Hitting wins Championships? Phils’ focus shifts to an interesting offseason

By Stephen Wildman
Senior Baseball Insider – swildman@highhopesblog.com
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1st baseman Ryan Howard's last at-bat was only a microcosm of the Phillies's batters' NLCS lack of success (photo: philly.com)

When the dust settled after a familiar one-run loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 6 of  the NLCS, the eliminated Phillies still felt that this was their series to lose.  And who could blame them.  No one outside of a few mile radius of the Golden Gate Bridge thought the Giants had any shot in dethroning the Phillies as the reigning National League Champions.  Apparently, however, a team of journeymen coupled with excellent starting pitching and a strong bullpen seemed sufficient enough to chop down the overwhelming favorites.

Without playing the blame game, there were plenty of factors that weighed into the Phils’ NLCS failure.  Call it lack of timely hitting, players not showing up, or a conservative approach at the plate, but the 500 lb gorilla in the room remains the Phillies’ .216 batting average during the series, including a sub .200 with runners in scoring position.  This prompts an important question:  does the Phillies front office need to make a major move to bring another run-producer to a squad that still has the national label of an offensive juggernaut?

The emotional answer after this postseason would be “yes,” however, the more practical answer is most likely “no.” 

It’s easy to forget two postseasons ago when the Phillies slugged their way to a World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.  Does anyone really believe that two years makes that much of a difference in production for players in their young 30s?  The players on the roster know how to hit, and they know how to win games.

The most important move for GM Ruben Amaro, besides attempting to resign right fielder Jayson Werth, may be to sit on his hands until Spring Training next year.  (Since the Werth topic has been discussed nonstop throughout the season and this two-day old offseason, we’ll try to focus on other areas of the team.)  Truth be told, signing Werth and a few touch ups here or there may be the only two moves anyway.  With $143 million tied to 18 current players for the 2011 season, the team is over this year’s budget already.  Unless Amaro can make a few crafty moves with a couple of less than team-friendly contracts (Raul Ibanez, Joe Blanton and Danys Baez, to name a few), keeping Werth may be the only big splash he can make.

A few things are for sure:

1)  The bullpen needs restocking.  After a rocky, injury filled last couple of years, it seems that J.C. Romero’s time with the organization has come to an end.  Romero could not be trusted in tight situations as the team’s lefty specialist.  Hopefully, Antonio Bastardo can build on a strong September to fill that role.  Chad Durbin is another name who the Phillies would rather not see again after his performance in Game 4 of the NLCS.  Despite this year’s postseason struggles, Durbin is still a serviceable one to two inning reliever and will have a few teams vying for his services.  Resigning Ryan Madson is a no-brainer, and should be the team’s top priority in regards to the bullpen.

2)  The starting rotation is set.  A rotation of Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt, or H2O as they’re lovingly called, is as good as it gets in the National League.  Throw in Blanton (if they can’t move him) and Kendrick/Worley as number 4 and 5, and this team can easily top the 90-95 win mark again during the regular season.

3)  The core players need to find their mojo.  Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard.  You will most certainly see these names on Opening Day, 2011.  The question is, will they return to their clutch ways of their 2008 campaign and, more importantly, stay healthy throughout the year?  For this team to win 97 games during the regular season this season was nothing short of a miracle considering the amount of man hours on the disabled list they had to endure.  During the playoffs, however, none of the regular starters missed one game due to injury.  Obviously, no one can predict injuries, but perhaps after an embarrassing showing in their loss to the Giants, the team will find a motivation that has been lacking for the past year and a half.

The fact remains that the Phillies are still the class of the National League, and are poised to once again extend their season well into October of the 2011 season.  It’s also safe to say that, despite their current emotional state, the Phillies Nation will be ready to tack on 81 more games to the current sell out streak at The Bank… white towels and all.

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