Phillies

Numbers don't lie at all for 2013 Phillies

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Numbers don't lie at all for 2013 Phillies

Numbers don't lie and the Phillies' numbers for 2013 were the worst we have seen with this club since it started calling Citizens Bank Park home.

The Phillies finished with the worst run differential in the National League, allowing 139 more runs than they scored. That's worse than the 100-loss Miami Marlins.

It's certainly hard to win games that way. With the exception of the top two starters in the Phillies' rotation, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the team needs a major overhaul of a staff that allowed the second-most runs in the National League (749). Only the Colorado Rockies' pitching staff allowed more runs.

We all know the core of this team is aging fast. On Nov. 19, Ryan Howard will turn 34 years old. Not old by most people's standards, but for a Major League Baseball player with some wear and tear on his body, Howard's best years are probably behind him. Each of the last two seasons, Howard has missed significant time because of injury. His absence in the Phillies' lineup this season was a huge void, but there are still plenty of question marks of whether he can turn around his slumping numbers and produce for Ryne Sandberg.

It was encouraging to hear that Howard appeared in very good shape when he rejoined the team in Atlanta last week. If the Phillies are to make a dramatic turnaround in 2014, Howard will need to be healthy and productive. The Phillies proved this season that without his big bat, they have limited power in the lineup and over time that is a hard way to win ballgames.

Changes are coming to the club, but the nucleus of Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley will remain intact when spring training opens in Clearwater. It is unlikely that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will be able to add enough pieces this offseason to make this team competitive next year.

Like many of you, I am hoping for the best because there is nothing like winning baseball in Philly.

Can Phillies stay in the race? A look at their daunting upcoming schedule

Can Phillies stay in the race? A look at their daunting upcoming schedule

When it's Aug. 13 and you're heavily involved in both the division and wild-card races, every game left is huge. There is no one game — aside from the head-to-head Braves matchups — among the Phillies' remaining 45 that carries more importance than another. 

But looking at the upcoming schedule, if the Phils don't survive these next 19, those late-September games against the Braves might not end up meaning a ton.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Phillies host the Red Sox, who are a ludicrous 50 games over .500 at 85-35. Tuesday, the Phils will face former AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello.

Following the Red Sox is a five-game home series against the Mets, which includes a doubleheader Thursday. The Mets are terrible, but Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are not. On Friday, the Phils face Syndergaard. On Saturday, they face deGrom, who's had the lowest ERA in baseball most of the season.

It gets no easier from there, with a road series against the Nationals. In the final game of the Nats series, the Phils will face Max Scherzer. Five days later, they'll face Scherzer again.

Washington's offense is rounding into form and the Nats could be a very dangerous team down the stretch after months of underperformance. 

Bryce Harper has hit .343/.464/.657 with six doubles and five homers over his last 20 games.

Daniel Murphy is finally all the way back from offseason microfracture surgery. In his last 15 games, he's hit .411 with a 1.111 OPS.

Ryan Zimmerman is also finally healthy. He's hit .386/.462/.795 with 10 extra-base hits and 18 RBI over his last 13 games.

The tough stretch ends Aug. 31-Sept. 2 with a three-game series against the Cubs, who have the best record in the NL.

After that is a respite on the road against the Marlins and Mets.

The Braves' upcoming schedule is a bit softer, but they do have 30 games in the next 30 days because of so many early postponements. These are the dog days and it's worth keeping an eye on how young pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb hold up late in a pressure-packed season.

Newcomb has a 5.06 ERA in his last eight starts. Foltynewicz has a 5.40 ERA with eight home runs allowed over his last six.

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Surprising how many NL teams let Justin Bour slip to Phillies

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Surprising how many NL teams let Justin Bour slip to Phillies

The Justin Bour-Matt Stairs comparison has been a popular one in the days since the Phillies surprisingly acquired Bour from the Marlins. Big, burly, power-hitting, left-handed first basemen.

But in several other ways, this move was different. 

• Bour is 10 years younger than Stairs was when the Phils traded for him in 2008. 

• Bour was acquired the second week of August; Stairs was acquired at the end of August. Stairs had just 19 regular-season plate appearances with the Phils in 2008. Bour should be able to double that pretty easily.

• Stairs was under contract for the following season. Bour is under contract the next two seasons after this one.

That last point was why it was so surprising that various NL teams let Bour slide through the waiver order and make it to the Phillies. 

A refresher: Once August hits, in order to trade a player, a team must first place him on waivers. The waiver queue is based on the inverse order of the standings in that player's league. So when Bour is placed on waivers, the worst team in the NL gets first dibs. If he passed through every NL team unclaimed, the worst AL team would get next crack at him and so on. (More on August trade rules here.)

It would have been one thing if Bour was a rental. In that case, he would have made sense only for contenders.

But Bour isn't a rental. He was awarded a $3.4 million salary this season, his first of arbitration eligibility. He's under team control each of the next two seasons and figures to make an estimated $14 million in 2019 and 2020 combined.

That's not a ton of money for a starting-caliber first baseman who has an .821 OPS since 2015 with 31 homers per 162 games.

Where were the Mets? Where were the Rockies? The Pirates?

The Mets have no offense. At first base, they've been playing Wilmer Flores, who is not the long-term answer. Prospect Dom Smith has hit .193 in 257 big-league plate appearances and has also had a poor season at Triple A. 

If you're the Mets, a team that acts as a small-market club with little money to spend, why not take a flier on Bour for a modest price over the next two seasons? Is anyone awake in Flushing?

The Rockies, a contender, haven't gotten great production from first base. It's been a combination of Ian Desmond and left-handed hitting Ryan McMahon. Against righties, Bour is an upgrade over both.

When Bour was placed on waivers at the beginning of the month, Pirates 1B Josh Bell was on the DL. Bell, a switch-hitter the Pirates are high on, has been a league-average first baseman since getting to the majors. He's been good against right-handed pitching but Bour has just been better, with a career OPS 73 points higher. 

The money

It will be interesting to see whether the Phillies keep Bour around past this season. If he produces as a pinch-hitter and fits in, he'd be a valuable bench bat to have. He'd be valuable insurance for Carlos Santana.

One of the things to really like about Bour is his production against pitching within the division. He's 8 for 21 (.381) with two homers, a double and three walks against Jacob deGrom. Yes, that Jacob deGrom. Bour has been one of the very best hitters in the league against deGrom during the righty's stellar career.

Bour has gone a respectable 5 for 17 (.294) vs. Noah Syndergaard. 

He's reached base in 17 of 28 plate appearances vs. Julio Teheran. 

He's 8 for 15 with two homers and a double against Mike Foltynewicz.

He has a homer and a .385 OBP in 26 plate appearances vs. Stephen Strasburg.

This all matters moving forward in a division with so many high-quality starting pitchers.

The Phillies are a deep-pocketed team that could afford to pay Bour $5.5 million or so next season as a non-regular. Not every team is in that position but the Phils are. Aside from their arbitration-eligible players, the Phils have just six players under contract for 2019: Jake Arrieta, Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Their decision whether to keep Bour around, trade him or non-tender him will obviously be affected by their pursuit of top free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. It will also be affected by how the Phils approach the pending free agency of Wilson Ramos and Asdrubal Cabrera, two players who make even more sense to retain because of the positions they play.

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