What's going on with the Phillies?
The Phillies took a lot of heat for not making any major moves prior to the July 31 trade deadline. After all, this is a team that's a far cry from the playoffs and in desperate need of a rebuild. Lately, though, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has begun to loosen his vicegrip on some of the team's veterans. The pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona has been dealt to the Dodgers for what appear to be spare parts. It's not a big move, but it's an indication that Amaro is at least starting to trade experience and dollars for youth and flexibility.
A bigger move for the Phillies would be trading franchise cornerstone Cole Hamels. With still four years left on his contract after this one, sending away the ace lefty would feel like a concession that a massive rebuild is underway. On the other hand, if the Phils hold onto Hamels, they can draw more fans to the park, rebuild around him, and maybe have one or two good years of pitching left when the team is ready to compete again.
Just yesterday it was reported that the Cubs had claimed Hamels on waivers, which means Chicago and Philadelphia have two days to work out a trade if the Phillies are serious about moving the pitcher. It's more likely that the Phils will just pull Hamels back and entertain more offers for him over the winter -- there's no rush in trading a player on such a large contract -- but Amaro has to be intrigued with the depth of prospects that the Cubs have to offer.
Who are these guys?
We've already talked a lot about the Phillies so far this year, so here we'll take a look at a pair of prospects that could be up in the big leagues in the near future.
Maikel Franco is a 21-year-old third baseman who is currently playing for the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate Lehigh Valley. Although he's hitting just .248/.296/.397 this season, Franco is quite young to be so close to the majors. His lofty prospect status comes mostly from his rise last season through the Florida State League (Advanced-A) and Eastern League (Double-A). With over 60 games at each level in 2013, Franco posted a wOBA above .400 with a combined 31 home runs to prompt the promotion all the way to Triple-A in 2014. The Phils already have a third baseman of the future in Cody Asche, but Franco appears to have a bat that will play anywhere. That means a move to first base could be in his future if the team is ever able to get out from under Ryan Howard.
While Franco may be considered Philly's top hitting prospect, the title of best pitching prospect in the system is up for grabs. Coming into the year, Jesse Biddle was that guy. The lefty from Philadelphia posted dominant strikeout numbers at Double-A last year thanks to a devastating curveball, but issues with his command (over five walks per nine in 2013) have forced him to repeat the level in 2014. This season, Biddle has posted a 5.03 ERA without improving his walk rate very much, so his ascent to the majors is temporarily on hold. The new best arm in the system may now be Aaron Nola, who was chosen seventh overall in the 2014 draft. A polished right-hander out of LSU, Nola looked sharp in his Double-A debut the other day and appears to be on the fast track to the majors.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Bartolo Colon vs. A.J. Burnett
Burnett appeared to be squarely on the trading block when he shutout the Giants for eight innings on July 23. Since then, however, the veteran right-hander has stunk up the joint. He was blasted by the Mets just three days before the trade deadline and in his most recent start he didn't even make it out of the second inning against Washington. With the Phillies looking to make room for players like Biddle and Nola in 2015 and beyond, you have to figure they are working to find a new home for Burnett sometime this month.
Colon is another pitcher who many didn't figure to be pitching in the NL East after July 31. Although a recent rough outing versus San Francisco ballooned Colon's ERA to 4.12, his low WHIP and walk totals mean he could still be an appealing trade target for teams fighting for a Wild Card spot. That status will only be helped if Colon can post another strong start against the Phillies, who have only scored three runs off of the right-hander in 14.2 innings this season.
Saturday: Dillon Gee vs. Cole Hamels
One of the reasons that Hamels isn't likely to be traded this summer is that he has built up equity with the Phillies' fan base and has more value to the organization than any other. Another reason is because Hamels is going through one of the more brilliant stretches of his career. In his past four starts, Hamels has pitched a total of 30 innings with 33 strikeouts, two walks, and just three runs allowed. One of those outings was against the Mets, who Hamels shutout for eight innings on July 29.
Gee is going to have to be on the top of his game to match Hamels, so it was a good sign that the right-hander pitched into the sixth inning against the Giants earlier this week while allowing just two runs. Gee's first game back from a lat injury on July 9 was a highly successful one against the Braves, but since then he's been shaky. He needs to get back to using his changeup effectively like he did on Monday if he's going to solidify a spot in the Mets' crowded future rotation.
Sunday: Zack Wheeler vs. Kyle Kendrick
With a 4.74 ERA for the season, Kendrick isn't much better than replacement level at this point. He initially broke into the majors as a guy who got a lot of ground balls, but Kendrick only gets them 45 percent of the time this season. He's also allowed 17 home runs, which isn't terrible for pitching in Philly, but with mediocre strikeout and walk rates, Kendrick has to be good at something to stick around the majors. Right now, he doesn't have on particular asset that stands out.
Wheeler's recent string of great pitching makes this matchup look lopsided on paper, but the 24-year-old was fortunate to only give up just one run against Washington on Tuesday. Proponents were quick to point out that Wheeler showed "maturity" by pitching around trouble, but really this recent outing was different from the excellent ones that preceded it. Wheeler walked five batters and was repeatedly bailed out by his defense on double plays and a great throw to the plate by Eric Campbell. Yes, it's great that a guy was able to limit damage in an outing when he reportedly didn't have a curveball, but let's not pretend it was a step forward for Wheeler, who has previously done a great job improving his command in 2014.
Monday: Jon Niese vs. David Buchanan
Another Cliff Lee injury and the trade of Roberto Hernandez have made room on the major league roster for Buchanan, who spent most of July in the minor leagues despite a pair of solid major league starts during the month. As a seventh round draft pick in 2010 who never struck out many batters in the farm system, Buchanan isn't exactly a shining beacon of hope for the Phils, but he could be a future backend starter if his command stays true. The 25-year-old right-hander looked solid in his return to the majors this week against the Astros, and the rest of the season will be a good chance for the Phillies to see what they have in him.
Like Gee, Niese is fighting to maintain his presence in the Mets' rotation despite the rising tide of young arms. Also like Gee, Niese's stuff has not inspired much confidence lately. On Wednesday he was mauled by Washington for six runs in six innings, and it's now been more than a month since Niese has pitched six innings in a start while allowing three runs or fewer. He's reportedly tweaked his delivery recently to reduce stress on his arm, but Mets fans would really just like to see some results from the lefty in the near future.
Prediction: Mets desperately need a sweep, but Hamels is living on another planet right now, so they settle for three out of four.
What abut some highlights?
The Astros tried messing with the Phanatic's ATV this week, so he responded by abducting their field reporter.
The furry guy also had some fun with umpire Laz Diaz.
The legend of Lucas Duda would only be greater if Ben Revere had not made this terrific catch back on July 30.
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