With apologies to Billy Joe, the Phillies theme song over the last couple seasons has gone something like this:
Summer has come and passed
We'd better catch the Mets real fast
Wake me up when September begins
But September has begun, and the Phillies are in first place, and suddenly only an epic collapse stands between them and the postseason. The Mets, meanwhile, are closer to the Nationals in the standings than they are to the Phillies. Rather than facing questions about the Wild Card race, Charlie Manuel is facing questions about the possibility of getting bench players more playing time, and of the luxury of setting his rotation up for the postseason.
Eight games up with 34 left to play is by no means insurmountable, particulalry given the cold stretches to which this offense is prone. But with Cliff Lee at stopper and J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton both pitching well and Cole Hamels appearing to be on the verge of turning things around, the Phillies' have the starting pitching to counteract even the most prodigious of slumps at the plate.
With one month to go, I thought we'd break down the first five months of the season, plus look ahead to some of the big questions that need to be answered in September.
I. Nuts and Bolts
- Record: 75-53
- On pace for: 95-67
- Lead in NL East: +7.5, Atlanta; +8.5, Florida; +17.5, Mets
- Likely first-round opponent: Colorado (72-59) or San Francisco (72-59)
II. Power Ball
All eight of the Phillies' regulars are on pace to finish the regular season with at least 10 home runs, which would mark the second time in franchise history more than seven players hit double figures. The club record is nine, set back in 2004, when Jim Thome, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Mike Lieberthal, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Jason Michaels all hit at least 10.
Here is a look at current home run projections for all eight regulars, based on their current homers-per-game rate:
Ryan Howard: .273, 37 HR, 111 RBI (on pace for 47)
Chase Utley: .304, 29 HR, 84 RBI (on pace for 36)
Raul Ibanez: .278, 27 HR, 79 RBI (on pace for 35)
Jimmy Rollins: .244, 17 HR, 60 RBI, 80 RS (on pace for 21)
Shane Victorino: .305, 89 RS, 9 HR, 55 RBI (on pace for 11)
Jayson Werth: .271, 29 HR, 79 RBI (on pace fo 37)
Carlos Ruiz: .242, 8 HR, 34 RBI (on pace for 10)
Pedro Feliz: .275, 9 HR, 64 RBI (on pace for 11)
The Phillies will also likely finish the year with a club-record four players hitting at least 30 home runs. They also have a good shot at tying a record set in 2005, when five players hit at least 20 home runs.
III. Other Fun Facts
*Shane Victorino needs one more home run to become the first Phillie not named Jimmy Rollins or Bobby Abreu to finish a season with at least 10 doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases since Juan Samuel did it in 1987. Rollins has achieved the feat five times since 2001, while Abrue did it in 1999 and 2000.
*Chase Utley needs four more steals to become the 18th member of the Phillies' 20/20 club (20 home runs, 20 steals). The Phillies have had at least one player achieve the feat in each of the last 10 seasons: Jayson Werth did it last year, while Rollins did it in 2006-07, while Abreu did it from 1998 through 2005.
*Phillies starters are hitting .264 with a .340 on base percentage, 177 home runs and 610 RBI. The team's subs are hitting just .176 with a .272 on base percentage, eight home runs and 30 RBI.
*They are hitting .256 with runners in scoring position, but just .223 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
*Although the Phillies' are hitting .267 at home compared with .251 on the road, their power numbers are not markedly different. In 64 home games, they have hit 94 home runs with 321 RBI. In 64 road games, they have hit 91 home runs with 319 RBI.
*The Phillies have hit 14 home runs in nine games at Citi Field this season. The Mets have hit 43 home runs in 66 games at Citi Field this season.
IV. Progress Report
Last 6: 1-for-16, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2 RS
Since Aug. 1: .193/.276/.318, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 11 RS
Since Jul 11 (End of DL stint): .220/.308/.407, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 42 SO in 150 AB
Before DL Stint: .312/.371/.656, 22 HR, 59 RBI, 51 RS, 49 SO in 250 AB
OUTLOOK: Although both Ibanez insists publicly that his groin is not bothering him, it is clear that he is not running nearly as well as he did in the first two months of the season. It is uncanny how closely his performance this season has resembled Utley's from a year ago, when the second baseman was hampered by a hip injury that required offseason surgery. After the most productive first two months of his career, Ibanez is on pace to record the lowest batting average (.278) since he became a full-time player in 2002 at the age of 30. Ibanez's August batting average was the second-worst of any month of his career since he became a full-time player (he hit .184 with no home runs in July of 2007) and the past two months are the first time he has hit below .260 in two striaght months. After hitting .184 in July of 2007, he hit .374 in August (Aug. batting averages going back to 2002: .396, .374, .296, .226, .340, .297, .322) The Phillies really need him to turn things around, especially with potential playoff match-ups against tough right-handers from San Francisco and St. Louis.
