Short of a literal torch being passed from, say, Greg Dobbs to Adam Eaton, it's hard to think of a better metaphor for the Phillies' 2007 playoff hopes than what transpired at Wrigley Field Monday night.
Just hours after the news that the Phils had made a trade for Reds pitcher Kyle Lohse, Cole Hamels pitched perhaps his best game of the year, cooling off the very hot Chicago Cubs in eight brilliant innings of a 4-1 win. The celebration was tempered, though, by the news that two more players would be spending quality time with the trainer, and perhaps heading to the disabled list. RF Shane Victorino strained his right calf running out a ground ball in the 4th and left the game; his replacement, Michael Bourn, sprained his left ankle just an inning later chasing a foul ball (and initially looked like he might have broken both ankles). Phils beat writer Mike Radano guesses that Bourn's injury is less serious; for now, both are day-to-day ("aren't we all?") and will be examined--MRI for Victorino, X-ray for Bourn--Tuesday in Chicago.
With MVP candidate Chase Utley already on the shelf for a minimum of two and a half more weeks, probably closer to three or four, the loss of Victorino likely would erode the Phillies offense from the NL's best to a bit above average. Losing Bourn as well creates a serious erosion in the lineup, as well as with outfield defense. Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell--the four legitimate hitters still at or near full strength--have been superb in July, but it's asking a lot for them not to cool down at some point. Tadahito Iguchi is off to a great start with the club, but he's no Utley.
This means that the pitchers, who have been carried by the bats all season, are going to have step up at least until the lineup gets back to full strength.
Can they do it? Hamels shows no signs of second-half slumping; in four starts since the break, he's 2-1 with a 2.57 ERA while allowing under a base runner per inning. So long as he's used judiciously--and though I got nervous when he came out to start the 8th having thrown 103 pitches already, his quick work that frame allowed him to finish with an acceptable 110--it seems he'll keep it up, and maybe even make a run at 20 wins after all.
But what about the guys who don't have full websites devoted to spreading their legends? With the addition of Lohse, the rest of the rotation sets up as Eaton, Jamie Moyer, Lohse and Kyle Kendrick, with J.D. Durbin probably bumped to long relief. Through his career, Eaton has been a slightly worse pitcher after the all-star break (29-23, 4.80) than before it (34-38, 4.41). He was 7-3 in August and September last season, but don't ask about the ERA; as with the Phillies this year, Eaton had enough six-inning, four-run starts to let a good offensive team win the game for him. Because of the injuries, he might not have that much support for awhile.
As for Moyer, his work last year after coming over in an August trade from Seattle (5-2, 4.03) contributed to the Phillies' late charge. For the last 21 years of his career, Moyer has been almost frighteningly consistent on both sides of the break: 4.16 ERA before, 4.17 after. Since getting hammered in Los Angeles two weeks ago, Moyer has turned in consecutive strong starts--albeit against the light-hitting Padres and Pirates--and has somewhat allayed fears that his 44 year-old left arm was losing starch as the year wore on.
Kendrick, of course, is a rookie who already seems to be pitching well above his head. But it might be an advantage that his next couple opponents--the Brewers and Marlins--haven't yet seen him. As Kendrick starts facing opponents for the second and third times, as he will over the final seven or so weeks of the season--his risk of turning into a pumpkin, or Justin Germano, will rise.
Then there's Lohse. In his remarks announcing the trade today, GM Pat Gillick referred to Lohse's playoff experience with the Twins from 2002-2004. While this is technically true, it wouldn't seem to have much bearing on whether the 28 year-old righty can help the Phillies get to the postseason. For what it's worth, August is the only month in which Lohse has a lifetime winning record (12-11) and an ERA below 4 (3.96). Probably not worth all that much, but you take what you can get.
Then there's the bullpen. The report from the indispensable Radano that DL'd reliever Ryan Madson is expected back sometime this year is great news, and Brett Myers looked pretty sharp in notching his first save since May. Durbin might have the swing-and-miss stuff to be effective in relief, Geoff Geary's numbers suggest that he got himself straightened out while with Ottawa, and J.C. Romero--now the lone lefty in the pen--has been effective (1.17 ERA) since Gillick snagged him off waivers.
That's the good news. The bad is that Tom Gordon, the putative setup man, can't pitch consecutive days, and Myers probably won't for awhile at least. Romero's walks--he has 8 in 7.2 innings with the Phillies--will catch up with him, probably soon. Jose Mesa has nothing but a straight fastball and middle-aged guile; Antonio Alfonseca doesn't even have the guile.
Much as it pains me to admit it, the team needs another reliever, ideally a lefty. Pittsburgh's Damaso Marte would be my first choice, but with Bourn likely either hurt or needed to fill in for Victorino, it's dubious that the Phils have a good fit. (Bourn straight up for Marte might have been an awful deal anyway, but it's one the Pirates probably would have jumped at.)
Maybe Durbin or Geary steps up in a big way, Gordon keeps it together enough to be effective for two more months, and Myers returns as the absolutely dominant closer he looked like for awhile this spring. Maybe Moyer summons up his full Jedi powers in pursuit of one last shot at a ring. Maybe Eaton has the best stretch of his career, Lohse decides to earn himself a few million extra bucks in his last months before free agency, and Hamels goes all Orel Hershiser 1988 on the league. Longshots all, but unless and until the Phils' walking wounded return, the team's hopes rest on its collection of arms.