Welcome to The Homestretch, that fun two week period when we know the players are down there in Florida, but we can't really see them yet. We'll do our best to keep you going with a series of posts as we all sprint that last 90 feet to baseball season.
The recent past is full of precious Phillies memories against our friends in the west. Shane Victorino, demanding the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda to hit him in the ribs; Chase Utley, waving off the rantings of Jonathan Sanchez as the whining of a worthless, petulant child.
But the fists have long unclenched, with the Phillies no longer much of a threat to anyone (except the Cubs), regardless of what part of the country they play in. They'll still face the Dodgers and the Snakes and the Kangaroo Rats and all those weird NL West teams, though, so let's wonder what that will be like.
The Dodgers are giving away free programs at their games this year, which as we can all rightfully assume, means things are not going well over there. Well, I have good news for you, friend: The Dodgers are just fine.
In fact, they're basically the same team, with a few combinations inserted into the roster (Kike Hernandez/Chase Utley replace Howie Kendrick) and the rotation (Scott Kazmir/Kenta Maeda replace Zack Greinke) to try and make up for lost assets. With that team, they went 5-2 against the Phillies last season, taking three out of four in Los Angeles and two out of three in Philly. Somehow, one of the only Phillies pitchers to stop the Dodgers in 2015 was L.A. expat Chad Billingsley, who, accompanied by his 6.67 ERA in his first year back from season-ending flexor tendon surgery, held them to two runs over six innings. Why? Why.
Who is the most dangerous? It wasn't Joc Pederson, who went 3-for-22 while starting in all seven games vs. the last place Phillies.
It was everyone else.
- Adrian Gonzalez: .321 BA, 1.030 OPS, 3 HR, in 28 AB
- Yasiel Puig: .286 BA, .882 OPS, 2 HR, 2 2B in 28 AB
- Jimmy Rollins: .286 BA, .891 OPS, 1 HR, 4 2B in 28 AB
- Yasmani Grandal: .386 BA, 1.26 OPS, 2 HR in 23 AB
- Howie Kendrick: .345 BA, .889 OPS, 7 R in 29 AB
- Andre Ethier: .409 BA, 1.000 OPS, 2 2B in 22 AB
- Carl Crawford: 2-for-5, 3 RBI
- Justin Turner: .2-for-5, 1 2B
The Dodgers weren't perfect, but they knew how to hit the Phillies. The key was probably that the Phillies came at them with pitchers like Sean O'Sullivan, Severino Gonzalez, Aaron Harang, David Buchanan, and Jerome Williams.
The added dynamic here mostly is that the Dodgers now employ a Phillies icon of the very recently concluded generation. What are we supposed to do with that, Philadelphia? What are we supposed to do when Chase Utley goes into some sort of indefensibly off-target slide to destroy the lower body of one of our infielders? Applaud him? Good lord, the last thing we need is a philosophical debate amid all this emotional turmoil. Forget I said anything.
Look, nobody wants to see the Giants do well. I think even Giants fans look at their team, sigh inwardly, and think "yuck," just before pretending to root on their garbage, baby franchise for another season.
But, I'm sure they will, since it's an even-numbered year and that of course means the Giants have another inexplicable chance to get cute. Thankfully, they didn't make it into the post season last year, so they won't be riding a "momentum" narrative into any match-ups with the Phillies.
So, what are we looking at? We saw Matt Duffy as mostlly a further obstacle in Maikel Franco's Rookie of the Year charge. But he replaced Pablo Sandoval at third base and went 12-for-27 against the Phillies, scoring or knocking in 13 of the 43 runs the Phillies would allow against the Giants - the most of any NL West team. Fellow 24-year-old Joe Panik also roasted a good deal of Phillies pitching, hitting .393 in 28 AB, including a 6-for-14 trip to Citizens Bank Park in early June.
Blah, blah, blah. Look, the Giants took five of six from the Phillies in 2015. Then they went out and acquired Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, as well as Denard Span to take over center in place whatever they were hoping for from Angel Pagan. And this is all before you factor in which piece of crap free agent is going to become the charming baseball story of the decade hitting .650 for the 2016 World Series champion Giants. Nobody on the Phillies currently hits the Giants or in AT&T Park exceptionally well. The Phillies will have a *difficult* time playing this team, but fortunately don't play them until late June, when a lot of people will have given up anyway.
Yeah, finally! A team the Phillies handled adequately in 2015! The Phillies went 4-2 against the Snakes, who were bad. Arizona scored just eight runs over three days off Chad Billingsley, Sean O'Sullivan, and Jerome Williams. Grady Sizemore went 4-for-5 against the Diamondbacks one night. Without him in the lineup anymore, the Phillies may have actually lost ground against a team.
Of course, maybe losing too many games to teams like the Phillies is why the D-backs have taken some countermeasures for the 2016 season. Tyler Clippard joins a pretty set bullpen and Zack Greinke joins a rotation that's better with Zack Greinke in it. All three of their outfielders hit over .300, Paul Goldschmidt plays for this team, and Jean Segura's ceiling is re-attainable as he looks to rebound in a new uniform.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are beginning phase one of their rebuild. They may not yet be much better than their 2015 version, while Arizona has at least taken some dramatic steps to allow the potential for short term change. Also, it's worth noting that playing the Diamondbacks brings out the worst in the fans.
FUN FACT: Everything's going great in this man's life, clearly, or he wouldn't have had the self-confidence to box out an old lady. His family was never excommunicated from their town due to his actions in this video and he can totally speak to them whenever he wants, they don't hate him at all.
The NL West was no kinder to the Phillies than anyone; except for the Padres. San Diego provided five wins in six games, one of only four NL teams against which the Phillies had a winning record.
As Mike Ferrin recently pointed out to John Stolnis, of the galactically-accepted six non-contenders of the National League (Phillies, Braves, Rockies, Padres, Brewers, and Reds), the Padres are probably the best. They do still have James Shields, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross at the top of their rotation. Big Game James actually threw two very small games against the Phillies this season, with a disturbing level of consistency: In each start, he threw 108 pitches, 8 SO, 1 BB, and 6 H. 68 (21 looking) and 66 (20 looking) pitches were for strikes, respectively, and in general he probably doesn't worry too much about seeing the Phillies on the calendar.
The Phillies, though, should match up well against San Diego, a team that even when deciding to go "all in" at the trade deadline last year and chase those playoffs ended up resoundingly in fourth place. And all six of their games against the Phillies came after the trade deadline, when they were most fired up about winning. Adam Morgan was particularly unimpressed by their lineup, holding them to a single run and 10 hits over two starts.
The Rockies are also among the generally accepted six MLB non-contenders. Unlike the Padres, or even the Phillies, they are not credited with many redeeming factors.
Therefore, the team is not only forfeiting 2016, but trying to convince people that the Rockies never even happened. "What's that? 'Baseball team?' No sir, this here is a hockey team. Always has been, always will be. Mm-hmm, I remember growing up watching hockey at old Coors Field. America's pastime, we called it. I believe we were the first to do so."
With nowhere else to go, Nolan Arenado has slung a sack over his shoulder and trekked off into the wilderness, where he will use razor sharp third base instincts to trap game. He did hit two home runs against the Phillies las tyear, but they were off Jerome Williams and Aaron Harang, who are gone, so I think it's safe to say Arenado's home run-hitting days against the Phillies are over.
Some dead-ass team is going to smoke the Phillies this season, as always, and we might as well imagine the wins making the adventurous hill folk of the Rocky Mountains smile as they slowly freeze to death. It's all too easy to see the Dodgers and Giants taking the Phillies down, so why not throw Colorado a bone.