“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”
I like to be the one with the answers, you know. I like to be the one who knows everything.
But, as we count down the final days and weeks of the 2016 baseball season I seem to have more questions than answers. Of course, answer columns are more fun to write.
I have some sources, and I could try to find some answers–but confirming them might be difficult, and the truth is, I’m not sure anyone knows the answers to these just yet. The folks charged with deciding might not have made up their minds. An injury here and a trade there and the answers could change. Hey, you can answer them yourself, in the comments, if you want–but I bet you’re guessing. Granted, some of these are easier than others. We’ll follow with some news and notes:
- How long will we have our “triplets?” In 1994 the Yankees “Core Four” of Jeter, Pettitt, Rivera and Posada paced the Columbus Clippers to a winning record, but finished out of the playoffs. Jeter was only there for 35 games. The 2016 IronPigs are paced by own version: JP Crawford, Nick Williams and Jake Thompson. Add in Andrew Knapp if you want to make it to four. You could make a case for any or all of them to get to the Majors this season–as soon as right now. But when? Thompson is already aligned to take Hellickson’s spot in Philly in case he gets moved at the trade deadline. The outfield is crowded, the infield is staffed, Crawford’s thumb is healthy–as are the catchers in Philadelphia. Will we get to keep some or all of these guys for our playoff run? Is that what the Phillies want? Or do they even know?
- Will the team be able to maintain the “culture of winning?” The hockey guys are never afraid of the question. They’ll tell you about the goal of making the playoffs before a regular season game is ever played. There’s no such thing in the baseball clubhouse–not early in the season anyway. But now we’re starting to hear from the Manager about how the team is coming together and refusing to lose. And Brundage has been there before, as manager of the 2007 Richmond Braves who made the playoffs via the Wild Card and defeated Scranton then Durham on the way to the Governor’s Cup. But can it continue? Can the “culture” withstand promotions and roster changes down the stretch?
- Can the rotation continue to be a strength? With our current ace Thompson getting in line for a promotion, Eflin already in The Show, Asher injured and suspended, and Appel injured, the starting rotation has already withstood a fair amount of adversity. Yet, they continue to be a strength. The veterans Morgan and Buchanan will likely lead the way, with Lively starting to settle in at AAA. Will Phil Klein continue to hold down a spot? Effectively? Who can come up from Reading to help? Will Russell return to the rotation at some point?
- What other reinforcements will be coming from Reading? The Fightins have been chugging along with one of the best records in all of professional baseball; will players get promoted? Will they have to adjust to AAA right in the middle of a playoff push? How will they do? Anthony Vasquez could come back from Reading to help the rotation if needed (above), and RHP Nick Pivetta has certainly spent a reasonable amount of time in AA. As for the bats, I’m not sure I want to see the “bash brothers” Cozens and Hoskins trying to adjust to AAA breaking pitches down the August stretch. However, the addition of Freddie Galvis when we made a run in 2011 worked out OK.
- What’s going to happen with all these outfielders? Aaron Altherr (photo above) is getting healthy. He should be in Allentown to continue his rehab, on Monday when the team returns home to face last-place Syracuse at Coca Cola Park. Wednesday is a day game, so I’d plan on seeing the “Rhineland Rocket” for only Monday and Tuesday before he gets activated–assuming all goes well this weekend in Reading and so on. Philly may try to trade Bourjous, but Asche is playing well, and the All Star Odubel is always in the mix. I suppose you could cut Paredes but you’ve got to maintain Goeddel at this juncture. It’s just a lot of guys, especially when you add in Altherr, and Nick Williams is knocking on the door like Marissa Tomei’s biological clock in My Cousin Vinny.
- When will the IronPigs ask me for money for playoff packages? This one’s easy: Soon. Probably August 1 or so.
- What up ‘Bash Bros?’ Can Hoskins and Cozens keep up the pace? Are they pushing each other like a teammate, non-chemically-enhanced version of Maguire and Sosa? Will the Phillies leave them in the friendly environs of Baseballtown, or challenge them with Coca Cola Park, where power hitters come to die? Is there even room on the IronPigs’ roster for these two, right now?
- Will other promotions impact the Fightins down the stretch? Other guys are playing well. Valentin could move. Alfaro could be ready for a new challenge. We mentioned Pivetta already. Milner and Joely have been pitching well in relief. Will the veteran Fox get back to AAA this season? If Reading loses a couple guys, could it make their team look fairly ordinary, instead of exceptional?
