A lot of pundits have criticized Phillies GM Pat Gillick for not making another deal at the deadline. Not me. Giving up a prime prospect for a situational lefty reliever would have been a mistake. The price for two months of Manny being Manny would have been too high, especially with the season Pat Burrell is having. Call me crazy, but I like how the Phillies are set up for the stretch run and beyond.
Cole Hamels is a top tier ace. While it’s too soon to say Brett Myers is “back”, his fastball is back in the 92-mph range, he has only allowed one home run in three starts and his control has improved. His head seems to be screwed on tight at the moment, but it doesn’t take much to knock the screw loose. The success of Myers is still the key to a deep playoff run.
Behind Hamels and Myers, you have the lone trade acquisition, Joe Blanton. While Blanton isn’t Sabathia or Harden, he's fresh from not pitching much at all in July and will help to keep the bullpen strong by throwing seven solid innings per start. You have the ageless Jamie Moyer, who has been remarkably consistent. And you have Kyle Kendrick, who probably wasn’t quite ready to be a number three starter at this stage of his career and is better suited to the lower pressure role of number five.
This rotation won’t clinch a World Series appearance, but it will keep the Phillies in the game on a daily basis so the offense can do its job while the bullpen continues to shut the door. Chase Utley is hitting the ball hard again. Ryan Howard’s batting average has risen to a nearly respectable .242 as he continues to hit when it counts. Shane Victorino’s hot July has carried over into August. Pat Burrell is having arguably his most consistent season as a pro. Jimmy Rollins said recently that he’s just starting to feel 100% healthy, which could be a sign of even better things.
When you consider that the Marlins’ only addition was Arthur Rhodes and the Mets didn’t do a darn thing, the N.L. East is Philadelphia’s to lose. This week’s Phillies-Marlins series could set the tone for the stretch run. Now that the Marlins have some of their young starters healthy to go along with a powerful offense, Florida is more of a threat than the Mets, who have proven to be even older and more brittle than I thought. If Mets fans are counting on Ryan Church to ride in on a white horse and Fernando Tatis to continue swatting late inning home runs to rescue Billy Wagner after a few more blown saves, I feel bad for them.
In acquiring Joe Blanton, I think the Phillies gave up a future star in second basemen Adrian Cardenas, who would never see the big leagues as a Phil. But the Phillies were smart to hold on to their solid young arms, even if they’re not in the phenom category. Carlos Carrasco. J.A. Happ. Joe Savery. Kyle Drabek, who recently returned from Tommy John surgery. Not a bad quartet right there. Barring a trade, Hamels, Myers, Blanton and Kendrick are locks for the 2009 rotation, under 30 and under contract. How many other teams can say that?
Getting back to the present… it may be a tough pill for Mets fans to swallow, but the Phillies are the most complete, durable team in an admittedly flawed division. The Phillies have climbed back to the top of the N.L. East and it would probably take underachieving of Mets-like proportions for the Fightins to lose it down the stretch.