Inside Pitch: Watch out for the Phils
Despite pitching woes, Philadelphia poised to make a run
Considering the state of their pitching staff, it seems hard to believe, but watch out for Philadelphia in the second half of the season.
The Phillies? The team with the worst team ERA (4.93) in the National League? The team that has already used 24 pitchers and is challenging the franchise record of 27, set seven years ago? The same Phillies who have seen six pitchers make their Major League debut this year?
Yes, those Phillies.
"When they get [Brett] Myers, [Tom] Gordon and some of the other guys back, that's going to help a lot," a longtime scout said. "And they're looking hard [at] pitching -- I really think they'll make [a trade]. They add the right guy, a couple of guys, they've got the rest. They could make a big move."
An official with another NL club agreed.
"They're not that far away," he said. "The offense is there. If they add a little pitching, that's a club that could go a long way. They're already a team you'd rather not face. If they get the pitching, look out. They've gone through all of those pitchers, and guess what? They're still right there [in the race]."
The Phillies do have the offense. Their 427 runs scored is the most in the National League and third most in baseball, behind Detroit (472) and Cleveland (444). The team on-base percentage of .346 also leads the National League and is the fifth highest in all of baseball.
Among NL teams, only the Mets and Dodgers have stolen more bases than the Phillies, only the Reds and Brewers have hit more home runs, and only the Brewers have more total bases. Only the Dodgers have more hits with runners in scoring position.
Despite its pitching problems, Philadelphia enters Tuesday's game at Houston 42-41 and in third place in the NL East, only five games behind New York (46-35) and one behind second-place Atlanta (43-40). The Phillies are tied with Milwaukee for the most wins in the National League since April 21, with 38.
There are more reasons for optimism.
Reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard has shaken off a slow start and has driven in a league-leading 34 runs since coming off the disabled list on May 26. All-Star second baseman Chase Utley is batting .455 since June 5, and leadoff man Jimmy Rollins is hitting .333 since May 30. Center fielder Aaron Rowand, another All-Star, has fit in nicely in the lineup behind Utley and cleanup hitter Howard. Right fielder Shane Victorino (.274, 10 homers, 35 RBIs entering Tuesday's game) is one of the more underrated talents in the game.
The Phillies catch the ball better than most teams, and have adequate power and speed to contend.
But it all comes back to that pitching, and even that is not a total disaster. Cole Hamels is a deserving All-Star, veteran lefty Jamie Moyer has been solid and rookie Kyle Kendrick is 3-0 in four starts since being called up from the Minor Leagues. Kendrick tweaked his right groin in his most recent outing but is expected to make his next scheduled start, on Friday. The Phillies' patchwork staff has registered 42 quality starts, seventh most in the league.
More help is on the way. Gordon and Myers could return soon after the break. Gordon is scheduled to make a rehab assignment with Class A Clearwater, in the Florida State League, on Wednesday.
"Flash is doing pretty good," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "This week is going to be big for him, because he's going to start turning the ball loose. I'd say [he can be back] early after the break. He's got to get back where he's pain-free, and that's tough."
Myers took over at closer when Gordon went down. Myers' return could be huge, since starters Jon Lieber (foot) and Freddy Garcia (shoulder) are out indefinitely. Garcia began soft tossing on Monday but isn't expected to return for at least two months.
"It's going to be a while before [Garcia] comes back," Manuel said.
Myers also threw at Minute Maid Park on Monday. He's scheduled to throw again later in the week, and if all goes well, he could began a rehab assignment after the break.
Meanwhile, the Phillies have been looking hard outside the organization for pitching, in particular at Texas reliever Akinori Otsuka.
Add a few arms, and these Phillies could be loaded for a second-half run.
Pearls from the diamond: Two years ago, Houston third baseman Morgan Ensberg and Philadelphia left fielder Pat Burrell were hot properties. In 2005, Ensberg batted .283 with 36 home runs and 101 RBIs, and Burrell hit .281 with 32 homers and 117 RBIs.
Today, both right-handed hitters are on the bench, and attempts to trade them have been unsuccessful.
Burrell enters Tuesday's game against Houston hitting .203 with nine homers and 32 RBIs, while Ensberg -- who has made just seven starts since June 10 -- was hitting .208 for the season, including .163 (8-for-49) since May 30.
For the Phillies and Astros, finding suitable trade partners for either involves a lot more than agreeing on players. Money is another factor. Burrell is the Phillies' highest-paid player, with a salary of $13 million this year, and he's owed $14 million for 2008. Ensberg is making $4.35 million this season.
Of course, it would help their trade value if Ensberg and Burrell were to start hitting, but obviously, that's tough to do when you're on the bench. And it means Philadelphia and Houston will have a tough time moving them, even if they can find teams that believe they can rekindle some of their 2005 magic.