- Will reinforcements from Clearwater be forthcoming? You could have made a case for some of these guys already: Second base prospect Scott Kingery seems like he’s ready. LHP Elniery Garcia and reliever Victor Arano are throwing well, and have been. SS Malquin Canelo can certainly handle the fielding part if Reading wants a true SS–and he’s logged over 150 games in Clearwater already over the past two seasons. Who will move up? When? How will Reading make room?
- How will Reading’s rotation hold up? There have been some hiccups. We mentioned Nick Pivetta leading the way. The veteran Vasquez is there now, again, as a steadying force. Tyler Viza is settling in, but Eshelman has had some struggles. Pinto has been hot and cold. The bats have been covering up a lot of shakiness; that could be a problem in a 5-game playoff series. Could Trenton catch them?
- Has Trenton figured them out? The AA-Yankees affiliate reportedly fed the Reading bats a steady diet of breaking pitches and frustrated the pounding lineup greatly in a recent series. Will other teams follow suit? Richmond took three of four from the Fightins before the break. New Hampshire took two of three before Reading returned home yesterday. Hartford took the opener last night. The Fightins are 6-9 over their last 15. Is the shine coming off?
- Is Dusty Wathan up to the task? He’s about to become the Fightin’s all-time winning manager, but I heard whispers down the stretch last year that he wasn’t managing effectively. Will he be aggressive? How will he handle the pitchers? Will he be able to manage to win rather than manage for development? He may not get the influx of trade talent he got last season with Thompson and Williams.
News and Notes
- The IronPigs are 59-40, 19 games over .500 ties their highest-water point ever, from 2011. It’s also their best start to a season, ever.
- In the standings, the ‘Pigs continue to trail Scranton by 2 games, but have a narrow 1.5-game edge in the wildcard standings over Rochester. Rochester and Scranton are the only two teams to watch on the scoreboard, as the South and West won’t figure into the Wild Card. Buffalo is 7 games behind us, P’tucket 8 and Syracuse bringing up the rear 12.5 games back of the ‘Pigs.
- So it stands to reason that two of the three–Scranton, Lehigh Valley, and Rochester–will make the playoffs, with the first round series then to take place between the two as long as everything holds about this way. Could be an extended IronRail this year, no?
- With the Yankees mired in a middling season, will Scranton lose any of their own young talent? You’ve gotta think Judge, Severino and Sanchez are on the radar for promotion at some point. How will the trade deadline impact the Yankees and their AAA squad?
- As I mentioned above, I’m expecting OF Aaron Altherr to rehab this weekend in Reading, then move to Allentown on Monday. He’s due to come off his rehab on the 27th–a day game for the IronPigs would be a good opportunity to get him a day off and get him back up to the Phillies.
- The IronPigs have won 7 of their last 8, and the first four games of their western swing. Starting pitching has been really good, with good results from Buchanan, Klein, Thompson and Morgan thus far. I’ll be interested to see how Lively does tonight in Louisville.
- The Pigs face LHP John Lamb tonight, and have a 24-10 record when facing an opposing LHP/Starter. They are 10-6 on Fridays, 32-18 on the road, 13-5 in July, 33-15 since June 1, and 43-13 when scoring first.
- TEAM BATTING (IronPigs):
- 4th in Runs
- 2nd in Hits
- 2nd in Doubles
- 3rd in Triples
- 2nd in HR
- 2nd in OBP
- 1st in SLG
- 2nd in AVG
- 2nd in OPS
- TEAM PITCHING (IronPigs):
- 3rd in ERA
- 3rd lowest Hits allowed
- 4th lowest Runs allowed
- 1st lowest Walks allowed
- 1st lowest WHIP
- Reading Playoff “strips” are on sale now to Season Ticket Holders. Interesting that they don’t take your money; you are charged after the number of games that are actually played–a difference from how the Phantoms are doing things, and how the IronPigs have done it in the past.
- Reading has released their home schedule–subject to change of course–for the 2017 season. I’ll be interested to see how much it overlaps with Lehigh Valley before I sign on again–but I have had a fun time going down there and I like my section and my seats. Here it is: 2017_Reading_Fightin_Phils_Schedule_9bv4bwc1
- Interesting that the famous “morning game” is in August next season–won’t be too cold at least, and the kiddos are out of school.
See you at the parks,
Altherr cover photo by Cheryl Pursell