Every single Major League team now has 30 games under their belts, which gives us enough data to start surveying the MLB landscape looking for surprises and disappointments. Fans in Boston, Kansas City, and Denver have to be thrilled with their respective teams hot starts.
However, for fans in other cities things haven’t been as bright. The Toronto Blue Jays were handed the AL East by most pundits before the season even began and they’ve fallen flat on their face out of the gate, carrying a 10-21 record that only the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are envious of. Things are also starting to get dicey in Anaheim, where the Angels have once again stumbled in the early weeks of the season. Their supposedly vaunted offense has yet to earn its pay, thanks to its middle of the pack ranking in the AL in runs scored, and L.A.’s pitching staff minus Jered Weaver has been a disaster.
They’re not the only cities that are getting anxious about their ball club’s slow start either. Fans in Philadelphia were hoping that a once-great pitching staff led by Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee could rebound to carry the Phillies to the playoffs, but that hasn’t materialized thus far. The Dodgers were imagining themselves as the west coast Yankees with a budget to match. So far all that lavish spending has gotten them is 4th place and a struggling Matt Kemp.Even the handful of fans that attend Rays games have to feel a little nervous in the AL East watching their starting nine drop to 1-6 in games started by Cy Young winner David Price.
Each year baseball fans everywhere mark a random day in mid-February down on their calendars as one of the best days of the year: the day pitchers and catchers report, aka, the unofficial start of the Major League season. For many players, particularly veterans and All-Stars, Spring Training offers a chance to reconnect with old teammates while meeting new ones and to work the body into shape for the long grind of 162 games. But for many other players, rookies, guys on the fringe, or the 40-year-old looking for one last shot at glory, the start of spring represents the start of the season. These players are fighting for their big league lives, the last spot on the roster, or maybe even a starting position.
On most days it has to be easy to be Charlie Manuel, the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. As manager in Philadelphia he’s added one World Series ring to his hand to go along with the 5 NL East titles he’s won in 8 seasons. With a trio of perennial Cy Young candidates in the rotation, Manuel hardly has to worry about little things like match-ups and pitch counts because his aces will do the work for him.
But outside of the gaggle of aces fronting the rotation, the Phillies have plenty of questions. Will Chase Utley and Ryan Howard stay healthy? And for that matter can they regain their All-Star forms? Will the bullpen be any better this year? But the most pressing (and in our case the most interesting) question concerns the outfield. Who’s going to play the corners? Charlie Manuel and Philadelphia have a variety of candidates with a wide-range of somewhat limited skills, making this one of the toughest positions to call this spring. Let’s take a look at the candidates:
Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee has been one of the most durable, successful, and all-around excellent pitchers in Major League Baseball for the past 4 seasons. He’s got one Cy Young Award on his mantle, and can boast about 2 other top-5 finishes. But the 2012 season just hasn’t gone the way he expected it to. Lee has slipped a little bit this year, seeing his ERA rise from 2.40 (161 ERA+) a year ago all the way up to 3.83 (107 ERA+) this season. As you would expect, as his ERA and ERA+ dropped from elite a year ago to slightly above average this season, so it makes logical sense that his win total would drop as well. But for Cliff Lee to be the proud owner of a meager 2 wins is a little absurd, especially when you consider the fact that he has lasted fewer than 6 innings in just 1 of his 21 starts, while posting a quality start 60% of the time in general. Both numbers would lead you to believe that Lee had a record around the .500 mark, maybe a little better if he was lucky and his offense scored a lot when he pitched, and maybe a little worse if he was undone by poor defense or little run support. But Cliff Lee hasn’t just had bad luck, he’s having a historically bad run of luck, equivalent to a black jack player watching the dealer turn over 21 after 21 until the player is forced to walk away.
Earlier today I discussed the hottest team in baseball, the New York Yankees, and now I want to take a look at a franchise currently mired in the worst slump, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have gone 3-12 over their past 15 games, a ghastly run of poor play from the team with the 2nd highest payroll in baseball.
Their slump has directly coincided with the loss of Roy Halladay, who was placed on the DL on May 28th for shoulder soreness, and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. The good news is that he is already throwing and is ahead of schedule on recovery, which means a return in 5-6 weeks now looks likely, barring a setback. But even if Halladay can return ahead of schedule, do the last place Phillies, now 9 back of Washington in the NL East and 5 games out of a Wild Card spot, realistically have a chance to make the playoffs?