In basketball, there is an oft-cited phenomenon of bad players artificially appearing good on bad teams. In 2013-14, Evan Turner had a good first half, taking a ton of shots for a fast-paced and not-good Sixers team. That performance fooled some national analysts who predicted the Indiana Pacers would not lose another game ever after acquiring him at the trade deadline.
This phenomenon does not typically apply to baseball as player performance isn't as dependent on usage as it is in basketball. Give Michael Martinez the starting shortstop gig on the world's worst baseball team, and no one will be fooled into thinking he's an All-Star. Jerome Williams isn't going to receive any Cy Young votes because he puts up garbage time stats in meaningless innings for the Phillies.
But tonight, something like the bad team effect took over for the Phillies.
David Buchanan got the start, his second since coming back from an ankle injury, and, like his first start, he looked like a savior for the 2015 Phillies rotation. Tonight, he put together a pretty ho-hum line: 6.1 IP, 3 R, 6 H, 3 BB, 4 SO. On any other team that would get the type of shrug a game score of 50 deserves. For the Phillies, that performance is a rare treat, especially as we are in the midst of Hamels's recent struggles. It is very possible that Buchanan is the third best pitcher on this team behind Hamels and Nola. After enduring the recent struggles of the Phillies rotation, starts that simply aren't bad deserve celebration.
Buchanan struggled early, though. Although he didn't give up any runs, he walked two Rays in the first inning. In the second, after a Kevin Keirmaier leadoff double, Buchanan walked Grady Sizemore with two outs. Walking the a player not even good enough for the Phillies came back to bite him as Logan Forsythe followed with a two-run double.
The Phillies took the lead in the bottom of the inning as Matt Moore continued to struggle with his control after coming back from Tommy John Surgery. Case in point: Jeff Francoeur led off with a walk. I'll write that again just to convince you it wasn't a mistake: Jeff Francoeur led off with a walk. Darin Ruf followed with a walk of his own. Later in the inning, with David Buchanan batting, Jeff Francoeur scored after Matt Moore threw a wild pitch.Like Buchanan, Jeff Francoeur, a mediocre player, has looked solid recently for the Phillies. Today he did more of that as he hustled his way into the hearts of Phillies fans. Buchanan ended up walking. Moore gave up three walks and threw a wild pitch in the inning. When Moore did get the ball over the plate, that also led to trouble. Cesar Hernandez followed with a double to left that scored both Ruf and Herrera.
Buchanan cruised through the next three innings, and the Phillies were able to hit Matt Moore again in the 5th. Cesar Hernandez hit a one-out triple and, after a Ben Revere strikeout, Alex Colome replaced Moore on the mound for the Rays. He didn't fare any better as the next three batters (Franco, Francoeur, Ruf) singled to score two more runs for the Phillies. The inning ended on the Ruf single, though, as Francoeur was ruled out on yet another difficult-to-comprehend interpretation of the Buster Posey Rule.
After 6 strong innings, the Phillies sent Buchanan out for the 7th. After giving up a leadoff triple and a one-out single, Buchanan was pulled for Jake Diekman. The bullpen was impressive from there as Diekman, Luis Garcia, and Jeanmar Gomez recorded 3 strikeouts and gave up no hits or walks over the next 5 outs.
Jonathan Papelbon came in for the ninth. Although he did not sign up to save games for a losing team, he pitched like he was interested in having the opportunity to sign up to save games for some other team. Any other team, really. He got Kiermaier, Casali, and Guyer 1-2-3 to record his 341st career save, which ties him for 12th all time. He threw 14 pitches, all of which were strikes. Why other teams aren't hot on trading for him is beyond me as he is clearly one of the top relievers in the game.
The Phillies have now won 4 games in a row. It is only their second winning streak of more than three games this season.
Roster Moves Galore:
Following the game, the Phillies were busy with roster moves in preparation for #NolaDay and beyond.
David Buchanan has been optioned to AAA after winning his first game of the season— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) July 21, 2015
This is odd. I get that the Phillies plan to go with a 4-man rotation over the next week or so and want to keep Buchanan on schedule, but, given that he is obviously one of the best four starters on the Phillies, doesn't it make sense that he do that against major league competition? David Buchanan might have some value as a fifth starter on a good baseball team. Jerome Williams, who will replace Buchanan on the 25-man roster, has not place on any non-Phillies baseball team.
Franco has elbow soreness.— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) July 21, 2015
Franco (right elbow) doesn't believe it's something that will cause him to miss a few games, let alone DL, but will get checked out tomorrow— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) July 21, 2015
I guess it's good that this doesn't seem serious, but I would like the Phillies to show a little more caution here, especially given the content of this tweet from Meghan Montemurro:
According to Mackanin, Franco's elbow has been bothering him last few days though Franco said tonight was first time he's felt that in elbow— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 21, 2015
Franco is an important part of the future of the Phillies. He should probably not be playing through elbow pain. The phrase "better safe than sorry" certainly applies to him. There is no point having him play through discomfort and risk injury on a team that figures to win 55-60 games. Keeping Franco healthy should by a high priority throughout the organization.
RHP Chad Billingsley diagnosed with mild flexor tendinitis. There was no structural damage found, but has been placed on DL.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) July 21, 2015
This might not really matter that much. Sure, it's sad to see Billingsley go on the DL for the millionth day of his career, but, for the Phillies, I'm not sure Billingsley has a place in their rotation. With Hamels, Nola, Buchanan, Morgan, and the return of Harang, the Phillies rotation is going to be fine. Of those, only Hamels is likely to be traded, so Jerome Williams can take over there. It would have been nice to see Chad hang around and revive his career, but it seems like he'll never be able to stay healthy enough to make that happen.