Philadelphia radio host Howard Eskin came on with Brian Murphy this morning and delighted in tromping all over the San Francisco Giants and their fans. He started the needling by saying that what the Phillies do is beat bad teams, and they’ve been doing that very thing the past two days against the Flying Fontenots. And truthfully, you can’t blame some guy from another time zone who only watches Phillies games for feeling this way. The Giants look punchless and flat, and have since Sunday.
So the logical assumption is that the Giants are going to fade away, and we’re going to have to rationalize how and why this 88-win team is on a better path than last year’s 88-win team. Right? At least that’s what everyone seems to be thinking right now. And who could blame a Giants fan for putting his or her guard up right now? Bill Simmons likes to mention about once per month/column how Red Sox fans reacted to rough times before 2004. The crowd would go silent, think, “We’re doomed,” and brace for the inevitable collapse. That’s what happens when teams go multiple decades without championships — fans start to believe God is punishing them.
But giving up now, while pragmatic, would be a bit hasty. Not because the Giants are so amazing, but because in a National League so mediocre, the Giants have as good a chance as any of the other flawed teams out there.
Eskin himself couldn’t bring himself to say the Phillies were some kind of juggernaut. His theory was the Phillies floundered early on because the guys from the last two playoff teams thought the playoffs were some kind of divine right for the Phils this season, and new, less jaded scrubs like Wilson Valdez brought some much-needed life to a team that was complacent throughout the first half.
We know the Giants’ weaknesses: impatience at the plate that makes the opposing starter’s job way too easy at times; a glaring lack of team speed; an ace who’s trying to find himself; a pitching staff that leads the NL in walks surrendered; that they seem to have made a teamwide decision to use August to prove correct all those long range statistical predictions of their defensive inferiority people made before the season.
But all the other teams have weaknesses too.
San Diego Padres: Before adding Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick, the Padres had no players who’ve been in a pennant race; their best starter, Mat Latos has wicked stuff, but he’s 22 and had to be rested recently; they have the wrong Tony Gwynn.
Atlanta Braves: Old, creaky corner infielders (which the addition of Derrek Lee won’t change); Jason Heyward’s hitting the rookie wall; not one base-stealer on the entire team; Bobby Cox only cares about adding to his career ejections record (although I might be confusing him with Don Nelson here).
Philadelphia Phillies: A couple extra-long seasons in a row are possibly contributing to injury issues; VERY iffy bullpen, especially in the later innings; Jamie Moyer reached the age where you going to bed at 7 pm and waking up at 4am, so he can only pitch during day games.
St. Louis Cardinals: Not much depth in the rotation after their big three (Carpenter/Wainwright/Garcia); an infield that is horrendous offensively outside of Albert Pujols; Ryan Franklin isn’t the most dominating closer out there; they actually used Randy Winn as a pinch-HITTER last night.
Cincinnati Reds: 35-year-old Francisco Cordero is getting wilder and less dominant every year (1.4 K/BB ratio this season); three of Dusty Baker’s relievers are in the top-11 in the NL in appearances, including Cordero and 40-year-old Arthur Rhodes; Johnny Cueto very well might get beaned the next time he faces the Cardinals (or at least kicked).
Luckily for the Reds and Cardinals, they play in the gawdawful NL Central, which gives them the easiest remaining schedules of any teams in baseball. The Padres have it pretty easy too, but the Giants don’t have the roughest road after this week with 15 of their last 34 games against the D-Backs, Cubs and Brewers. The toughest schedule down the stretch? Eskin’s Phillies, who suffer from playing in the only NL division that doesn’t have at least one bottom-feeder. Step back from the ledge, everybody. As quickly as the Giants went from hot to cold over the last week, it can turn just as quickly in September for the Phillies or any of the other less-than-elite NL contenders.