OUTLOOK: Clearly the biggest question mark for the Phillies heading into September. He hasn't allowed an earned run in six of his last seven outings, and has not walked a batter since Aug. 15 at Atlanta. He seemed to take a step back on Aug. 25, allowing three runs without recording an out in his ninth blown save of the season, but he rebounded over the weekend to record two perfect innings in two saves, striking out two of the six batters he faced.
Last 12: .400/.500/.800, 5 HR, 8 RBI, 12 RS
Since Aug. 1: .301/.411/.548, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 19 RS
Since July 1: .304/.409/.536, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 31 RS
Since June 1: .310/.419/.556, 18 HR, 51 RBI, 59 RS
Since May 1: .297/.415/.536, 22 HR, 64 RBI, 76 RS
OUTLOOK: Utley has been consistent throughout the season, but has not had one of the month-long tears that he is capable of breaking off. It looks like he might be in the middle of one right now. A blistering Utley in October could help counteract a struggling Ibanez.
Last 17: .229/.257/.386, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 8 RS
Since Aug. 1: .272/.294/.535, 7 HR, 14 RBI, 17 RS
Since July 1: .294/.341/.537, 11 HR, 33 RBI, 39 RS
Since June 1: .255/.302/.465, 14 HR, 42 RBI, 49 RS
Since May 1: .251/.298/.437, 16 HR, 54 RBI, 71 RS
OUTLOOK: Although his overall numbers are still well below average, and his production has tailed off over the last couple of weeks, Rollins has found his swing, which is a good sign for the Phillies.
Last 12: .186/.271/.256, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 3 RS
Since Aug. 1: .222/.257/.374, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 7 RS
Since July 1: .250/.298/.350, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 20 RS
Since June 1: .261/.298/.371, 7 HR, 37 RBI, 31 RS
Since May 1: .268/.309/.379, 7 HR, 50 RBI, 40 RS
OUTLOOK: His production has leveled off since a blistering April. The Phillies will need him come playoff time, particularly if matched up against the Dodgers' left-handed starters.
Last 11: .186/.314/.279, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 5 RS
Since Aug. 1: .255/.336/.429, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 15 RS
Since July 1: .320/.395/.498, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 37 RS
Since June 1: .313/.395/.475, 5 HR, 30 RBI, 54 RS
Since May 1: .309/.382/.462, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 73 RS
OUTLOOK: The Phillies most consistent hitter this season, he has cooled off slightly, with no multi-hit games since Aug. 19 (he had five in his previous seven games before this recent stretch).
Last 13: .362/.444/.809, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 8 RS
Since Aug. 1: .284/.352/.529, 7 HR, 13 RBI, 12 RS
Since July 1: .276/.390/.568, 14 HR, 36 RBI, 30 RS
Since June 1: .282/.392/.556, 21 HR, 53 RBI, 47 RS
Since May 1: .273/.374/.535, 27 HR, 69 RBI, 66 RS
OUTLOOK: One of the big questions heading into the season was how the Phillies would replace the right-handed power of Pat Burrell in the middle of the line-up. Werth has been the answer. He is on pace to eclipse Burrell's production from last season (.250/.367/.507, 33 HR, 86 RBI), and is hitting right-handers at a far better rate (.254 vs. .238).
Last 7: .393/.433/1.000, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 5 RS
Since Aug. 1: .299/.356/.682, 11 HR, 33 RBI, 18 RS
Since July 1: .294/.382/.607, 17 HR, 51 RBI, 37 RS
Since June 1: .277/.360/.564, 23 HR, 71 RBI, 52 RS
Since May 1: .270/.350/.576, 33 HR, 96 RBI, 72 RS
OUTLOOK: Nobody should be surprised to see Howard heat up this time of year.
Last 11: .364/.436/.758, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 5 RS
Since Aug. 1: .305/.391/.559, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 11 RS
Since July 1: .239/.328/.453, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 17 RS
Since June 1: .215/.300/.371, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 20 RS
Since May 1: .240/.340/.413, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 26 RS
OUTLOOK: Ruiz has alternated hot and cold stretches at the plate, but had drawn rave reviews for his handling of the Phillies' staff this season.