Depleted Red Barons Struggle To Stay Afloat

While Phillies fans are focusing on the current woes with the major league club, the perenially solid Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons are experiencing a slide of their own. The Red Barons are now the <I>former</I> first-place Red Barons and haven't shown any signs of pulling out of their recent fall from the top of the division.

For Scranton, July has not been a happy month. They came into the month leading the Northern Division of the International League, but odds are that they're not going to leave in the same position.

In the month of July, Scranton has had losing skids of three games, four games and have twice lost five in a row. Only once this month have they won back-to-back games. They're currently on another three game losing streak. Since the All-Star Break, they're 3-12 and they're 5-21 in the month. Those numbers have them currently 2 ½ games behind Buffalo in the division. The Red Barons play a double-header tonight in Durham and then start a series in Richmond before coming home for a showdown with Buffalo at Lackawanna County Stadium.

There is no doubt that the loss of Chase Utley and Brian Powell to the big league club have hurt the club. Say what you will about Powell at the major league level (1-2, 4.11), but he was strong for Scranton, going 3-1, 1.62 in eight starts. Powell also contributed with innings and threw two complete games at AAA this season. Utley, who was shuttling between Philadelphia and Scranton, was hitting .285 and is still third on Scranton's team in homeruns.

The arrival of Marlon Byrd and Shawn Wooten from the major league club hasn't really helped. In some respects, those additions hurt. The Red Barons had room for Mark Budzinski, Lou Collier, Jorge Padilla and Mark Smith in the original lineup. The arrival of Byrd and Wooten took up two spaces, meaning the other guys had to find spots to get playing time. That might not have been so bad if Byrd and Wooten were hitting, but they've combined to hit just .241 with three homeruns and 24 RBI. Budzinski, Collier, Padilla and Smith were hitting .294 with 33 homeruns and 189 RBI.

Powell's spot in the rotation has been filled primarily by Frank Perez (0-4, 5.29), who hasn't put up anywhere near the numbers that Powell did. Add to that the continuing struggles of David Coggin and Eric Junge, who were both spending some time at the Phillies Clearwater stomping grounds and the Red Barons' pitching staff suddenly isn't what it was earlier in the season.

But wait, it gets worse. Clay Condrey (6-6, 6.07) started the season on fire, but has cooled considerably. Condrey has gone from a guy who was getting consideration to fill a spot on the big league roster to a guy who might be gone if not for the rest of the woes on the pitching staff. Now, Josh Hancock (8-7, 4.01) another important piece of Scranton's rotation was pressed into bullpen duty in Philly, putting another bullet through the heart of the Red Barons. Ed Yarnall (3-3, 4.16) and Robert Ellis (4-4, 2.83) have been nice in-season additions to the staff who have contributed well.

The bullpen took a hit with the loss of Geoff Geary (1-2, 2.95) who was splitting closer duties with Jim Crowell. Fortunately, others have stepped up. Spike Lundberg (5-2, 2.91) arrived from Reading while Dan Giese (10-5, 3.30) and Greg Kubes (4-3, 3.16) have stayed strong. Crowell (5-1, 1.81) has been lights out, notching 12 saves. The problem is that he hasn't had as many opportunities as the Red Barons need him to have.

There is also some speculation about manager Marc Bombard exiting to take over the major league club. Odds are though that while Bombard may be considered for the job during the offseason, it's not likely that the Phillies would hand him the reins in the middle of a pennant race. Should Larry Bowa be escorted out, it's more likely that Charlie Manuel or Gary Varsho would take over.

Much like the big league club, the Red Barons are in need of pitching. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like much help will be on the way. A major league move or two could return Powell and/or Geary to Scranton, but that's about the best that they can hope for.

On the upside though, the Red Barons don't have to play any teams from Florida.

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