Let’s face it. There is nothing about the Tigers playing the Phillies that screams traditional rivalry.
If we look a little deeper, though, the outlines of how Detroit could play an important role in the Phillies’ hopes of defending their National League pennant begin to emerge.
Even extending their winning streak to three games by defeating the Tigers, 8-3, Monday night at Citizens Bank Park still leaves them four games under .500. If the season ended today, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs.
The reason the Phillies find themselves playing from behind in the standings is because both offense and starting throws have been very inconsistent.
There’s not much Chiefs of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski can do about the lineup. He’s besotted with big contracts that all guarantee that he plays Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, JT Realmoto, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos almost every day when he’s healthy. There is no wiggle room here.
Rotation is a different story. The spin does not have a fifth start. Even assuming Aaron Nola, Zach Wheeler, Taiwan Walker and Ranger Suarez are still in good health, that’s a void that must eventually be addressed.
Andrew Painter might be a top prospect, though that’s asking a lot for someone who’s 20 with only five career starts as a Double-A who’s been at IL all season with a sprained elbow. There is no set date for when he will return to the mound. Other respected prospects, Greif McGary (who’s coming off a slant hit and haven’t stretched yet) and Mick Abel (2-3, 5.09 ERA but 30 hits allowed and 48 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings) are still in double-A.
Season opener Billy Walther can be called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where none of the other IronPigs starters have put up eye-catching numbers.
The Phillies can make a deal. Of course, they’ll have to find a team that’s out of contention and looking to jump start rebuilding for 2024 before the August 1 trade deadline. A team has a pitcher or pitchers who can become free agents at the end of the season, which means that current employers may choose to turn them for whatever the market will afford rather than have them walk away in the off-season.
In other words, a team much like the one currently occupying the visitor’s stash at CBP.
Only three teams in the MLS are further than Detroit than third and last. And by some coincidence, they had three rookie pitchers who could control where they would play next season and who might be of interest to the contenders.
RHP Michael Lorenzen
The 31-year-old got off to a good start with a 3.22 earned run average and a 0.94 WHIP and allowed zero or one earned run in four of his last five starts. He earns 0.5 million.
Unfortunately, he pitched last on Saturday so the Phillies were not scheduled to face this series.
LHP Matthew Boyd
Overall, the numbers for the 32-year-old are unimpressive: 3-4, 5.57 ERA. But he got off to his best start of the season on Sunday against the White Sox when he struck out nine in five innings pitched while allowing one run on three hits.
Tigers MLB.com beat writer Jason Beck writes: “This is more in line with what Boyd’s metrics suggest: His swing and miss rate ranks in the top 20 percent of major league pitchers according to Statcast. His fastball turnover rate ranks in the top eight percent this season up a bit on Sunday, which helped him hit eight of his fifteen swing goals.” His salary is 2023 million.
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
He will be the winner of the prize, but there are complications. He’s under contract with Detroit for another three years at a gross salary of $1 million but has an opt-out clause. He is 4-4 with a 2.13 ERA and 0.98 WHIP but was placed on the IL with an injured finger and expected to be sidelined for at least six weeks.
It’s hard to say if it would be a bigger gamble for the Tigers to make him available or for another team to risk giving up too much to get him.
Tigers aren’t the only potential trading partners, of course. The White Sox, who have fallen behind the Tigers’ pace, are likely to at least listen to Lucas Giolito’s pitches. The pool of teams willing to sell should grow as the deadline approaches. Will the Guardians consider breaking up with Shane Pepper? Giants with Alex Wood? Marcus Stroman, who can opt out of his contract at the end of the season?
Then there’s the question of how much the Phillies would be willing to spend, in terms of money and players, to support the rotation.
It will depend on how well the Phillies do in the coming weeks, how much managing partner John Middleton is willing to dig his pocket and the aforementioned company contributions of Nola, Wheeler and Walker & Suarez.
Still, it’s fun to think about while the tigers are in town.
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