I sent some questions over to Liz Roscher, Manager of The Good Phight, SB Nation's Philadelphia Phillies blog, but we got going on it too late to get the post up before the start of last night's game....but since we have 3 more games against the Phillies, better late than never.
You have a couple of our old friends on your team. How are A.J. Burnett and Shawn Camp doing?
Shawn Camp has pitched 1 2/3 innings in games that I unfortunately don't remember. That's a very good thing, because if he'd blown a lead, that's something I'd certainly remember. AJ Burnett, however, has been doing really well. He had one truly terrible start (April 6, 8 runs in 5 2/3), but even with that he has an ERA of 2.06 in seven starts with the Phillies. He's averaging over six innings and five strikeouts per start. And doing it all with a hernia. I know this can't possibly last the entire season, but that's ok -- I'm enjoying it now. I was neutral on the Burnett signing, and I'm glad to see that it's working out for the Phillies in the early going.
As well as some of my favorites, you have one of my least favorite players, Jonathan Papelbon. Not that I wish him any harm, but can you tell me his good stats are a mirage, that really he's been just awful? Do you feel confident when he comes into a game?
We're not so different, you and I. I strongly dislike Jonathan Papelbon as well! And I never feel confident when he steps into a game, probably stemming from the four straight saves he blew last season. Mmmm, memories. And I was sure when he blew his first save opportunity of the season, it was going to be a rough road until the end of September when I no longer have to see or think about him. But since April 2, he's made 11 appearances and saved nine games, giving up just six hits and no runs. Most importantly, his velocity is up, which is hugely important. When Papelbon's velocity is down, he sucks.
How is Ryne Sandberg doing as a manager? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
It's hard to evaluate any manager after just 29 games, but thus far Sandberg has weaknesses that are familiar to Phillies fans. His bullpen management is atrocious, and he gets obsessed with gritty cannon fodder players that shouldn't be started so often. His lineups can be nonsensical and infuriating -- for example, why bat Carlos Ruiz seventh? Why bat a player hitting .032 second? I don't know. No one knows. No one will ever know. And I could describe the bullpen's woes, but I'd rather not start weeping openly. I'm sure by the end of the year, there will be other things he does that will tick me off. Whether any of them will surpass hiring Larry Bowa as part of his coaching staff remains to be seen.
Who is your favorite Phillie to watch?
Oh, this is a tough one. I love watching Cliff Lee when he's dealing. He doesn't take any shit, he doesn't mess around, he just pitches and it's glorious. I also love watching Jake Diekman, a young lefty in the Phillies bullpen. He has this great sidearm pitching motion that's almost lyrical. And Jimmy Rollins, when he's firing on all cylinders (like during this recent series with the Nationals) is more fun to watch than anyone. But if you're talking favorite, it has to be Chase Utley. He's always been my favorite and he always will be. In the field, at the plate, the guy knows what he's doing, and he's better at it than the vast majority of baseball players. Now I want to go watch Chase Utley clips for the rest of the day.
Chase Utley is having a great start to the season, after being the cautionary tale for GMs thinking of handing out long term contracts. What's changed? Can he keep this up?
I'm not sure I agree with the premise of this question. At least to me and my writers, we don't consider Chase Utley's 2007 contract extension to be a cautionary tale for GMs looking to hand out long term extensions of their own. That contract was relatively team friendly, and considering it was for seven years, I'd still say it was a win. If you're really looking for the cautionary tale, it's Ryan Howard. Every single thing about that contract is still infuriating. The length. The amount of money. That it was offered to him a full two years before he'd hit the open market. That's right -- in 2009, Howard signed a three year, $54m contract, and just a year later was given a 5-year, $125m contract. But this question isn't about Ryan Howard. It's about Chase Utley. I'm not sure that Utley (or most players) can keep up a .346/.405/.538 triple slash over the remaining 133 games of the season. But I think he's going to continue to have a stellar year. He's over a year removed from his knee issues, and he looks a lot like the Utley I remember from 2009. That's not terribly scientific, I know, but I like to think there's room for gut feelings in this business as well as numbers.
Can you give us a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we are likely to see?
Over this divided series, the Jays will be facing Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and AJ Burnett. Of those, the one that's easiest to take advantage of is Kendrick. He's a middling fourth starter with consistency issues, and since I'm watching him pitch as I'm finishing up these questions, I can say that the Blue Jays are enjoying him. I, on the other hand, am not. As far as Hamels, Lee, and Burnett are concerned, well, good luck. Hamels is coming off of an atrocious start, his first at Citizens Bank Park for 2014. He's usually not great in his first home start, so I wouldn't bank on a repeat performance. Lee is just plain good. Swing early in the count, because he doesn't throw a lot of balls and he walks almost no one. Burnett is probably due for a subpar start, but I wouldn't count on that.
The NL East is pretty bunched up, 1.5 games separating first from last. Do you think the Phillies will stay in the race?
I hope the Phillies will stay in the race. The NL East is the most competitive division in baseball right now, and I'm so happy that the Phillies are, through 30 games at least, staying competitive. Whether that will last is another question.