Phillies’ Race with Miami for Third Place

Hellickson Will Again Lead the Staff into Battle. Photo by Bill Streicher - USA TODAY Sports.

Hellickson Will Again Lead the Staff into Battle. Photo by Bill Streicher – USA TODAY Sports.

On the last Sunday in February, many fans will get their first look at some players acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies during their first televised game from Clearwater, Florida.

Offensive Competitor:  

With each new year, changes are the norm, but deviations require secondary measures to compensate for unexpected difficulties.

While many locals are aware of the bigger moves by the Phillies during the last three months, they have a distant relationship with other NL East franchises regarding roster changes during the winter. For instance, everyone knows the Miami Marlins lost ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, but what did Miami do to replace him? Drawing a blank? Well, while you were busy, the Marlins added two pitchers each to their rotation and relief corps.

In my complementary piece on the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies battling for third place, Double D, a poster from another site, asked where the Phils will finish this summer. It could be third but the Fish are also in the mix.

Reviewing the starters’ stats without Fernandez’s numbers, Miami confirmed their problem. They would have had a 5.08 ERA for 14th in the National League and just barely ahead of the 5.19 ERA by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Therefore, they picked up Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily from a small pool of available hurlers. So, Double D, the Marlins are gambling on Volquez bouncing back from a poor 162 and on Straily duplicating last year’s success.

Starters:

  • Phillies: 4.41 ERA (9th). Marlins: 4.32 ERA (6th). Braves: 4.87 ERA (14th).
  • Volquez: 34 Gms., 189 1/3 Inn., 10-11, a 5.37 ERA, a 1.5 fWAR and a 1.55 WHIP.
  • Straily: 34 Gms., 191 1/3 Inn.,14- 8, a 3.76 ERA, a 1.2 fWAR and a 1.19 WHIP.
  • Fernandez: 29 Gms., 182 1/3 Inn., 16-8, a 2.86 ERA, a 6.1 fWAR and a 1.12 WHIP.
  • Buchholz: 37 Gms., 21 Starts, 139 1/3 Inn., 8-10, a 4.78 ERA, a 0.5 fWAR and a 1.33 WHIP.

In the other dugout, the red and white will have immediate reinforcements from the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs if Clay Buchholz or the four returning hurlers have any difficulty. In fact, everyone in the Lehigh Valley rotation has the talent to earn a promotion to the majors. As for Buchholz, he rebounded in his last seven starts with a 2.63 ERA after over two months as a reliever, and he also had comebacks in 2013 and 2015. But he is in a new organization and in the final campaign of his contract: He’ll be a free agent for the first time after ’17. Ergo, a solid 162.

Fans Will Be Expecting More Walk-Off Hits This Year from Franco. Photo by Bill Streicher - USA TODAY Sports.

Fans Will Be Expecting More Clutch Hits This Year from Franco. Photo by Bill Streicher – USA TODAY Sports.

Leaning on the dugout railing in late April, Buchholz and pitching coach Bob McClure will be watching Giancarlo Stanton during batting practice. And as he bashes the ball to Ashburn Alley, they’ll discuss his weaknesses: striking out with regularity and not completely controlling his emotions. And if they spot even the smallest detail on the field, they’ll make a mental note for future reference. Meanwhile, Stanton will be paying close attention to Buchholz as well.

IN OTHER WORDS:    

“You have to be confident, but there are no easy at bats. There are no lay ups; there is no wide open pass. There is a guy on the mound who is trying to feed his family.” – Giancarlo M. Stanton

Stanton had 27 homers in each of the last two summers, but he only played in 193 of 324 games due to injuries. Also, he missed time and struggled in 2017’s second half, which is why the Fish scored only two more runs than the Phils after the All-Star break. In other words, the Marlins are one extended absence away from the basement of the NL East. And keep in mind, Miami made no major changes to their offense during the offseason. However, they will be able to play left-side hitter Justin Bour in every contest against the Phillies and their right-handed rotation: Bour saw only limited action against lefties last season.

Runs:

  • First Half: Phillies: 328 (14th). Marlins: 371 (11th). Braves: 307 (15th).
  • Second Half: Phillies: 282 (15th). Marlins: 284 (14th). Braves: 342 (5th).

Hitters:

  • Kendrick: 543 PA, a .255 Avg., 8 HR, 40 RBI, a .691 OPS and a 0.9 fWAR.
  • Saunders: 558 PA, a .253 Avg., 24 HR, 57 RBI, an .815 OPS and a 1.4 fWAR.

Behind the batting cage, Matt Stairs, the new hitting coach, will study Maikel Franco’s swing and watch the ball flying over the right-field fence. Stairs will be preaching to hit to the opposite field, which will force the opposition to work the young slugger differently. Yes, coach will remind him every day between practice cuts in the cage and during film-watching sessions before the game. Don’t pull everything!

After Proving Himself in the Eighth Inning Last Season, Neris is the New Closer. Photo by Charles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sports.

