PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 28: Catcher Carlos Ruiz #51 of the Philadelphia Phillies is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run during a game against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park on April 28, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Following Sunday's loss to the Chicago Cubs, the Phillies dropped to 10-12 on the season, as their sluggish offense continues to provide little run support for the rotation. Through the first couple weeks of the season, it is understandable to hold off on making any predictions based on that amount of data.
But after a month of baseball, you can start to get an idea as to how the rest of the season is going to go. Enough time has passed, and enough at-bats have been recorded so that anything that has happened in the first four weeks of the season can't really be written off as being a product of a small sample size.
It is with that in mind that Jayson Stark analyzed the successes and failures of six Major League teams, as he tried to make a determination as to whether or not they would have a reversal of fortune, or if this was the status quo. Among those teams? The Phillies. Not surprising, given their early-season struggles with the offense. Stark, with an assist from some big league scouts, rendered their verdict. And, not surprisingly, the outlook is not positive for the reigning National League east champs.
But one NL executive was far from ready to write off a team with pitching this good. "Can any team in baseball survive losing its No. 3 and 4 hitters (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard), and be productive?" he asked. "Not just this team. Any team. So if this is real, it's only real until the right side of their infield gets back."
Still, the NL East is better. The Phillies are older. And they've stripped their system of prospects with all those blockbuster deals they've made. "Let's face it," another NL exec said. "They can't afford any more injuries whatsoever. And that's pretty tough, when you've got almost 150 games left."
Obviously, their pitching figures to keep them out of the intensive-care ward. Nevertheless, the verdict here is … REALITY. The road to October looks awfully precarious for a team this beat up and offensively challenged.
Again, that is not surprising. Anyone who has seen the Phillies on offense this season can attest to the fact that they can't hit. That's the bi-product of age, injury, and some good ol' fashioned lack of offensive talent.
But, Stark does acknowledge that this only exists so long as the Phillies are missing Utley and Howard, whose presence cannot be cobbled together with spare parts, platoon players, and rookies. And given the fact that the Phillies are still well within striking distance, despite the fact that they are lacking any significant firepower, should clue you in as to what this team is -- and should be -- capable of when they are fielding a roster of healthy bodies.
The question, now, isn't “will they fare any better when they get healthy,” but rather “will they have enough time?” I've said it from the get-go, but the key for the Phillies is to hang on until they get more bats in that lineup. If they can be where they are now – five, six games out – come July, when both Howard and Utley get back (and at the risk of sounding selfish, with Dom Brown getting all of the playing time in left), they should be well-positioned to make a run at the division.
Of course, that also hinges upon the rest of the team actually producing. Because right now, no one is hitting. With the exception of Carlos Ruiz (.311/.333/.525), Ty Wigginton (.327/.379/.500) and Laynce Nix (.333/.429/.625), no one is being remotely productive. Hunter Pence has a .803 OPS. Shane Victorino is at .702. Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco both occupy the mid-500s.
Typically, I tend to not give too much credit to these early-season predictions, because so much can change over the next five months. But given the current state of the Phillies, I wouldn't completely disregard it, either.