Prior to yesterday evening’s 12-1 offensive explosion over Homer Bailey and the Cincinnati Reds, the Phillies offense had gone 20 consecutive innings without producing a run. While the offense has been extremely inconsistent as a whole in 2014, it’s fair to assume that last night was the outlier, rather than the 20 straight innings without a run just being a bad stretch.
It’s also fair to assume that if you don’t hit, just about everything else needs to be perfect. Thus far, the Phillies starting pitching has gotten more than anyone could expect from A.J. Burnett, who has been dominant at times, posting a 3.13 ERA through the first two months of his Phillies career. Cliff Lee has been inconsistent, but still holds only a 3.23 ERA, leading me to think he will be just fine. Cole Hamels has been outstanding his last two starts, after a slow start, and hopefully is headed towards putting together a season that justifies the massive contract he has. The Phillies have even had solid starting pitching out of their bottom two starters in Kyle Kendrick (who is getting screwed in terms of lack of run support) and Roberto Hernandez, who is holding his own at the bottom of the rotation. While the hope is that the rotation only gets stronger as the year goes along, it certainly hasn’t been the Phillies’ problem so far.
But, ask Kyle Kendrick why he is winless. Sure, the fact that he is allowing an alarming amount of early homeruns (which always seem to be three-run shots) isn’t helping, but Kendrick is going deep in games for the Phillies. Beyond the fact that the bullpen isn’t holding the leads that he is given, Kendrick hasn’t been helped by the poor fielding behind him. Firday night was the perfect example, when Dom Brown hesitated on a ball that allowed the inning to continue, and the Reds’ Devin Mesoraco to deposit a homerun ball in the left-field seats. Brown and Ben Revere have had their fair share of mistakes in the field over the past two seasons, and given the fact that neither of them are tearing the cover off the ball (with the exception of last night for Brown), the imminent return of Darin Ruf looks very interesting.
While the Phillies could stick with their current outfield of Marlon Byrd in right-field, Revere in center, and Brown in left, the fact that they are getting poor fielding and mediocre hitting from the ladder two, makes Ruf the perfect replacement for either.
Scenario one: Move Byrd to center, keep Brown in left, and put Ruf in right-field
I’m not sure what Marlon Byrd has left in terms of center-field range, but I know that it can’t be worse than how putrid Ben Revere has been in center-field over the last two years. He plays to deep, which is why he makes simple catches look amazing (in the rare case he actually gets to the ball), and has the arm strength of a JV high-school player. While I love the he CAN be the perfect leadoff hitter, get on base, and swipe bags, he isn’t doing that at a consistent enough clip to make it worth him being a liability in the field.
So in this scenario, Ruf becomes the everyday right-fielder and Revere becomes the fourth-outfielder. It almost seems like a waste to have Revere as a bench piece, because his skill set makes him a much better starter than pinch-hitter, but he isn’t producing now, and Ruf may. Maybe Revere can learn how to play right-field in this scenario as well, because I’m starting to wonder if he will ever be able to be a successful everyday center-fielder.
Ruf isn’t going to be a good outfielder, but he will be good enough at a corner spot to make it worth the much-needed right-handed power supply that he will bring the Phillies. Plus, he is replacing Revere, who wasn’t fielding well in his own right.
The hope if you choose this route is that Dom Brown (currently hitting .221 with just two homeruns) is able to catch fire and have a big power month like he did last year. If that doesn’t happen, maybe Revere responds well to losing his starting status, and you figure out some way to rotate Revere, Ruf, and Brown into the two corner outfield spots. Moving Byrd to center seems to be the smartest move, regardless of how the other stuff transpires.
Scenario two: Move Byrd to center, rotate Ruf into the corner outfield spots a few times a week
Given Ruben Amaro’s history of ignorance towards the skillset of Ruf, this might be the most likely scenario. I think Ruf has a starting MLB bat, which this team needs more than great fielding, especially when the two people he is replacing might be worse fielders than him.
This scenario would again see Byrd move to center, because unless you are going to move Byrd back and fourth between center and right every time Revere plays or doesn’t, just making him the everyday center-fielder makes sense.
In time, maybe Revere and Brown overcome slow starts and seize their starting spots, and Ruf becomes a bench bat that could serve as a defensive replacement for Ryan Howard or a DH against the American League. Or maybe Revere or Brown continue to struggle, and Ruf seizes one of their two spots. Or neither of the above happen, and you just go by whether a lefty or righty is one the mound, to decide who plays. Either way, you are giving yourself a better chance to produce runs.
I would not touch Dom Brown in left-field because he is one of the few bright spots in this organization under the age of 30, and I want to see if he can figure things out. While I think Revere has prototypical leadoff-hitter skills, I’m not sure how many more plays I can watch him botch in center, while he really isn’t hitting that well. Plus, Ruf brings the right-handed power source that this lineup lacks.
I think Ryne Sandberg goes with some sort of combination of the two scenarios, but won’t hesitate to give up on Brown if he hits how he has prior to yesterday. Hopefully his five RBI performance yesterday was a sign of things to come, and he hits like the All-Star he was last year.