The Phillies won 6-2 today against the Brewers and were able to prevent the season sweep. The only time the two teams will meet again would be in the playoffs, which we're sure everyone would take. However, the series brought up a key problem on the team, the bench. Pinch-hitters were 1 for 14 with a walk in the six games against the Brewers, and little better when bench players started games. Surely a bench is not expected to hit 300 or perform at the level of the starters, because by definition the bench will be formed of lesser players. However, the bench as has been constituted has not produced nearly enough.
Pat Gillick had a great little plan for this year's bench. Bring in some veterans (David Dellucci, Abraham Nunez, Alex Gonzalez, Sal Fasano) who knew the majors and knew how to hit. Dellucci, Nunez and Fasano all had career years for themselves in 2005, and Alex Gonzalez had always been a starter, if nothing really special. Shane Victorino was the lone holdover from the 2005, and he had only been with the big club during the stretch run in September, and performed admirably.
But that plan went awry early on, when Dellucci came out of the gate struggling (3 for 20 with a double in April), Alex Gonzalez went 1 for April, Sal Fasano proved to not be able to make contact with the ball (13 Ks in 29 at-bats in April and only 6 hits and 1 walk), and Abraham Nunez, who has become the #1 bat off the bench in pinch-hit situations, just kind of blows. And he's tied to a two-year deal! Chris Roberson and Carlos Ruiz came up from AAA and have both struggled, but Roberson is back in Scranton and young players can do poorly their first time in the majors for a variety of reasons, so they cannot be held to task for the bench's shortcomings.
To be fair, David Dellucci has righted the ship in May and is starting to show his power and patience at the plate. Shane Victorino was a TREMENOUS fill-in in CF for the formerly disabled Aaron Rowand, hitting around .345 with 5 doubles, 2 triples and 2 homers, and his re-insertion to the bench will surely provide a spark to it.
But they are only two of the players on this bench, so what happened to the other flame-outs? To start with, Abraham Nunez was never any good. His current 367 OPS is terrible and probably lower than what he actually will end up with, but his career 633 OPS over 1964 at bats is a huge precedent. The man just wasn't very good, and his somewhat decent output last year as a utility man on the St. Louis Cardinals was a huge abberation. Make sure to follow his suckiness at philliesphans.com. Unfortunately, he is bound to continue to crap out for this team because of his multi-year deal.
Next up is Alex Gonzalez. He was so bad that he retired to pursue other options. His stay with the Phillies ended with him getting 4 hits in 36 AB, 2 walks and no extra base hits. He also started at first base several times and didn't exactly play stellar defense. The inevitable occured on Sunday May 21st, and he was dropped from the team, but his negative influence on the team showed up in several games and probably cost them several runs and even games.
Then there is Sal Fasano, Philadelphia legend. Because of a last name, a fu manchu, and a cheering section (Sal's Pals), he's become a local media darling and been called a 'throwback' to the 1993 Phillies team. He even has a MySpace. Yeah, except they could hit. He is hitting .235, has 25 Ks and 3 walks in 68 AB, and has 4 doubles and 1 homer, which was hit on April 7th. And it's not like he could ever really hit, sporting a career average of .223, and a slugging percentage of .400. He does have 42 home runs, so he sports a little power...when he actually makes contact with the ball. He does this so little that his actual power output is actually lower than Jimmy Rollins' career slugging percentage (.413). But hey, he's gritty and dives for 0-2 foul bunts so a lot of people love him and were initially fooled by him. Some still are fooled. This man simply is a weak weak major league player, despite the likability.
But there is hope guys and gals! That blockhead Chris Coste, he of the 1.305 OPS in Spring Training, has been called up. His .177 average, .236 on-base percentage, and 8 doubles and 2 home runs don't count, of course, because he's 33 years old and is a good story for the club. His 0-3 with a HBP start is probably an indicator of what is to come for his surely short big-league stay (starting catcher Mike Lieberthal is due back very soon), but sometimes a nice story is a nice story.
So what happened? Gillick either overrated these guys or knew they stunk and simply didn't care. He already said they 'weren't good enough' before the season began, but bringing in guys like Nunez, Gonzalez and Fasano weren't a good plan at all. The choice seems fairly clear, because Mike Lieberthal is going to force the hand of the Phillies soon enough. Sal Fasano and Abraham Nunez have to be dumped, regardless of Nunez's two-year deal. Neither is likely to happen, but Carlos Ruiz at least has some upside at catching, while Fasano has topped out, and Nunez is simply WRETCHED. A possible solution is to bring up several well-performing players in AAA Scranton, which has been brought up before. Joe Thurston(2B/3B/LF) has swung the stick very well, as has Brennan King(3B). They could both take the spots of Nunez and/or Fasano and even if they flame out themselves they could not do any worse than the current bunch. A more likely scenario involves some type of deal that Gillick would be able to try.
In any event, watch out Mikey Liebs, Chris 'Charlie Brown' Coste may pull a Tonya Harding on you in order to stay up in the majors.