BEN: Let's get right to it, At 38-41, do you expect the Phillies to compete for a playoff spot?
LIZ: I really don’t expect them to contend for a playoff spot. True, the NL East has been a black hole of, well, everything lately, but both the Braves and the Nationals would have to suck way more than they have thus far for the Phillies to have a chance. And that assumes that the Phillies can up their level of play, which I’m not sure they can do.
BEN: A lot of rumors are beginning to swirl about the Phillies possibly moving Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, and/or Chase Utley at the trade deadline. Will any of the scenarios above happen? Why or why not?
LIZ: They could move any and all of them. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has said that he’s not trading anyone, and as much as I’d love to live in that world where the Phillies apparently have the best record in baseball and absolutely no problems, I live in the real world instead. It’s his job to do that, to sound like the Phillies have it all figured out and everything is going according to plan, but it’s abundantly clear that it’s not. Lee and Papelbon were signed at high prices, but they also happen to be exceptionally good. (Discounting Papelbon’s FOUR STRAIGHT BLOWN SAVES. YIKES.) It’ll take the right deal, of course, but Lee and Papelbon are players who can change a team’s postseason future – and their playoff fortunes. Utley could also be moved, though his inability to stay healthy and his decreased level of play have absolutely hurt his trade value. Also, I’d cry if he left. So a big NO to that one.
BEN: Cole Hamels posted Cy-Young type of numbers in 2012 but is currently 2-11 with an ERA of 4.50, what has been the biggest issue?
LIZ: There is no one thing that’s caused his unbelievably ugly stat line this year. He was cheated out of some wins thanks to the Phillies inability to score runs while he’s on the mound. (Run support has always been an issue for Hamels. One of those great mysteries of life.) But lack of run support doesn’t explain his inflated (nearly obese) ERA. Hamels has been racking up more hits per nine innings than he has since 2009, and he’s walking batters all over the place. But the good news is that his K/9 and home run rate are both around his career numbers. I’m pretty confident that he’ll be able to bounce back, whether it’s sometime in the middle of this season (please God) or over the offseason. But until he does… woof.
BEN: Domonic Brown couldn’t live up to the lofty expectations over the past couple seasons, yet manager Charlie Manuel continued to believe in him. Lately, Brown has emerged into one of the best young outfielders in baseball. What’s the biggest difference between Brown now and last year?
LIZ: I think that part of it is consistent playing time. Dom Brown had a torrid spring training, and thankfully came out of it as the Phillies’ every day left fielder. He’s been there (nearly) every day. And during spring training, there were numerous reports of Wally Joyner, the Philles’ assistant hitting coach, working with Brown to help him with his swing. Whatever he did worked.
BEN: The off-season signing of Delmon Young was questionable due to having to play the field instead of DH-ing. Has Young been a liability defensively?
LIZ: I’m trying to think of a way in which Delmon Young hasn’t been a liability, and I’m not coming up with one. Nope. He does have a good arm in right field, but the man has to actually get to the ball first. He’s been a disaster offensively as well, though the Phillies insist on sticking with him because he’s a historically slow starter. I’m guessing they got that off of a six-year-old scouting report.
BEN: Some people were beginning to write off Ryan Howard but he is silently putting up respectable numbers at .272 with 10 HR’s and 41 RBI (change accordingly). Compare Howard’s current production to back at the height of his career. Secondly, is he fully healthy?
LIZ: Oh the heady days of 2006-2009, when Ryan Howard was hitting home runs almost at will. Oh my God, Howard was so awesome then. And it’s sad for me to say (and think and watch every single night) that I don’t think he’s ever going to get back there. It’s nice to see that his average is up and his power is starting to trickle back, but it's not even close to what it was (or what he's being paid for). As for the second question, he is not fully healthy. He's dealing with a knee issue, and that's in addition to his still recovering Achilles, which he hurt in October 2011. So he's not moving really well right now.
BEN: Before Chase Utley’s recent injury, he was playing his best baseball in two or three years. Can Utley keep up that level of play?
LIZ: I'll argue with you a bit on one point -- he was playing well at the very start of the season, but he'd cooled off considerably by the time he went on the disabled list. I don't think it's impossible for him to sustain that elevated level of play, but I certainly don't expect it anymore. The problems with his knees, which are ongoing, have really taken their toll, as has his age and his all-out style of play. He plays hard -- not that other players don't of course -- but with Utley it's his hallmark, it's what he's known for. It gets harder to do with age, and it's not easy on the body. I don't ever see him backing off of it, though, so the injuries are part of the Utley package now.
BEN: Starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick is on pace to set career-best numbers, why is that?
LIZ: About a year ago, after a few tough starts in his return to the rotation, Kendrick turned on a dime and never looked back. He walked fewer batters and started striking them out instead. And it sounds insubstantial, but he even looked different on the mound. He stopped melting down and letting mistakes build on each other. And now, he's even earned his place in Phillies fandom. Considering how much many fans disliked him once upon a time, that may be his biggest accomplishment.
BEN: Roy Halladay has been the most consistent pitchers of this generation. On the contrary, Halladay is currently on the DL and posses a disappointing 2-4 record with a ERA of 8.65. Are the days of Halladay being elite gone, and does the club expect him back during 2013?
LIZ: I wish I had an answer for this. With any other pitcher, I would happily make a prediction. But when Halladay started having major issues again this year, something strange happened, and not just to me. I noticed it among many Phillies fans. There was by far more concern about Halladay's wellbeing than that of the team. It wasn't "Oh damn, the Phillies are losing again with Halladay on the mound." It was "Oh God, Halladay's given up a bunch of runs again, is he OK? What's wrong? Please be OK, Roy. Please get better." When Halladay was sucking, it wasn't about the Phillies. It was about him. What does this have to do with the question? I only bring it up to illustrate how hard it was to watch him deteriorate, and how hard it is to think about what the future holds for him. If anyone can bounce back, it's Roy Halladay. Whether it's with the Phillies or another team, I'll be rooting for him.
BEN: Lastly, when the Phillies and Dodgers playing against each other, what immediately comes to mind?
LIZ: I haven’t even mentioned anything yet and I can already hear the boos from your readership.
There are two things that come to mind, one is probably more memorable for Dodgers fans than the other. But both involve Jonathan Broxton. First, for me, is Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS. Shane Victorino's home run, and then Matt Stairs' pinch hit homer. "Stairs rips one into the night" are six words burned into my memory forever. (Video below.)
And while other people may have other memories of the Phillies and the Dodgers postseason meetings, one of the other things I automatically think of is this August 2010 walk-off victory (video below). It's the kid trying to transfer his mojo to the team, another Broxton meltdown, and a series of hits and walks that still get me excited even three years later. I've always joked that Broxton must have nightmares about Carlos Ruiz whenever he gets within 50 miles of Philadelphia.