Our latest Shark in the Tank features That Balls Outta Here’s own Brant Houghton. You should check him out sometime, he’s always got some good insight and interesting views on Phillies baseball. If you’re a Phillies fan, enjoy. But if you’re here, you should be a Marlins fan! Anyway, check it out.
Michael Jong: Hey everyone, welcome again. Today I’ll be talking with Brant Houghton of FanSided.com’s own Phillies blog, That Balls Outta Here. As we all know, we’ve got the 2nd place Marlins and the 1st place Phillies squaring off for a four-game set in South Florida. How’s it going, Brant?
Brant Houghton: Pretty good after the Phils just signed Pedro Martinez to a one-year deal!
MJ: That’s right, the NL East gets a taste of Pedro Martinez again. What do you think is going to be his impact on the Phils rotation? He’s your No. 5 starter right?
BH: Yeah, I really do not see them having him any higher than their 5 right now. He probably will give us a few couple of good starts, but I really do not see him doing anything like he did a couple years back. I was just wondering today if he really could pull something off and be a dominant pitcher in his late 30’s like Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens. It’s possible, but unlikely I guess.
MJ: Based on his last few years’ performances, it doesn’t seem like it. Seems like guys like the Rocket and Randy Johnson, along with your own Jamie Moyer, are aberrations if anything. We won’t mention anything else that might have helped Clemens either.
BH: Haha, I know what you mean.
MJ: So you guys got some rotation help, but is that going to be enough? Your team’s starters have posted the fifth worst ERA and the second worst FIP in the majors. Can anyone on that staff improve significantly in the second half?
BH: The most likely one is surprisingly Joe Blanton. Throw Cole Hamels in there too just because he is Cole Hamels. Blanton really only had a few couple of bad starts mixed in with some great ones. Blanton should be the number 2 starter right now, with Jamie Moyer getting moved back. J.A. Happ has a real chance to be something the rest of the way too. But they should be cautious that he does not turn into the Kyle Kendrick of last year.
MJ: Yes, Kendrick did have an ugly stint in the majors. What about acquisitions from outside for help? What do you make of the Roy Halladay trade speculation? Would you be willing to trade guys like Kyle Drabek and Carlos Carrasco for a potential Halladay rental?
BH: I would give up those guys for Halladay in a heartbeat. Here’s why: If we gave up Drabek, Carrasco, and Jason Donald along with someone else, we would still have Joe Savery, and Antonio Bastardo along with Lou Marson. In my mind, Bastardo and Savery are in the top 3 pitching prospects with Drabek being the other. Also we still would have Andrew Carpenter, and Sergio Escalona in the mix as well. And as much as I’d like to, you cannot forget about Kyle Kendrick.
MJ: I see. I have to say I agree with that sentiment. While I’m not so high (and I’m just going by what I hear from scouting-related sites/sources) on the depth of your organization, I can’t say I wouldn’t give up some potential stars for a player who seems like he’ll be the best pitcher in baseball for another two or three years. Doc really deserves that sort of landslide prospect deal.
BH: I would do that trade in a heartbeat. I would trade Drabek, Carrasco, and Donald, but I would not trade Savery, Bastardo, or Taylor in that deal.
MJ: Probably good choices, and something the Jays would likely consider.
So we’ve determined your rotation needs work, but luckily the lineup has picked up the slack. Who was the offensive MVP for the first half of the year? I have to think Chase Utley, right?
BH: Surprisingly no. Utley was his consistent self all year so far, but my choice would be Jayson Werth, or Shane Victorino. They both hit 20 homeruns, and both steal bases like crazy. They also play excellent defense. Werth saved the game against the Mets with that amazing catch
MJ: Werth has been very good so far this year; you guys certainly found a diamond in the rough there. And you have to like Victorino’s glove and skill set at the plate. I do like both those guys.
No discussion about your hitters though would be complete without discussing Jimmy Rollins. He’s been one of the worst regulars in baseball all season. Got any idea what’s going on with him this year?
BH: Well first off, everybody has their slumps, it just so happens that Rollins was more noticed by the media, and that his lasted longer than usual.
Second, Rollins still has played excellent defense, he just got his hitting mechanics off base, I guess you could say. He is starting to hit like a mad man now, so I guess we will see how it works out
MJ: Fair enough, his peripherals all seem good to me, I’m just shocked to see him have a consistently low BABIP for this long into the season, especially since his batted ball profile has basically been the same as his career numbers.
Moving into the second-half, what are going to be the keys to winning the division? It’s a weak one, but one with a lot of competition and plenty of intra-division games left.
BH: The keys to winning the division will be the pitching, and getting off to a fast start. The past couple of years the Phils have stumbled coming out of the break you could say. If they get their pitching back on track and playing their game of baseball, they will be fine, and be able to stave off the Marlins and the Mets
MJ: Well, the Marlins will not be letting off easy, or at least I’d like to claim that. Got any questions for myself on your nearest division opponent as of today?
BH: OK, what has been the key to the Marlins first half? They came out of nowhere after being the only thing that went through a worse slump than J-Roll.
MJ: It’s been a two-part key. Part 1 has been Hanley Ramirez, who has been on an absolute tear all season long. While I worry that he’s depending less on walks and more on singles to get on base, I’d certainly take the production. I’d like to see some more patience, but other than that, I’d say let him keep swinging.
Part 2 has been the work of the pitching staff, particularly Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. JJ was an All-Star and looked every bit the part this year, but Ricky struggled early and was demoted despite excellent peripheral numbers. Now he’s pitching like the ace he was last year, and all we need is a few more quality starts from the other three guys to have a monster rotation.
BH: What about Dan Uggla, how has he been doing so far? I’ve been hearing some rumors that he might get traded?
MJ: There are a lot of rumors floating around, but here at Marlin Maniac, we like to keep a level head with regards to Uggla. His BABIP is tremendously low, and otherwise he’s been getting on base and hitting for power at about close to his levels the last few years. People are getting riled up because he strikes out a lot and isn’t hitting enough singles, to which I say, “Who cares?” He’s been a bit above league average so far this year, and that includes his terrible defense. I don’t see a reason to trade that away right now, in a pennant race.
BH: Do you expect that the pitching will improve, or fall-off as most of them are playing their first injury-free season in their careers
MJ: The pitching should improve as we go forward. I can’t expect anything but progression from Chris Volstad and Andrew Miller after what Volstad showed last year and Miller has shown so far this year. They’ll be better, and the guys at the top will be great. The pen has been solid, but there’s still questions there that may need answering.
BH: Ok, so what do you think the keys to the Marlins getting into the play-offs will be? And do you think that the Marlins will make it into the post-season?
MJ: Well, I wouldn’t be a fan if I didn’t think they would, right? Still, as much as I am a huge fan, I’m also a pragmatist, and I don’t think they’ll make it this year. They have a lot of dead weight in their lineup and the bullpen is often overworked and has some inconsistent parts (looking at you, Renyel Pinto), With their on-base skill, they can’t compete, and unlike in previous years they don’t have the power to slug their way out of their run scoring problems.
If we are to make the playoffs, it will be on the back of improvement from guys like Uggla and Cantu and great starting pitching. They say starting pitching is the great equalizer, and I can’t disagree. If JJ and Ricky pitch well and the Marlins can get some positive regression from guys like Uggla and Cantu, we could be in for a nice September’s worth of exciting games, and maybe even into October.
I’d like to thank Brant for his time and insight, it was a very interesting sit down. Once again, check out his site and keep checking out mine!