I am not scared of the Philadelphia Phillies. This is a team that won 102 games last year, has won the National League East five years running and played the role of King to the Mets Jester since 2007. And yet six games into the 2012 season, I do not fear the Phils.
Six games is a very small sample size, but the Phillies look like a different team. It is widely recognized that the Phillies’ window to win may be closing; the team features several, aging players (such as Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco), bloated, long-term contracts (such as Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee) and impending free agents (Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino). But in the short term, the Phils also have a problem: offense.
Currently, Philly is missing two of its top run-producers: Howard and Chase Utley. Howard, recovering from surgery on his Achilles tendon, is a liftime .275/.368/.560 hitter and has averaged 44 homers a year since 2006. Utley is nursing a left knee injury and is a career .290/.377/.505 hitter, capable of 30 or more homers a year. Howard will be out until at least late May and Utley’s status is even more unclear.
To replace Howard and Utley, the Phillies have turned to Jim Thome/Laynce Nix/John Mayberry/Ty Wigginton at first base and rookie Freddy Galvis at second base. Thome’s best days are well behind him, while Nix and the former Met Wigginton are utility players (Mayberry has more ability and has hit for power in the minors, but never received regular playing time in the Majors). Galvis owns a .246/.292/.321 minor league batting line with 18 homers in 2179 plate appearances. In other words, the drop-off from Howard and Utley to the first base super-platoon and Galvis is huge.
So far, the duo has been sorely missed. Over their first six games, Philadelphia has scored 18 runs, the same as the Mets and good for second to last in the National League. Last season, the Phillies pounded out 43 runs over their first six games, when Howard was in the lineup; Utley was on the shelf then too, but the point is that the Phillies put up a lot more runs early last season than they have so far in 2012. In addition, the Mets and the Phillies have hit four home runs each, while the Mets have done a far better job getting on base (the Amazins own a .338 OBP, while the Phils is just .282).
With the big guns out, the guy in the lineup the Mets will have neutralize is Hunter Pence. The right fielder is off to a rollicking start in 2012, going 9-23 with a homer and two doubles. Carlos Ruiz is also off to a hot start, recording six hits in sixteen at bats with a homer.
Of course, the Phillies have a terrific pitching staff and can win low scoring games, but not having to worry about an offensive slug-fest at Citizens Bank Park this weekend should take some pressure off the Mets starters. Hopefully, the Amazins can break out of their two game offensive funk and right the ship in Philly (and what better place to score runs than Philadelphia). By taking the series against the Phillies, the team can put the series loss against the Nationals behind them and resume its surprising start to the 2012 season.