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Frandsen, Kratz give Phillies fans reason to stick it out in September

Let’s give the Phillies some credit. Despite being out of the playoff hunt, they have become a team that can be fun to watch. With a little over a month to go in the season we know that the Phillies will miss out on October baseball for the first time since 2006, which means that we will get plenty of time to watch some guys get some playing time in hopes of staying on the roster for next year. With any luck the team will develop a team chemistry that will serve as the basis for the 2013 season, which I do believe will be a big rebound season for the team.

Kevin Frandsen and Eric Kratz could be decent bench players in 2013.
AP photo.

Kevin Frandsen and Eric Kratz have played well lately and are starting to make some serious cases for being strongly considered for a roster spot next season if their play continues. Frandsen is not going to be a starter at third base for the Phillies but he is showing enough grit to be considered for a backup role for a few infield positions and is capable of backing up Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins if needed, although that could change depending on what the status of Freddy Galvis is next season. It is important not to get too carried away after 20 games. Frandsen has played just one season with more than 54 games played, and that was back in 2007. He is a decent infielder who can do a good job filling in when needed and capable of filling a hole for a 15-day disabled list stint by a regular. He likely is not going to be an every day solution for the Phillies, so finding a third baseman with a good bat in the off-season should remain one of the top priorities.

Kratz is 32 years old, so he is not exactly a young stalwart behind the plate, but could be just fine in a back-up role behind Carlos Ruiz. Brian Schneider’s contract is up after this season and this figures to be his final year, at least with the Phillies, at the age of 35. As much as you ask from a backup catcher, Kratz seems to be able to handle it. Why not give the Lansdale native a chance to stay on board. Again, a small sample size at the major league level, but it would be more cost effective to keep him on the roster as a back-up in 2013 than to bring in an older veteran. The Phillies have other needs to send their money in the off-season.

Throw in the continuing review of outfielders Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. and perhaps some other relievers and you can try to get a sense of what the future will be for this team. Games like last night can be exciting regardless of a lack of postseason implications. You want to see the team compete, especially when the younger players play a vital role. Domonic Brown came through with a big hit Monday night and on Tuesday he raced around the bases to score the tying run in the eighth inning off of a Frandsen triple. I know the team is out of the race, but I admit that play actually had me up in my living room clapping and cheering. I want to see this team play well. I want to see these upcoming players have an impact. It is still baseball and it is moments like that which will enjoying the rest of the season.

But for as much growth that can happen between now and the end of the season, the veteran players still need to do their job that they are expected to be able to handle. Last night was not that case.

Juan Pierre was 0-for-5 but I lean toward giving him a pass after the kind of season he has had. Pierre does not go 0-for-5 very often so I feel I can let him slide this time without any resentment. The offense may not have been real hot last night but Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley each had a pair of hits and Ryan Howard had a decent night at the plate as well with a hit, one RBI and a walk. No, last night once again fell on the pitching staff as it has seemingly all season long.

Cliff Lee was good but he started to crack in the sixth inning and could not patch things up in the seventh to hold on to a slim 1-0 lead. He was charged for three runs, two of them earned, and he struck out nine batters. Overall that is actually a very good night for any starting pitcher. The offense failed to give him any wiggle room, but Lee id not give up a home run and he was let off the hook for a loss, but after Lee found a way out of a huge jam in the sixth inning the leash probably should have been short for Lee given the way things have gone this season.

While Lee gave up the lead, Tuesday night’s failings lay squarely on the arms coming out of the bullpen once again. B.J. Rosenberg did his job in ending the seventh inning for Lee with no more damage. Rosenberg’s one-third of an inning of work allowed the Phillies to stay in the game and ultimately saw the offense even things up in the bottom of the inning. It was up to Antonio Bastardo to keep the momentum going after a long layoff for him out of the bullpen, and he failed. Bastardo picked up two outs but served up a solo home run to Reds first baseman Todd Frazier. The Phillies offense would bail Bastardo out in the bottom of the eighth inning, which meant closer Jonathan Papelbon was charged with holding the game at 4-4.

It took just one pitch to see that mission fail.

Baseball logic suggests that using your closer at home in the top of the ninth inning is the right move, but why does it seem to fail as often as it does? I simply cannot find words to explain it other than the mental state of a tie game and a save situation must be so different that it does affect something. Papelbon is a very good pitcher who will make mistakes. As was the case last night, those mistakes can cost any team a game in a hurry.

Papelbon explained after the game he may have been over-thinking the situation, and to his credit he did own up to coming up small last night.

“I think it was me coming into a situation and [over-thinking],” Papelbon said in a story on Phillies.com. “My job isn’t to go out there and [over-think]. My job is to go out there and execute pitches. That’s basically what it boils down to. I’m thinking in a tie ballgame the leadoff hitter is probably going to maybe take one and try to manufacture a run off me. Instead of me giving in and saying I’m going to throw a strike, I’ve got to execute a better strike.”

For those who believe that the Phillies still have a chance to make a run for the playoffs, I will not chastise you for your optimism. After all, until they are mathematically eliminated you are right. There is a chance. But if the young players are going to help fuel a new energy and the veteran bats are going to do what they can do for any sort of postseason run, the bullpen cannot afford to be throwing games away the way they did last night in the eighth and ninth.

But hey, I’m still watching and I’m going to enjoy the rest of the season. Hopefully you will too.

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