Time goes by like pouring rain: Pitcher Kyle Kendrick proves to be young doesn’t always mean you have a future. He was 22 when he reached the majors in 2007, and he’s reached double figures in victories in three of the last four years (with a .593 winning percentage). But his apparent success is like the plate before you at the restaurant: you might enjoy it, but you wouldn’t want to watch how it was prepared. Kendrick has made 83 big-league starts in four years and 93 appearances — it’s hard to believe he’s made so many with a 4.69 career ERA and a lifetime .288 average against. If there were more Kyle Kendricks pitching in the majors, there would be more .300 hitters. Here’s what the Phillies think of Kendrick: they’ve played 41 postseason games in the last four seasons, and he’s pitched in one of them (he didn’t make it past the fourth inning). He’s 26 now with one last chance to change minds.
I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Phils are in no rush for pitching help, so they can wait for Trevor May to find his control, if he has any. If he ever does, think Craig Kimbrel. May fanned 182 in 135 Single A innings last summer but he struggled at Clearwater (60 walks in 71 innings). He’s struck out 288 in 224 minor league innings, and he flirted with command in his half season at Lakewood last year (20 walks, 92 strikeouts, 65 innings). That’s enough reason to hope.
What is this man doing here? The Phillies are certainly desperate for bullpen help, but Eddie Bonine isn’t it. Bonine may look imposing — he’s 6-foot-5, 220 pounds — but he doesn’t pitch like it. In parts of three seasons with the Tigers, he’s done little more than imitate Kyle Kendrick — batters hit .312 and slugged .483 off Bonine, and all this in the Tigers’ pitcher-friendly home park. Citizens Bank Park wouldn’t help.
Outlook: There’s four good reasons to pick the Phillies to not only win the NL East, but also the pennant and World Series — all starting pitchers, all well paid, all aces. And yet there are just as many reasons to think the Braves might win the NL East — they’re younger, healthier and hungrier.
The Phillies have gone one less level each year since winning the 2008 World Series — losing the 2009 Series and the 2010 NLCS. And the signing of Cliff Lee, meant to halt that disturbing trend, doesn’t address the problems that led to it.
The Phillies lost in 2010 to the Giants because they didn’t score enough runs (21 in six games, or 3.5 a game) and their bullpen didn’t prevent enough (a ninth-inning run lost Game 4, an eighth-inning run the decisive Game 6). We’re not sure how the signing of Lee will heal either ill.
The Phillies start 2011 with a better rotation, but the same untrustworthy bullpen, and a lesser offense no matter how Domonic Brown performs. If Brown succeeds, and he should, it still leaves the Phillies with an overwhelmingly left-handed lineup. How many games do Phillies fans’ really want coming down to big Ben Francisco at-bats?
The Phillies have a great rotation, and they should be optimistic. But whether it’s Chase Utley’s knee, Brad Lidge closing, Ryan Howard’s contract or the team’s age (Brown is the only starter not yet 30 years old), there’s reason to temper it, too.
Remember when: Connie Mack Stadium wasn’t officially torn down until 1976, but if you were at the last game in 1970, you know it started shortly after Tim McCarver scored the last run. It was home to nine World Series (8 by the A’s), the Whiz Kids, Connie Mack’s A’s and Home Run Baker. I saw Johnny Callison hit three home runs in a Sunday afternoon loss to Milwaukee in the midst of 1964’s 10-game losing streak, Stan Musial in his final season, many a Richie Allen home run, and Sandy Koufax’s final regular-season game, a pennant-clinching win in the second game of a doubleheader on the last day of 1966. But the most memorable game of the many I saw there was on an early August Sunday afternoon in 1969. The Phillies had three homers, four doubles and a triple among 21 hits. They scored five runs in the third inning and seven in the sixth. Deron Johnson had a five-hit day, Callison a four-hit day. They scored 17 runs. And lost 19-17 to Cincinnati, which hit four homers and had 25 hits. The pitching lines (Turk Farrell: .1, 6 hits, 6 runs) were less memorable, including starter Billy Champion, who rarely pitched like one, retiring with a 34-50 won-loss record. On this day, he fortuitously got out after two innings with a no-decision. And it could have been worse — the teams combined to leave 17 runners on base and hit into three double plays.