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Friday, June 24, 2011
Without Oswalt, Phillies still best in NL

By David Schoenfield

The bad news for the Phillies is nobody seems to know exactly what is going on with Roy Oswalt's back. This could be a two-week stint on the DL; it could be a two-month stint.

The other bad news is their schedule until the All-Star break is a little tougher than their recent fare (only two of their past eight series have been against teams with winning records, the Nationals and Cardinals). They have the A's, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Marlins and Braves before the break.

The good news is the Phillies have built a nice cushion. They're 4 games up on the Braves in the NL East, and 5.5 games better than the Giants, the second-best team in the wild-card race.

The other good news is that Kyle Kendrick moves into the rotation. He has a 3.23 ERA, which is actually better than Oswalt's 3.79, so it shouldn't really be much of drop in production, right?

Well ... the problem is Kendrick is unlikely to keep a 3.23 ERA as he churns out more innings. He has 19 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings, a K rate of 3.6 per nine innings -- that's third-lowest in the majors among pitchers with at least 40 innings. And Kendrick doesn't survive by being a ground ball specialist; there's nothing special about his ground ball rate.

Thus, the 4.73 ERA he posted last season is probably a more realistic appraisal of what to expect here on out -- a run worse per nine innings than Oswalt's current rate. Still, that's not that damaging over the short haul -- we're talking about a six-run differential over 10 starts.

The other issue is if the Philly pen will get more taxed; but Oswalt has only averaged 5.4 per innings per start, so it's not like he's been going deep into games anyway.  thanks to the dominant trio of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, the Phillies' bullpen has pitched the fewest innings in the National League. Still, there will be a slight ripple effect since Kendrick is fourth on the team in relief innings. David Herndon, Michael Stutes and call-up Scott Mathieson may have to prove themselves in more key situations. There remain questions as well about whether the bullpen can maintain the 3.07 ERA its produced so far. (Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley speculates about Heath Bell.)

Overall, I don't think this changes my assessment of the Phillies: They're still the best team in the National League right now.

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