The Phillies' biggest problem so far this year has been the starting pitching. Going into today's games, their starters are dead last in the majors with a team ERA of 6.45, almost a full point higher than the 29th-ranked Red Sox (5.58). The starters have also pitched fewer innings than any other staff in baseball, putting a heavy workload on a bullpen already missing one of its key components in J.C. Romero. True, part of this is due to occurrances like Cole Hamels having to leave 2 starts early due to freak injuries, but it's mainly due to the performance of the starters.
Cole Hamels: After missing most of spring training and his Opening Day start due to his elbow injury, and the resulting lack of sharpness in his first couple of starts, he's looked good in his last 3 starts (2 of which he left early due to the aforementioned freak injuries). Last night against Atlanta, he was lights out for most of the game. His location looked great and his changeup was totally on, especially in the first couple of innings when there was as much as a 10 MPH difference between the changeup and his fastball. He's gotten off to a rocky start, but he'll most likely wind up with 15-18 wins and an ERA in the high-2.00s or low 3.00s, and he'll be going deeper into games as the season goes on.
Brett Myers: I'm disappointed in what we've seen from him so far. True, he's got the best numbers on the staff, but that's really not saying much at this point. He's not as bad as he was before he was sent to AAA last year for a tuneup, but between the way he pitched when he came back, the fact that he dropped weight during the offseason and came into camp in great shape, and is in a contract year, i expected him to come roaring out with a monster season. Hasn't happened so far. Well, we could look at the bright side: if he keeps pitching like this, it won't cost the Phillies a lot to bring him back.
Jamie Moyer: I'm a pretty regular listener to 950 ESPN, and Moyer's been getting hammered by public opinion more than National League bats this week (if you can believe that). He definitely looked like the 46-year-old that he is in his start against the Mets this week, and while he hasn't been great this season, that's really the only one he's been torched in. Don Tollefson brought up a good point about Moyer on his show this morning: he's one of those pitchers (like Greg Maddux), whose success depends on the umpires giving them the corners. If the plate is getting squeezed, they're in trouble, and Moyer's run into a couple of umps like that during his starts this year. All pitchers go through slumps, and if you look at Moyer's career, he's no exception. During his career, he's been in worse spots than he is now, and he's managed to pull himself out. If he doesn't break out of this by mid-June, i'll be worried.
Joe Blanton: Blanton's going right now against the Braves, and through the first 3 innings, he's looking pretty good. He had his best start of the season so far last Monday night in St. Louis, and he got off to a brutal start with Oakland last year before being dealt to the Phils, so hopefully he's coming around.
Chan Ho Park: Honestly, i wasn't thrilled when they signed him this offseason. He's only posted an ERA under 4.00 once since 2001 (last year as a middle reliever with the Dodgers), and even when he has been a starter, he hasn't hit 200 IP since 2001. If you look at ability alone, i almost wonder why the Phillies ate the rest of Adam Eaton's contract AND are paying Park (except for the fact that Eaton complained about being bumped to the bullpen when he was getting shelled in 5 out of 6 starts and was by far the most unpopular Phillie here since arguably the Steve Jeltz-Juan Bell days). He pitched great against the Mets the other night, but he's been bad the rest of the year. If there's a change in the rotation, i think he's the first to go.
But what do they do? The drumbeat for J.A. Happ has been getting louder all season, especially to replace Park or Moyer, but he's obviously not going to be more than a 4th or 5th starter at the major league level. If he couldn't beat out Eaton in 2007 or 2008, or Park in spring training this year, don't hold your breath about him being your savior in the rotation. Kyle Kendrick has turned out to be my worst fear: a Bruce Ruffin redux, a mid-season call-up who comes in and pitches great as a rookie, exceeding any expectations, then disappears into obscurity. They have no pitchers in the high minors who are close to being called up and able to contribute, like Atlanta with Tommy Hanson, or Florida with David Price.
That leaves a trade as an option. They really don't have any prospects to give up, and MLB doesn't allow teams to trade draft picks like other sports, so tyring to pry a good starter from a rebuilding team for prospects really isn't an option at this point. There's the salary-dump/fire-sale option, which could be really interesting this year with the economy being the way it is. I've never been a big fan of renting players, because that blows up in your face as much as it helps. Well, we'll start seeing what's out there in about a month or so as teams decide if they can compete both on-field as well as financially. Should get really interesting really soon.