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Monday, April 25, 2011
Roy Halladay still the best

By David Schoenfield

Roy Halladay in Petco Park against the San Diego Padres looked like a mismatch on paper and proved to be a mismatch in practice, as he tied a career high with 14 strikeouts, pitching the Philadelphia Phillies to a 3-1 victory and not allowing a runner past first base until the ninth inning.

Halladay had everything working, repeatedly punching out the Padres with his changeup and curveball, including six hitters looking at called third strikes. From our ESPN Stats & Analysis group, Halladay threw 25 changeup, his second-highest total in one start since 2009. Yes, the outing came against a team ranking last in the majors in runs, batting average and slugging percentage (the Padres scored just three runs in losing all four games to the Phillies), but it was a classic Halladay start, moving the ball in and out, changing speeds and keeping the hitters guessing.

As great as Josh Johnson has been this season, Sunday’s efforts are a prime example of why I still consider Halladay the best pitcher in the game right now. While Johnson took another no-hitter into the sixth inning (the third time he’s done so this April), he was done after seven innings and 117 pitches. The Florida Marlins’ bullpen blew Johnson’s 3-1 lead (although Florida ended up winning the game).

Halladay, meanwhile, pitched into the ninth, finally being removed after 130 pitches, with Antonio Bastardo recording the final out for the save. Johnson has pitched 34 innings in his five starts, with a high of 7 1/3. Halladay has pitched 37 1/3 innings in his five starts. An extra inning every start or so may not seem like a lot, but it adds up over a full season of 33 to 34 starts -- Halladay has averaged 245 innings the past three seasons while Johnson’s career high is 209 in 2009. Johnson may get to Halladay’s workload someday, but probably not in 2011, as the Marlins will understandably be conservative with a guy who has a Tommy John surgery in his past and back pain that sidelined him in September.

The Phillies need Halladay -- and the rest of their fab foursome -- to continue pitching like this. Not only is the bullpen down another man with Jose Contreras heading to the DL, but the offense once again failed to score more than four runs. The Phillies haven’t scored more than four runs in a game since April 9. Remarkably, the team has gone 9-4 in that span, thanks to the rotation, which has a 3.32 season ERA (Joe Blanton’s 5.92 raising the total).

And here’s the thing about that offense: The mediocre production isn’t really surprising at all. Here is a look at the team’s eight regulars, their 2010 rate stats (AVG/OBP/SLG), their 2011 projections from Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system and their 2011 totals through Sunday:

Shane Victorino
2010: .259/.327/.429
ZiPS: .278/.340/.440
2011: .289/.352/.482

Placido Polanco
2010: .298/.339/.386
ZiPS: .297/.342/.398
2011: .366/.429/.488

Jimmy Rollins
2010: .243/.320/.374
ZiPS: .262/.323/.410
2011: .256/.344/.305

Ryan Howard
2010: .276/.353/.505
ZiPS: .258/.344/.509
2011: .284/.337/.494

Raul Ibanez
2010: .275/.349/.444
ZiPS: .257/.330/.446
2011: .187/.265/253

Ben Francisco
2010: .268/.327/.441
ZiPS: .265/.327/.436
2011: .263.329/.434

Carlos Ruiz
2010: .302/.400/.447
ZiPS: .265/.356/.406
2011: .241/.328/.397

Wilson Valdez
2010: .258/.306/.360
ZiPS: .264/.313/.334
2011: .263/.311/.316

Sure, Ibanez has been worse than expected, but that’s balanced out by Polanco and Victorino having good starts. For the most part, this is the Philadelphia offense you’re going to get in 2011 -- minus Chase Utley, of course.

With the five wins in a row, the Phillies are now 15-6. Granted, 13 of those 21 games have come against the Padres, Astros, Mets and Nationals, but … well, they’ll play the Mets and Nationals a lot more this season. They play their next three at Arizona, but then they play 15 in a row against the NL East. The rest of the division better bring their bats or the Phillies could pull away by mid-May.

