The Philadelphia Phillies don’t need any more problems to their team. They’re stuck in last place in the NL East and they’re missing both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the disabled list. Roy Halladay isn’t pitching like his usual self, the bullpen has been downright awful, and every other team in the NL East seems to be really good.
Maybe this is a new trend happening; after all, the Phillies can’t be good forever. They have won five straight NL East titles but they are aging while the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves are hitting their stride. The following 10 players are just a select few players that will cause trouble for the Phillies for many more years.
Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Fortunately for the Phillies, Bryce Harper will be hitting free agency in about six seasons, and the New York Yankees will probably be waiting with a contract and a pen for him to sign. Harper has already started a rivalry between the Phillies and Nationals caused by Cole Hamels beaning him in the back, and these two teams will likely be battling it out for the NL East crown (along with the Atlanta Braves).
Harper is a five-tool prospect, he’s a lefty, and he’s already hitting over .300 at just 19 years old. Harper has Hall of Famer written all over him. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that by the time he hangs up his cleats, there’s a chance Harper may be considered the greatest hitter that ever lived. Let’s just hope he relocates to the American League so the Phillies don’t have to play him nearly as often.
Stephen Strasburg, P, Washington Nationals
Stephen Strasburg is scary good. He’s 6-feet-4 inches tall, he throws 100 miles per hour, and he’s just 23 years old. Strasburg has bounced back from Tommy John surgery in a big way, as he’s 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA in six starts, and he’s averaging a strikeout per inning.
Strasburg is 8-4 with a 2.28 ERA in his career, having struck out 10.7 batters per nine innings in his career compared to just 1.8 walks, and he’s allowing just 6.6 hits per nine innings. The Phillies have posted a 3.48 ERA against Strasburg lifetime, much superior to that of other teams, but Strasburg is a beast, and he’s going to be lethal against the Phillies’ lowly offense in the future.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington Nationals
The Nationals recently inked Ryan Zimmerman to a six-year, $100 million contract extension that will keep him in D.C. through the 2019 season (with a club option for 2020).
Zimmerman hit a walk-off grand slam against the Phillies last August, and he’s going to be a right-handed power bat for the Nationals for the next decade or more. Zimmerman is slumping in 2012, as he’s at just .226/.319/.339 with one home run and seven RBIs in 72 plate appearances, and he also had a down year in 2011, hitting just 12 home runs while missing a third of the season due to an abdominal injury.
Jonny Venters, RP, Atlanta Braves
I don’t think enough people realize just how good Jonny Venters is. He’s arguably the top left-handed reliever in the game, and he’s going to be serious trouble for the Phillies’ left-handed hitters such as Howard, Utley, and Domonic Brown.
Venters has a 1.89 career ERA and he’s posted an ERA under 2.00 in all three MLB seasons. He’s averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings, he’s giving up just 6.2 hits per nine innings, and he’s allowed only three home runs among the 754 batters he has faced. Venters has held opposing hitters to an absolutely unreal .236 slugging percentage, and hitters are slugging just .160 against him in the ninth inning.
The only thing I can take comfort in is that Venters is not a starter.
Jonathon Niese, SP, New York Mets
The New York Mets just signed Jonathon Niese to a five-year, $27.5 million contract extension plus team options for both the 2017 and 2018 season, which is a steal for the Mets. Niese is just 24-24 in his career with a 4.36 ERA, but he’s only going to get better.
Niese is a tough lefty who only throws in the low nineties, but he should be a good matchup for Howard, Utley, and Brown in the future. Howard is 1-for-13 with five strikeouts against Niese, Utley is just 2-for-9, and Brown has never faced him, but considering Brown struggles mightily against lefties, he probably won’t fare too well against him.
Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
As a 20-year old rookie in 2010, Giancarlo Stanton hit 22 home runs with 59 RBIs in just 396 plate appearances, and he followed it up with 34 home runs, 87 RBIs, and a .537 slugging percentage in 601 plate appearances in 2011. Stanton is off to another solid start in 2012, and he’s going to be a league MVP candidate in the future.
Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta Braves
Heyward was my league MVP pick for the 2011 season, and he vastly underachieved (which made me extremely happy as a Philadelphia Phillies fan). Heyward is hitting .268/.372/.485 with four home runs and nine stolen bases, and he’s going to be one of the best right fielders in the National League for the next decade or more.
Heyward has struggled in his career against the Phillies – he’s at just .193 with a .301 slugging percentage in 99 plate appearances, but that total will only go up.
Tommy Hanson, SP, Atlanta Braves
The Braves are really turning over their starting rotation. Derek Lowe was traded to the Cleveland Indians and Tim Hudson is in the final year of his three-year deal he signed prior to 2010. The next wave of Braves starters will be Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran.
Hanson still hasn’t hit his big contract yet, but he’s going to get a big deal soon. He was 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA in 22 starts last season, striking out 142 batters in just 130 innings. With a high strikeout rate and a controllable walk rate, Hanson is a good pitcher who will likely serve as the No. 2 starter for the Braves for many more years.
In his only start against the Phillies last year, he threw a seven-inning gem, and he has a 2.93 career ERA against the Phillies.
Craig Kimbrel, RP, Atlanta Braves
The Phillies already got to Craig Kimbrel once this year for a blown save, but Kimbrel has the tools to be a top-three closer in the game. He has a career strikeout rate of 15.4 batters per nine innings, and he has given up just 5.4 hits per nine innings in his major league career. Kimbrel led the National League in saves in 2011 with 46, and he is tops in the league in 2012 with 10.
Kimbrel is 8-3 in his career with a 1.89 ERA, and he’s nearly untouchable when he is healthy. Kimbrel has given up just three home runs among the 446 batters he has faced in his big league career, and whether or not he gives the closer job to Venters in the future, Kimbrel will still be an extremely tough pitcher to face.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, LF, New York Mets
I may be jumping the gun here, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis is having an extremely promising start to his major league career. He was promoted when Andres Torres went on the DL and now that Jason Bay is on the DL with a fractured left rib, Nieuwenhuis may be here to stay.
He is hitting .310/.381/.440 in 114 plate appearances this season, and that’s the kind of production that should get Nieuwenhuis regular playing time from here on out.