After Proving Himself in the Eighth Inning Last Season, Neris is the New Closer. Photo by Charles LeClaire – USA TODAY Sports.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:  

“On TV the people can see it. On radio you’ve got to create it.” – Bob G. Uecker

For their pen, the Marlins acquired Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa, but they lost their southpaw setup man to free agency. So, Double D, they’ll struggle against left-handed hitters like Michael Saunders with the outcome on the line. Basically, they have one more arm but are short one major weapon.

Relievers:

  • Phillies: 5.05 ERA (13th). Marlins: 3.63 ERA (8th). Braves: 3.95 ERA (10th).
  • Ziegler: 69 Gms., 68 Inn., a 2.25 ERA, 22 Saves, 8 Holds, 3 BS (and 3 Blown Holds), a 1.3 fWAR and a 1.37 WHIP.
  • Tazawa: 53 Gms., 49 2/3 Inn., a 4.17 ERA, 16 Holds (2 Blown Holds), a 0.2 fWAR and a 1.23 WHIP.
  • Benoit: 51 Gms., 48 Inn., a 2.81 ERA, 1 Save, 18 Holds (3 Blown Holds), a 0.5 fWAR and a 1.27 WHIP.
  • Neshek: 60 Gms., 47 Inn., a 3.06 ERA, 18 Holds, a 0.5 fWAR and a 0.94 WHIP.

Even though the red pinstripes have only one lefty in the pen for now, they’ve added Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek to the four hurlers returning from 2016. In other words, Double D, next April will not be a repeat of last year’s scramble in the bullpen.

To sum up, both clubs will have a decent relief corps, the Marlins will have a solid advantage offensively if they can stay healthy, and the Phillies will have the edge with their starting staff. That stated, what will happen this month in Philly regarding baseball on the 25th regardless of the weather? A February thaw.

Both Herrera and Joseph Will Benefit with the Production from the Two New Corner Outfielders. Photo by Charles LeClaire - USA TODAY Sports.

Both Herrera and Joseph Will Benefit Because of the Production from the New Corner Outfielders. Photo by Charles LeClaire – USA TODAY Sports.

The Numerical Bible:

This review is not a sabermetrics article, which means no heavy statistical analysis. But because some readers rely on stats, this is only a reference: no reason to articulate the importance of these numbers.

* Three relief appearances.

Starters:

  • Volquez, 33.5: 34 Gms., 189 1/3 Inn., 10-11, a 5.37 ERA, a 4.57 FIP, a 4.58 xFIP, a 4.72 SIERA, a 1.5 fWAR and a 1.55 WHIP.
  • *Straily, 28: 34 Gms., 191 1/3 Inn.,14- 8, a 3.76 ERA, a 4.88 FIP, a 5.02 xFIP, a 4.67 SIERA, a 1.2 fWAR and a 1.19 WHIP.
  • Fernandez: 29 Gms., 182 1/3 Inn., 16-8, a 2.86 ERA, a 2.30 FIP, a 2.56 xFIP, a 2.81 SIERA, a 6.1 fWAR and a 1.12 WHIP.
  • Buchholz, 32.5: 37 Gms., 21 Starts, 139 1/3 Inn., 8-10, a 4.78 ERA, a 5.06 FIP, a 5.32 xFIP, a 5.09 SIERA, a 0.5 fWAR and a 1.33 WHIP.

Relievers:

  • Ziegler, 37.5: 69 Gms., 68 Inn., a 2.25 ERA, 22 Saves, 8 Holds, 3 BS (and 3 Blown Holds), a 3.10 FIP, a 3.58 xFIP, a 3.43 SIERA, a 1.3 fWAR and a 1.37 WHIP.
  • Tazawa, 30.5: 53 Gms., 49 2/3 Inn., a 4.17 ERA, 16 Holds (2 Blown Holds), a 4.23 FIP, a 3.79 xFIP, a 3.25 SIERA, a 0.2 fWAR and a 1.23 WHIP.
  • Benoit, 39.5: 51 Gms., 48 Inn., a 2.81 ERA, 1 Save, 18 Holds (3 Blown Holds), a 3.90 FIP, a 4.24 xFIP, a 3.91 SIERA, a 0.5 fWAR and a 1.27 WHIP.
  • Neshek, 36.5: 60 Gms., 47 Inn., a 3.06 ERA, 18 Holds, a 3.68 FIP, a 4.07 xFIP, a 3.57 SIERA, a 0.5 fWAR and a 0.94 WHIP.

Hitters:

  • Kendrick, 33.5: 146 Gms., 543 PA, a .255 Avg., a .326 OBP, a .366 SLG, a .111 ISO, a .301 BABIP, 8 HR, 40 RBI, a .691 OPS, a 0.9 fWAR, 10 SB, 2 CS and a 4.8 Spd.
  • Saunders, 30: 140 Gms., 558 PA, a .253 Avg., a .338 OBP, a .478 SLG, a .224 ISO, a .321 BABIP, 24 HR, 57 RBI, an .815 OPS and a 1.4 fWAR.

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