Going into the season the Phillies had some obvious question marks, but none more glaring than the bullpen. Last year’s bullpen was bad. How bad? I won’t bore you with statistics, but suffice it to say that when you’re regularly pitching Jose Mesa and Antonio Alfonseca, you’ve got problems.
This season, Brad Lidge was given a shot to finish games. It was a gamble, handing over closing duties to a guy with a notoriously fragile psyche. Philadelphia, I’m told, isn’t the ideal place to rebuild one’s confidence. But so far this season, Lidge has been perfect. And the Phillies bullpen, amazingly, has been the best in the NL. Moreover, the team’s offense has been second only to the Chicago Cubs.
Yet all is not well in the City of Brotherly Shove, as the Phils find their lead over the dreaded New York Metropolitans shrinking by the day.
So what do the Phillies need to win the NL East, if not bullpen help or offense?
You heard me. The Phillies are good enough as assembled to win the NL East. The problem isn’t making the playoffs (not that anything is assured). The problem is what happens once they get there.
The Phillies simply don’t have the kind of dominant starting pitching that it takes to win in the playoffs. Cole Hamels is the real thing, for sure. But after Hamels the talent level drops off considerably.
Brett Myers was supposed to be the team’s no. 2, but right now he’s in the minors. He’s scheduled to rejoin the team this week, but it’s hardly a safe bet to assume he’s rediscovered what it takes to dominate hitters.
The popular rumor at the moment is that the Phillies will trade for Oakland SP Joe Blanton, who certainly has a solid track record. But you have to be nervous about trading for a guy with a 1.41 WHIP and an ERA just under 5.00.
Such is the tricky situation Phillies GM Pat Gillick finds himself in. He has a paper thin farm system that he doesn’t want to further deplete. Yet he needs to acquire a top-flight starter if this team has any chance of advancing in October. Moreover, the best starters – Sabathia and Harden – are off the market.
Blanton might be the Phils’ best bet. He’s young. He’s cheap. And he’ll remain under team control through the 2010 season, so he won’t be just a two month rental. Last season was Blanton’s break-out. He pitched 230 innings, recording 140 K’s, a 1.20 WHIP and a nearly 4:1 K/BB. He probably won’t repeat those numbers this season. But, because he has been pretty crappy so far, his price probably isn’t as high as it was in February, when it was rumored the A’s were asking for Homer Bailey and Joey Votto for Blanton.
There’s been a rumor that the Giants will shop Matt Cain, and that the Phillies could be buyers. But that seems highly unlikely. A.J. Burnett is available, but he’s also been very erratic this season – and he’s a total d-bag.
No, I suspect it’ll be Blanton. And that’ll be an upgrade over Kyle Kendrick, to be sure. But while Blanton might bolster the Phils’ thin staff, he isn’t the kind of pitcher who is likely to dominate in the postseason. He’s a groundball pitcher, and that will no doubt serve him well in Citizen Bank Park, but he’s no Johan Santana.
Unfortunately, the only strikeout pitcher the Phillies are likely to add between now and July 31 is Brett Myers. And that’s far from a safe bet.
UPDATE: The Phillies have traded for Joe Blanton.