Former Phillie and current ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk took some time for a one-on-one with Metro to analyze the Phillies and the club’s chances to compete for a playoff berth.
What will it take for the Phillies to contend?
They need Ryan Howard to hit 40 homers. They need Domonic Brown to do what he did last season but get him on the field more. They need Chase Utley to play 130 games. Jimmy (Rollins) has to be the MVP like he was in 2007 or close to that even though that’s a lot to ask. The pitching has to remain healthy.
So they need to catch lightning in a bottle to play meaningful ball in October?
Yes. It has to be a perfect storm. if they’re going to beat the Braves and/or Nationals, everything has to go right. Three or four guys have to have career years. The starters have to be healthy.
Their bullpen has been a disaster for the last two seasons. It has to improve to give the Phillies a chance.
It has been a disaster. They’re young except (Jonathan) Papelbon. It’s hard to count on young guys. The bottom line is to throw strikes. I was asking how does anybody hit (Jake) Diekman. I’m told he’s 2-0 on every hitter. That’s why he has trouble. Will a new pitching coach help? I don’t know. Sometimes you are what you are.
Diekman was very tough on lefties last season and he looks like he could be taking that next step.
I trust you on that. You’ve seen the Phillies more than I have. Diekman could be more than a left handed specialist. He could be a one or two inning-guy because of his stuff. What’s he going to be like in June up against a tough left-handed hitter like Freddie Freeman with the game on the line? We’ll have to see.
Speaking of Freeman, if Howard, who has three 140-plus RBI seasons on his resume, stays healthy shouldn’t he be able to approximate Freeman’s breakout season, 23 homers and 109 RBIs?
Yes. If Howard stays on the field he’ll do that by accident. He’ll hit 25 homers without a doubt, if he stays healthy. He’s a proven run producer. He’s done that throughout his career but he has to be healthy.
Would you change Howard’s approach at the plate by giving him the take so he might be able to bat in a hitter’s count?
No. I know what you’re saying. He’s often behind in the count immediately. But he has to figure out if it’s a strike or a ball. My big issue with Ryan Howard and I’ve said it so many times on ESPN is that he stands too close to home plate. He’s so close to the plate that his first move is to clear his hips He’s so close to home that he has to be conscious of the inside pitch. He’s so close that it looks like sliders away are a strike but they’re balls out of the zone. He’s 6’5” (actually 6’4”) with long arms and he’s on top of the plate. That makes no sense to me me but he has put up numbers I never dreamed of putting up. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to say it’s wrong considering what he’s done.
Howard has decided to move a step back off the plate this season.
Good. That will help him hit the ball the other way, which is when he’s so dangerous. If he is strictly pull, that’s bad since he hits into that shift.
What’s your take on Dom Brown?
He has to stay healthy. If he can play like he did last season, that will be huge for the Phillies. The thing that impressed me about Brown last year was that he made adjustments. When he first came up, he was an out. He lowered his hands and he’s more calm at home plate. In that ballpark he should hit 20 to 25 homers every year. He should also drive in 100 runs a year, if everyone else plays accordingly.
What do you think of the Marlon Byrd acquisition?
I love it and I love him. I coached him in the minor leagues. I love him. He’s like a son to me. What Marlon brings is something they desperately need. They need someone that can compete for nine innings. He does what Chase does and I’m not sure how many other guys on that team, I’m not going to mention names, are invested in playing hard every day to try and win a division. Sure, they won a championship but they need guys like Chase and Marlon. He’s a huge pickup for the Phillies.
Byrd was lost and immature during his last tour of duty with the Phillies.
He has completely changed his approach, thank God. He had that step and wait (hitting approach) and it was ugly. I let him know. He went back to what we were working on when I was with him in AA many years ago. He had a great year and was rewarded. He brings an element that is more than numbers. He’ll be a difference maker in the clubhouse. They haven’t had a guy in that clubhouse that would say anything to anyone about being late or not giving enough effort. Marlon will hold his teammates accountable. Ryne Sandberg will say something but it means more when your peer says it.
Their top three starters are as good as the Nats three best hurlers but what does it matter if the bullpen stinks?
It’s true. The rotation is only as good as your bullpen. You saw it two years ago when Cliff Lee pitched great and couldn’t win a game. You saw Cole Hamels pitch well after May last season and he couldn’t win a game. I’m not worried about the Phillies rotation. They need to score runs and they need their bullpen to hold the leads. If they can do that, they have a chance. I don’t know if the Braves got better. They lost (Brian) McCann and (Tim) Hudson and they’ve lost some starters (due to injury). But Washington will be good. I think they learned that you just don’t throw your gloves out and teams will roll over for you. It should be a fun division but everything has to go right for the Phillies.
What about the Marlins and the Mets?
I think the Mets will definitely be better this year. They picked up (Curtis) Granderson. He’ll make them better. It’s a shame about (Matt) Harvey but they still have a collection of good young arms. I like what’s happening with the Mets. They’re going to be a team to watch. The Marlins will be more competitive this season.
Everybody loves the Dodgers.
Everybody loved the Nationals last year. You have to play the games. The Dodgers do look good on paper.
Last year the Red Sox surprised everyone.
That’s right. That can give the Phillies some hope. The Red Sox came off a dreadful season and they won the whole thing. The Red Sox will be interesting to watch this year. They lost Jacoby Ellsbury but they have so many good young players. It’ll be interesting to see if Grady Sizemore does anything for them.