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Blogger Smackdown: Peter Baker Of The Good Phight

By virtue of powers beyond the understanding of our feeble human minds (i.e. luck and the relative crappiness of other NL East teams), the Mets head to Philadelphia tonight to begin a three-game series with the first-place Phillies, trailing the World Champions by just one game. To see what was going on in Philly I checked in with Peter Baker of SB Nation Phillies site The Good Phight.

You can read my answers to his questions here.

Is this the real Ryan Howard: ..252/.335/.539 since the beginning of 2008 with no baserunning skills and (surprisingly) average defense at first? Not bad, but not MVP material.

Yep, that's pretty much on the mark. He lost about 20 pounds in the offseason and worked on his defense, improving from atrocious to slightly above average (although he still can't throw worth a damn). A very good but flawed player. Glad he's on my team, but I think 2006 is going to be something of an outlier once the book closes on his career.

The defensive improvement also kind of begs the question: If he knew this was a flaw, why didn't he work on it before? I guess I should just zip it and be grateful.

Though Mets fans are no doubt grinning ear-to-ear watching Jimmy Rollins struggle as he has, this has to be frustrating for Phillies fans (which, incidentally, also has Mets fans grinning ear-to-ear). What up the J-Roll?

Same question in each of these Q&A's, and you get the same answer: Damned if I know. It seems to be affecting every aspect of his offensive game, except for his strikeout rate, although anecdotally, it's hard to strike out if you're popping up the first pitch every at-bat.

Rollins is 30, and 30 year olds don't often fall off the cliff like this, especially those with Rollins' skill set. I'm optimistic that he'll bounce back to something like 2004-2006 Jimmy, but so far this has been a completely lost season. He had two hits on Thursday night and hit the ball pretty well four times, so maybe that's a positive sign.

Who should be considered bigger disappointment to this point in the season: the Mets or the Phillies?

I have to say the Phillies, but it's kind of handicapped by the relative recent success of each franchise. Aside from Rollins and Raul Ibanez, everyone on the offense has been at or around their career norms. The pitching has just been dreadful, pretty much top-to-bottom, rotation and bullpen. Both sides have had injuries, although the Mets' have been more severe and to more and more important players, which exposed some of their problems with roster depth. The Phillies simply have not played very well.

Is Citizen's Bank Park killing the Phillies' pitching staff? Their home ERA is almost a run higher than their road ER and they've given up homeruns about 25% more often at CBP. Are they ill-fit for that park, or is something else going on?

There are fit issues, as well as the fact that the team, as a whole, is stinking it up at home. They are actually hitting better on the road (.264/.336/.450) than they are at home (.246/.331/.437), with no discernible explanation.

As far as the pitching staff goes, they have a rotation of flyball pitchers (literally all five of them) with only one, Cole Hamels, who can be considered a strikeout pitcher (although Joe Blanton currently leads the team in strikeouts). If 2008 showed anything, it's that a good pitching staff can and will succeed in Citizens Bank Park, but it'd behoove the Phils to bring in or develop some power strikeout pitchers. To that end, they have several promising arms in the minors who may be ready within the next couple of years, including Kyle Drabek, Carlos Carrasco, Vance Worley, and further down the line, northern New Jersey's Jason Knapp.

Also factoring into the mess is the added workload from last season's deep October run. Cole Hamels exceeded his previous season-high in innings pitched by over 60, and Joe Blanton was well over his peak as well. If you believe in a hangover effect, that might be a place to look. But... flags fly forever.

Talk to me about Charlie Manuel: he was seemingly on the next train out of town each of the past few seasons, but now the Phillies are World Series Champions so everything is copacetic, yes? What are Manuel's strengths and weaknesses as a manager?

Head coach/managerial positions in Philadelphia are always tenuous if you read the blogs and listen to sports talk radio. Charlie Manuel has always been incredibly well-liked by his players; it's been an almost completely drama-free clubhouse for four years now. Although admittedly, winning is a terrific deodorant. He doesn't throw his players under the bus in the press, disputes are kept in the clubhouse, and by all accounts things are loose and the players all get along. Chemistry is usually overrated, but I think it can be underrated, too. He's not a tactical genius, and I think he often sticks with players far beyond when he should, although that loyalty and security might go hand-in-hand with how much his players love and respect him. To me, he's a solid B-plus manager.