As the Mets kickoff a three-game series against their division rival Phillies tonight, I did a quick Q&A with Matt P. from The 700 Level:
Mike Nichols: With Brett Myers out indefinitely with a hip injury, do you think it is necessary for the Phillies to acquire a top of the line starter to compliment Cole Hamels or after seeing Antonio Bastardo throw two solid outings and the rest of the staff settling in has the urgency to acquire a starting pitcher lessened?
Matt from The 700 Level: I think they should and will continue to seek another arm for the rotation, and that their goal will more than likely be a #2 to Hamels. They were already looking for pitching before Myers go hurt, albeit more so for depth, like a 4-5 guy. You can never have enough starting pitching, and even if Bastardo continues to pitch well, no team is ever more than a pitch away from needing another starter, as we found out with Brett’s season coming to an end in an instant. The Phillies had a great run of health in the rotation last year (although it wasn’t a really good thing in the case of Adam Eaton), but there are no guarantees that Myers’ hip injury will be the last of them in 2009.
Regarding Bastardo’s great start, it’s definitely encouraging, but it could also benefit the Phillies by showing the league that they aren’t completely desperate for an arm. When Myers went down, it was clear to everyone that Ruben Amaro Jr would need to trade to replace him, putting any potential trade partners in the driver’s seat. That may still be the case, but nearly as much after the run Bastardo, Happ, Blanton, and Moyer have put together since the Myers injury. In short, the urgency has lessened, but the overall need is still there. As opposed to an immediate move, we’ll probably see something closer to the deadline.
Mike Nichols: What do you make of Jimmy Rollins slow start? Are you concerned Rollins struggles will last the season or do you expect a typical Rollins second half?
Matt from The 700 Level: It’s hard not to be concerned with a leadoff hitter (and past MVP) hitting .220 in mid-June. I’m not surprised to see the lack of power in Jimmy’s numbers, but his average and production with RISP have been off-putting. The Phillies have gotten better-than-expected production from the bottom of their lineup, with Pedro Feliz (7) and Carlos Ruiz (8) both hitting over .300, but when the lineup gets turned over, J-Roll has been something of a rally-killer lately. Fortunately, the lineup is strong enough to withstand a slump or two at a time, so the overall run production has been high. But to answer your question, I do think Rollins will snap out of it. His BABIP is far below average, and there are reports in Philly that he found a mechanical flaw in his swing while watching tape this past weekend.
Jimmy is too good a player not to come out of it soon, and it’s reassuring to know the Phillies are still a first place team even while he struggles. Finally, one thing that is continuously overlooked in many the discussions of his slump though is that he is playing some amazing defense, as always. He is still contributing quite a bit to this team’s success.
Mike Nichols: The Phillies are a Major League best 21-8 on the road this season. Why do you believe the Phillies have had so much success on the road this year?
Matt from The 700 Level: The fact that they’ve played six games in DC probably doesn’t hurt. But, they’ve been successful in pretty much every opposing stadium they’ve been to, losing only one away series this season, a two-gamer to your Mets. Maybe it’s the confidence that comes with knowing you’re entering enemy territory as the Champs, upstaging the home team. I really don’t know. This has been a popular question in Philly though, only more so about their shortcomings at home than their successes on the road.
Early on, the World Series aftermath was dominating the homestands. As fans, much of our attention was on the return of the Champs, the celebration, and the spotlight, and it’s impossible for that not to have been a factor for the players too. Next, we lost Harry Kalas. The Phillies would never use that as an excuse for poor play at home, but considering how upsetting it was for me, and I never even met him, the players had to be affected. He had an unparalleled closeness with the team, and his passing is taking time to get over.
Being able to perform well on the road is a great asset, and hopefully it continues. Still, I think a lot of the home-road splits could be coincidence, and the records will even out some, certainly with the home wins increasing.
Mike Nichols: With the Mets injured riddled roster not expected to be healthy for the foreseeable future and the Phillies having a seemingly much easier schedule over the next three weeks, how many games in front do you expect the Phillies to be when they meet the Mets again on July 3rd?
Matt from The 700 Level: Interestingly, I sent you the same question with neither of us having seen the other’s set yet, so we are clearly both wondering what happens next for the other guys. I’m not sure I agree about that “easier” schedule though. The Phils just played the Dodgers and were out west for over a week, and now they get the Mets in Queens and the first-place Red Sox in Philly, kicking off a long stretch against the AL East. The Orioles suck, but Toronto can play, and Tampa Bay is as dangerous as a .500 team can get. They’ll probably have a chip on their shoulder after October too. Once we’re done with interleague, we see the Mets and Braves again. That’s certainly not easier than the sets we just saw, which included the Rockies, Nats, Marlins, and Padres. I think the road ahead will be pretty tough; the Phillies have never been great against the AL, with interleague play being one of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2008 (until the playoffs).
Still, the Phils are relatively healthy, despite losing Brad Lidge to the DL today and obviously the huge injury to Myers. The Mets, on the other hand, have been hit with a plague, and their upcoming schedule is pretty tough as well. In three weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the lead at about 6 games, but it could be down to 2 or 3 just as easily.
Mike Nichols: I always had a lot of respect for Harry Kalas as a broadcaster and enjoyed they way he called a game on television. He, unlike many of his colleagues, understood to let the game speak for itself. What is your favorite personal memory of Kalas?
Matt from The 700 Level: Well put. I agree completely. Although I have quite a few distinct memories of great Harry calls, and I’ll get to those in a second, the best part about Harry Kalas was that his voice was omnipresent in our baseball lives, and always a positive aspect. Good times and bad (and in my 29 years, I’ve seen my share of the latter), countless hours of every summer were spent listening to Harry’s narration. It’s no wonder the Philadelphia region came to appreciate him like a member of the family. Every word out of his mouth was respectful, and you’re right on the money about his ability to let the game speak for itself while others seemingly try to inject themselves. Harry didn’t have to.
But my favorite call was Mike Schmidt’s 500th home run. The radio call of the last pitch of the 2008 World Series is a very close second, but the passion in his still-young voice when Michael Jack cranked that ball will always be with me, even though I was a very young kid when it happened. Maybe because I was.
Mike Nichols: Good stuff. Thanks, Matt.
I also answered a few Mets related questions for Matt, which you can read later today, by clicking here.