreras is not partaking in any baseball activities.
The rest of the pen seems to be healthy and you just have to hope that the Young Guns can continue to find success. It cannot be overstated how big Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes have been for the Phillies.
The Rotation – Charlie Manuel at the request of pitching coach Rich Dubee has shuffled the cards in the Phillies rotation to give Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee a little extra rest after the All-Star game which both of them participated in. The Phillies have activated Vance Worley, and will start him against R.A. Dickey and the Mets tonight in New York. Cole Hamels will go Saturday against the Jon Niese, and it hasn’t been said yet formally, but I’m hearing that Kyle Kendrick might start, and face Mike Pelfrey on Sunday. So Halladay and Lee have been pushed back.
Joe Blanton is still sidelined with an elbow injury and no timetable has been discussed for him to this point. If Blanton returns, don’t be surprised if it’s in a different capacity like the bullpen if Worley continues to progress as he has. Kyle Kendrick might just get a shot to stay in the rotation for a while, but there are a lot of “If’s” there.
The Phillies are also staying mum when it comes to Roy Oswalt. If Oswalt returns and can pitch well it would be a huge boost to the Phillies. I’m not high on Oswalt right now and if things don’t progress for him then I wouldn’t be surprised if he asks for his walking papers after the season ends. It’s pretty well documented that Oswalt has had strong feelings of an early retirement, but a deep run in the playoffs may just give him the itch to give it one last shot. Right now there is no timetable for Oswalt’s return either. I’m thinking that the end of August would be a fair guess.
The Lineup – Shane Victorino should be activated as soon as he is eligible. One could argue that Shane was the Phillies first half MVP, and his healthy return will be vital to the Phillies second half run.
Protection for Ryan Howard is another big issue for me. Ryan has had a pretty decent season despite little protection from the revolving door that is the 5-hole spot. I’m still pretty convinced that adding another bat to the lineup, in the form of a right-hander. I have some feeling that that spot may get filled through a trade, but for now Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino will need to find a way to offer Howard some help. Ibanez had a great series against the Braves, and let’s hope that that continues. Our corner outfielders have not have the seasons we expected.
Placido Polanco is a HUGE question mark for me. I think that Polanco can play through his injury but it’s not going to be pretty. Polly is dealing with a bulging disc in his back, and hasn’t been productive in over a month. It’s likely that he’s going to have to get a cortisone shot to help him manage his pain. Polanco has been a very productive hitter in his career, but as for as this season is concerned it’s going to be a daily question for him.
Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown have both had fairly disappointing seasons. Though they both come pretty cheap, the Phillies are going to have to try and procure some help in the outfield because I’m not fully convinced that John Mayberry Jr. is the answer. If they do make any sort of move it’s going to have to come in the form of a trade. The Phillies have next to no money to work with so Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to need to be creative.
With Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson’s expiring contracts the Phillies are going to want to use some of the money that is coming off the books in 2012 (Ibanez, and Lidge being the two biggies) to try to resign these two. The Phillies are also going to look into negotiating a long term deal with Cole Hamels. These things will make it hard for them to work something out this season.
Let’s not forget that Chase Utley is still playing with an injured knee. Proper rest is necessary for Utley because he really needs to step up his game and have a great second half.
Predictions - I don’t think that the Braves are going to go away quietly, but I do think that the Phillies have what it takes to fend them off until the end of September because they have plenty of question marks, too. My best guess is that the winner of the National League is going to come from the N.L. East, and that the two teams that will compete for a spot in the World Series are the Phillies, and the Braves.
Have a great Friday.