Even scoring just four runs a game.


SERIES OF THE WEEK

Los Angeles Dodgers at Florida

Monday: Jon Garland (1-1, 4.15) vs. Ricky Nolasco (2-0, 3.00)
Tuesday: Clayton Kershaw (2-2, 3.00) vs. Chris Volstad (1-1, 6.60)
Wednesday: Chad Billingsley (2-1, 4.13) vs. Anibal Sanchez (1.1, 3.55)

The Phillies are off to their terrific start but haven’t shaken the Marlins, winners of eight of their past 10. Besides Josh Johnson, the key has been a lights-out bullpen that has posted a 1.79 ERA and allowed just three home runs in 60 1/3 innings. The Florida staff will try to contain the red-hot duo of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. Ethier has a hit in 21 consecutive games and is hitting .382; Kemp leads the majors with a .402 average. Billingsley had a bad first three starts but has allowed just two runs over his previous two.


PITCHING MATCHUP OF THE WEEK

Monday: Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 1.80) vs. Jered Weaver (5-0, 1.23), A’s at Angels

I’ll go out on a limb and predict a low-scoring game here. Gonzalez has allowed a .220 opponents’ average so far, but that’s nothing compared to the .150 mark against Weaver. Gonzalez uses a big curveball that makes him death against lefties (.487 OPS in 2011), but his control has been shaky against right-handed batters (11 walks, 13 strikeouts). He survived a six-walk game against Detroit two starts ago to throw six scoreless innings, but he won’t always be so fortunate. Weaver, throwing his slider more this year, makes just his second start at home, where he had a 1.86 ERA in 2010.


THREE SWINGS

1. Sticking with the A’s, Oakland’s entire rotation has dominated, with a 2.20 ERA. However, Oakland’s offense has squandered that great pitching, scoring fewer than four runs per game to leave the club with an 11-11 record. The A’s allowed the fewest runs in the AL in 2010, and the offseason additions of Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus were expected to provide more offense at DH (A’s DHs hit 14 home runs with 74 RBIs and a. 724 OPS in 2010), left field (14 HRs, 65 RBIs, .719 OPS) and right field (7 HRs, 59 RBIs, .628 OPS). None of the three have done much yet: Matsui (.240, .692 OPS) and Willingham (.240, .733 OPS) do rank 1-2 in RBIs on the club, but DeJesus (.239, .571 OPS) has been awful.

2. Since starting 1-8, the Rays have gone 10-3. James Shields has provided a big lift, with two straight complete games, including a 2-0, 95-pitch shutout on Sunday over Toronto. So far, Shields has avoided the home run ball that plagued him last season, when he surrendered 34. He gave up three in Chicago on April 8 (The Cell is the best home run park in the AL), but hasn’t allowed any in his other four starts. His ground ball percentage is 45 percent, similar to last year’s percentage of 42, so we’ll have to see if he can continue to keep the ball in the park.

3. How feared is Jose Bautista right now? Shields pitched around him twice on Sunday, giving Bautista 19 walks in his 18 games. Of course, it’s easier to pitch around him if nobody is on base. Toronto leadoff hitters (primarily Yunel Escobar and Rajai Davis, but Corey Patterson hit there Sunday) have been terrible, with a .242 OBP.

RANT OF THE WEEK

After getting shut out by the Detroit Tigers for the second straight game, the Chicago White Sox have dropped 10 of 11 to fall into last place in the AL Central. Poor John Danks has allowed 12 runs in five starts and doesn’t have a win. "The worst thing about being a coach in baseball or a manager is that you can only send nine guys out and pray,” Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "You can't run plays like in basketball, and you can't change your defense like in football." And Ozzie is right. So what’s my rant? We need the White Sox to start playing better, because we don’t want Ozzie to get fired if things keep going bad. So, c’mon, White Sox, do it for us: We need Ozzie around; he’s good for the game.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Easter Bunny
Teams need pitching, but on Sunday things just got ridiculous. Think he threw a strike?