It’s getting to the point of the IronPig’s season where the long fought season will culminate in a large bubble being burst; Whether it is a burp or otherwise remains to be seen.
The IronPigs are currently in 4th place in the IL North division trailing division leader Rochester by 4.5 games. Not a huge margin but between them and the top spot are Pawtucket (1 game back) and Buffalo (3.5 games back). Glimpsing at the Wild Card spot the other divisions have Norfolk, Charlotte and even Columbus in the hunt.
Starting off with the South & West division… they are pretty much decided. While stranger things have happened in Triple-A ball late in the season with the trade deadline looming, parent team injuries and late season call ups, Durham has a 13.5 game lead over the rest of the South division and Indianapolis is 9 games up in the West.
That leaves us to presume that the IL North will be the pennant chase to watch!
As mentioned by IronPig’s radio legend Matt Provence this week, the IronPigs hold an overall losing record against the IL North. Their only winning record against an IL North team, and much to the chagrin of our dear friend and Pawsox blogger @PawsoxHeavy, is against Pawtucket. The key to the Pig’s season… 26 of their remaining 34 games are facing IL North opponents. The Pigs need to win, the other need to lose. Simple as that right?
Not so simple in my eyes.
The Phillies have all but announced that they will be “Sellers.” As disgruntled fans, players and management alike have been calling for. This means we will probably see trades. Big names go but not so big names get thrown in the mix. While we won’t likely lose prospects as we would in “Buying mode” the Pigs season could tremendously be impacted by a Phillies move or moves.
Remember when Carlos Carrasco walked 150 feet from Coca Cola Park’s Home Dugout to the Away dugout after being part of a trade? Yeah, that’s a momentum shift. Could we lose guys like Overbeck, Asche or the veteran bat of Josh Fields? Anything is possible. With no word on Dom Brown return from the DL, we could lose Susdorf for a significant amount of time as we did Ruf when Ryan Howard went down. (Don’t get me wrong, I am real happy for these guys getting promoted but we’re talking IronPigs here)
In my eyes, we won’t see anything tremendous happen in the fielding positions. If Carlos Ruiz is dealt, we’ve got catcher’s galore and I don’t see Rupp being advanced too early. I also don’t see Overbeck being picked over other infielder and I don’t see them rushing Asche. Expect Galvis to get the roster expansion callup, possibly Fields and Hernandez as well.
Pitching is another story. Roy Halladay is pitching from a mound but if the season isn’t playoff bound I wouldn’t expect him back, nor Pettibone back to the Pigs. Tyler Cloyd has come around with a couple good outings in a row and could see some time (even in the bullpen) later in the year. *If needed.
Pitching. So much to think about pitching. The IronPig and Phillie’s bullpens, well they’ve had their good moments and their bad. I’ll give you my own personal thoughts on that.
I’ve been mulling this over for a couple months now and I have been hesitant to write about it as:
1. I am not a professional baseball player. By no means am I an expert.
2. I am not a professional baseball coach. By no means do I claim to be.
3. These guys are working hard. This is their job.
The below is my personal, half-wit impression on why the IronPig’s bullpen has struggled at Lehigh Valley and when they move up to the Phillies.
Let’s start with a story. Picture a small yet exciting little league ball park in Topton, PA. The star catcher (I couldn’t run and the equipment fit) comes to the plate. Bases loaded, no outs. I use the aluminum bat to knock the dirt from my cleats. At this point I still could not pronounce aluminum correctly. I spit on my hands, rub it into the black electrical tape wrapped around the handle on the bat. I look to my 3rd base coach who is furiously running through signs. I hope I remember all of them and actually see them. I didn’t see a sign, I hope I didn’t miss anything important. Worriedly, I step into the batters box only to hear the 1st base coach yell “TIME!” He crosses over to the 3rd base coach. They argue. They reach an agreement and I get a new set of signs. I confidently step back in the batter’s box only to hear “TIME!” called again. The coaches convene and call me over.
“Danny, can you bunt?”
“HE Shouldn’t be BUNTING!”
“I’m the manager, I make the calls”
“He’s a power hitter”
“He’s a line drive hitter”
“Bunt Danny, Bunt”
“No, don’t bunt.. swing away”
They give each other a look, the ump calls me back to bat and there I stand. 10 years old. Making the biggest decision of my baseball career to that point. Who do I listen to? Coach #1 who wants me to bunt? Coach #2 who wants me to swing away? (Coach #2 bought us hot dogs after the game.. guess who won out using my 10 yr old’s logic?)
My point is… we’ve had a lot of pitching coach changes. The IronPigs had Rod Nichols up until this year when promoted to the Phillies. In came Ray Burris. Both excellent and accomplished pitchers and coaches. Are they thinking on the same lines though?
First point is Aumont. Aumont made a statement earlier in the season, to paraphrase, that one level (of the organization) is telling him to do one thing and another is telling him something different. He was respectful but frustrated.
Next, you have Friend get demoted to Reading only to come back soon after touting his AA pitching coach for solving his problems.
Tyler Cloyd’s entire season. Last year’s Cinderella story of the International League wasn’t supposed to be in AAA until a suspension pushed him to be the opening day starter for the Pigs resulting in near perfection in that game and an IL Pitcher of the year award. Beginning the season at Lehigh Valley, it became obvious someone or something had been working to get him to change or modify his efforts.
From these three points you may think I am focusing the “reasons” onto the Lehigh Valley pitching coach, and I am not. Several different coaches are involved and what I believe is happening is that they have different theories on pitching, on technique and on strategy. Even if it is a minor delivery change or pitch selection. Throw the fastball more. Throw the cutter more. Don’t throw 0-2 count curveballs. Then to hear something completely different from another coach.
My advice to the Phillies organization (which might reveal my inner nerd), as far as pitching coaches.. there can only be one. One overall effort to develop and advance these pitchers. Two or three conflicting sets of instructions will only serve to confuse and frustrate the staff and do you really want that pitcher to decide who he’s going to follow? Do you want the fate of his career leaning towards whoever is buying him a hot dog after the game?
What do you think IronPig and Phillies fans? Will it be a burp, a hiccup or something worse?