Marginalizing Transitions

Concerns about the Phillies age and offense are becoming more pronounced with the continued injury woes of Chase Utley. Utley’s knee tendinitis has not improved with rest and a cortisone shot; according to this ESPN story, surgery might be the next step.

After Jayson Werth‘s free agent departure and the failure to acquire a veteran replacement to play right field, Domonic Brown was going to get a long look as the regular right fielder; the combination of the club continually looking for short-term, veteran replacements made it appear that they weren’t prepared to go forward with Brown and no safety net; now Brown is out for 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand.

Losing Utley for a significant amount of time would be another detriment to the Phillies offense.

People are concerned; doomsayers are referencing the advanced age of the team’s core as a basis to call their expected dominance into question.

The mistake that’s being made is believing that the same offense that pounded pitchers into submission and won the World Series in 2008 and the NL pennant in 2009 would be necessary to win in 2011.

It’s not.

While those Phillies teams were built based on outscoring their opposition, the 2010-2011 versions were transitioning to reliance on superior starting pitching. The additions (all within the past 15 months) of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee have taken the focus off of how many runs the Phillies score and transformed into how few they’re going to allow.

If there were an injury to one of the top four starting pitchers, then there would be reason to worry; but as long as the pitchers are healthy, the Phillies aren’t going to need to score as many runs as they did in 2008-2009 when their starting rotation consisted of Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick.

Lee was acquired in 2009 and fronted the rotation, was traded and now returns as a free agent. With the above starting pitching—aside from Lee and Hamels—you’d better score a lot.

Now? Not so much.

Of course it’s nice to have the combination of a supercharged offense to go with a great starting rotation, but it’s not as if they’re going to come apart without the scoring machine running on all cylinders.

If Jimmy Rollins has a good comeback year and they get any offense at all from right field, they can withstand an Utley absence; not because they have a suitable replacement, but that their starting pitching is so dominant.

As far as Utley goes, there’s been discussion as to whom would replace him at second base if he was out for a significant period. What I would do is think in a different manner. Instead of finding a second baseman, I’d shift Placido Polanco to second and see if the Royals were interested in trading former third baseman and now left fielder Alex Gordon; perhaps the Athletics would talk about Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Gordon wasn’t a terrible defensive third baseman and he needs to get out of Kansas City; Kouzmanoff doesn’t get on base, but has some pop and is a very good fielder.

It’s easier to find a third baseman than to find a second baseman and neither of those players are going to complain about being usurped once Utley returns; both are cheap and would function as a bench player once the regular lineup is back in place.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe and it should be available on Amazon and other fine retailers shortly.

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  1. #1 by The Other Mike on March 10, 2011 - 6:43 pm

    Perhaps the issue is the lofty expectations placed on the Phillies after they acquired Cliff Lee.

    Media types and fans alike had all crowned the Phillies champions months ago. Now that there is a perceived crack in the foundation, the detractors are free to declare “Aha!” rather loudly so everyone can hear.

    The Phillies will be under a similar microscope as the Yankees, where every minor scrape and bruise and bad outing and slump will cause panic in the streets.

    The Phillies have the right to win the World Series, not only due to their level of talent, but because the sensationalist media already said so. Anything that threatens that will be blown wildly out of proportion.

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