COMMENTARY | Inconsistency has been the key to the Phillies' season so far in 2013. In their most recent seven-game stretch they swept the New York Mets at Citi Field, were thumped by the Cleveland Indians by a combined score of 20-2, and are now back on track leading the Marlins 2-0 in a four game series at Citizen's Bank Park.
Their best pitching as of late has come from Kyle Kendrick (3-1 with a 2.43 ERA) and rookie Jonathan Pettibone (2-0 with a 3.24 ERA). Pettibone was called up to fill in for the injured John Lannan and has given the Phillies three solid starts to begin his big league career while Kendrick has been the most consistent starter in the rotation.
A rotation, by the way, that includes Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels who are a combined 5-8 with a 4.86 ERA.
At the 30 game mark, the Phillies stand exactly where they were this time last season at 14-16.The difference, however, is this season they sit third in the NL East just 3.5 games out of first whereas last season they were dead last in the division and 5.0 games back.
The other big difference is the Phillies are now at full strength with Carlos Ruiz back from a 25-game suspension and Delmon Young fresh off the DL from an off season ankle injury. This time last season, the Phillies were still months away from the returns of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
With the lineup at full strength, there's a chance the team can finally find a groove. But if they don't, Ruben Amaro Jr. will undoubtedly be in the toughest position he's been in since he took over as GM of the Phillies after the 2008 season.
Here are three possible things Amaro could do if the team doesn't start to turn the corner:
1. Fire Charlie Manuel
There are two sides to the coin when it comes to the Phillies coaching situation. Charlie Manuel's contract is up at the end of this season and he has already expressed interest in coaching past 2013. However, the Phillies have Ryne Sandberg -- widely considered one of the hottest coaching prospects in the game -- waiting in the wings.
Charlie is a player's coach and led the team to the 2008 World Series, but has come under criticism over the last several seasons for not being the "X's and O's" type of coach that has had success in recent years. Sandberg might be that guy.
As loyal as Amaro has been to Manuel, it would be difficult for him to survive letting a coach like Sandberg slip through his fingers and wind up coaching in someone else's dugout. Ideally, he would like to wait until the end of the season to make such a decision, but if 2013 continues along a similar path and the Phillies are 10+ games out in July, he could be forced to make the change.
2. Trade Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon or Chase Utley
Last season, the Phillies were sellers at the deadline instead of being part of hot trade rumors. Amaro was able to bring back some good prospects -- Tommy Joseph from the Giants in the Hunter Pence trade and Ethan Martin from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino trade -- who could have an impact on the Phillies soon.
Of the potential trade assets Amaro has on his current roster, Lee, Papelbon and Utley figure to have the highest value. Lee was a hot name at the deadline last season, getting interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers among other teams. If the Phillies are in a similar position this July, Lee's name will undoubtedly surface again.
Utley, on the other hand, and his knees would make for a tricky trade scenario. Despite being healthy to start the season for the first time since 2010, he's still 34-years-old and he still has degenerative knee problems. Unless a contender has a pressing need at second base (maybe Baltimore), the Phillies would have trouble getting a top-tier prospect back in return.
Papelbon is a solid closer who could be highly sought after by a contender looking for help in the back end of the bullpen, and could easily net a solid prospect or two in a potential trade.
Within the next few seasons, the Phillies are expected to sign a TV deal worth in excess of $5 billion. Combined with a loyal fan base that puts them atop the attendance rankings year-in and year-out, money won't be an issue in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. Any upcoming moves will be more about getting younger than it will be about shedding payroll, at least in the short-term.
3. Take A Chance On Young Prospects
Part of a commitment to getting younger means you have to take risks on unproven talent. Pettibone's success in three starts, however, should give the Phillies some confidence in the young arms in their system.
Top prospect Jesse Biddle recently struck out 16 batters and took a perfect game into the 7th inning for the Double-A Reading Fightin' Phils while fellow southpaw Adam Morgan is posting a 3.23 ERA for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Darin Ruf started the season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but hopes to eventually build on the promising performance he had late last season. As a September call-up in 2012, Ruf hit .333 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI in 12 games. A natural first baseman, Ruf is in the minors to develop his skills as an outfielder.
The aforementioned Tommy Joseph is the Phillies catcher of the future, but is hitting just .200 in 20 games in Triple-A with 3 home runs and 14 RBIs.
The Phillies have put their faith in Domonic Brown this season, who is hitting .268 with 5 home runs and 14 RBIs (on pace for around 25 home runs and 70 RBIs) and is their everyday left fielder. Not the All-Star numbers some expected him to have back in 2009, but solid numbers nonetheless.
Ruben Amaro is a creative GM, so there's always a chance he could make a move that comes out of left field and shocks us all. CSNPhilly.com's Insider Jim Salisbury reports the Phillies have made multiple inquiries to the Miami Marlins about Giancarlo Stanton, showing continued interest stemming back to the Winter Meetings.
While you would still have to consider the Phillies and their thinned farm system one of the least likely to make such a trade, the persistent surfacing of these rumors shows how much interest Amaro has in the young slugger. If the past four seasons are any indicator, when Amaro wants something, he tends to get it more often than he does not.
Scott Lentz is an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter from Philadelphia. He is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports and The Gaming Advisory. For more baseball commentary, questions or comments, follow Scott on Twitter: @scottlentz27.
All stats and figures courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
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