The scouts' section at Rangers games will be regularly filled in the coming weeks, as several teams are eyeing one or more Texas players.
Eric Gagne has been scouted by the Cubs, D-backs, Indians, Red Sox and Yankees, whereas Otsuka is being considered by the Braves, Mets, Phillies, Indians, Brewers and Tigers.
Mark Teixeira, currently on the disabled list, has been scouted by the Orioles and Dodgers, but the emergence of James Loney at first base appears to have tempered Los Angeles' interest in Teixeira.
Will this season be the last for Craig Biggio, now that he's reached 3,000 career hits?
"I've got a pretty good idea of what I want to do," Biggio said. "When the time is right, I'm going to let everybody know what's on my mind. Maybe I'll be like Julio Franco and play until I'm 50."
Jason Isringhausen appears to have that good 12-to-6 curveball back. St. Louis' closer didn't throw it as much last year because of the hip problems that ended his season, but now healthy, Isringhausen is getting noticed.
"I think he's throwing as well now as he did before [the hip problems]," one NL scout said. "He just hasn't had many [save opportunities]."
As do a lot of people in and around the game, the same scout likes Pittsburgh right-hander Ian Snell.
"He's got the whole package. The only knock on him is [that] his control doesn't seem to be as sharp once he gets upwards of 55, 60 pitches," he said.
Kansas City third baseman Alex Gordon has raised his batting average 65 points, from .172 to .237, since June 4.
"His confidence is coming," Royals manager Buddy Bell said, "Now it just looks like he figures he's going to get a hit."
Gordon hit .327 in June, with 12 extra-base hits and a .383 on-base percentage. His emergence is one reason why the Royals had a winning June, their first winning month since July 2003.
A deal that would have sent outfielder Jacque Jones to Florida may be dead, but look for the Cubs to move him at some point. Jones has value, but unless the Cubs are willing to pick up some of the money he's owed ($4 million this year and $5 million next season), the number of trade partners will likely be extremely limited.
With Seattle only 4 1/2 games out in the American League West and just a game and a half behind Detroit in the Wild Card (entering play on Monday), it is less likely that the Mariners will deal right fielder Jose Guillen. The Mariners need pitching and have a player that some in the organization believe is ready to step in, in Adam Jones, but they may leave well enough alone for the moment. The Mets were among the teams interested in Guillen, as were the Padres until they acquired Milton Bradley from Oakland.
Count Manuel among those who were surprised to hear that Mike Hargrove had resigned as Seattle's manager. The Phillies skipper was on Hargrove's staff for six years in Cleveland (1994-99) and succeeded him as manager of the Indians.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Manuel said. "I won't tell you we're the best of friends, but in the years I worked for him, we had a good team, and he did a tremendous job. It kind of caught me by surprise. I think he's doing it for himself and his family. I know this ... he's a fighter, not a quitter. I'm sure he had reasons for what he did."
Speaking of Seattle, for those of you wondering why John McLaren was hired without the franchise going through the hiring process outlined by Major League Baseball, McLaren is only signed through the end of the season. Similarly, Cincinnati named Pete Mackanin interim manager after Jerry Narron was dismissed on Monday.
If you haven't seen the video of it yet, check out Victorino's dive into the stands in an attempt to grab Eric Bruntlett's foul ball in the seventh inning at Minute Maid Park on Monday night. They call Victorino the "Flyin' Hawaiian" for good reason, as the fans who gave him an ovation when he emerged from the stands can certainly attest.
Dig long enough, and sooner or later, you might uncover a gem. That's what Jim Bowden did in Cincinnati, where gambles on such players as Pete Schourek, Ron Gant, Pete Harnisch and Kevin Mitchell paid off for the Reds. Now Bowden has struck gold again in Washington with another successful reclamation project, in Dmitri Young. After being released by the Tigers near the end of the 2006 season -- a year in which he was going through a divorce, given a one-year probation for domestic violence as well as being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes -- Young has made a remarkable return to the Major Leagues. He is currently the Nationals' leading hitter, with a .385 batting average and .387 on-base percentage. On Sunday he was named to the All-Star team.
"This is a great feeling," Young said. "I've come full circle, and this pretty much made it official. Let this be a lesson to people who deal with adversity, that you never quit. Keep fighting, believe in the Lord, keep working and day by day, you can realize dreams."
If you thought the Brewers were ready to fall a few weeks ago when a 2-5 week included being no-hit, think again. Since Justin Verlander's no-hitter against them on June 12, the Brewers have gone 14-4, their starters have gone 9-1 they have built the best record in the National League.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.