If you listen to sports talk radio in Philadelphia, you would probably think that the Phillies were in last place. All you hear about the Phillies is the hosts and callers complaining about their lack of hitting and how there are so many areas that they need to improve. Someone who doesn’t follow baseball might think the Phillies are in last place, but we know better.
The Phillies currently sit atop the NL East with a 25-12 record, the best in the majors. I simply don’t understand the naysayers and all of their complaining.
Do the Phillies have weaknesses? Of course they do, but every team around baseball has weaknesses. The Phillies simply have fewer weaknesses and more strengths. The strength of this pitching staff, both the starters and the relievers, is going to carry this team a long way, maybe to another parade down Broad Street.
Here is an interesting early-season statistic. The Phillies are currently 17-7 (.708 winning percentage) in games decided by three runs or less and 11-4 (.733) in games decided by two runs or less. The Phillies are the kings of the close game, which is a big reason why I believe this team will have success whether they hit or not
I find that stat to be remarkable, but not at all that surprising. When you have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt (currently on the disabled list), Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton anchoring your pitching staff, you have, by far, the best rotation in baseball. There is not one weakness in that group.
When you lose your No. 1 closer (Brad Lidge) and then your No. 2 closer ( Jose Contreras) to injury, and your No. 3 closer, Ryan Madson (probably the Phils’ closer of the future anyway), is throwing lights out, that’s pretty impressive.
When you add youngsters such as Vance Worley and Antonio Bastardo, both of whom have also been great this year, it makes for an unstoppable force. The Phillies’ pitching is so deep that, as long as they get some timely hits here and there, they don’t have to be a powerhouse offense to win 100 games. This is not your older brother’s Philadelphia Phillies; this is a whole new age of outstanding pitching and timely hitting.
Hmmm….outstanding pitching and timely hitting, which team does that remind you of from last year? Yes, you guessed it. That would be the San Francisco Giants, last year’s World champions. If the Phillies model their team off of last year’s Giants team, I don’t think too many fans would be disappointed.
So, let’s ask that question, why are the fans so disappointed? Well, it’s pretty easy to surmise: Fans are used to a Phillies team that mashes the ball and scores tons of runs, finishing tops in the league in runs scored and home runs. So far this year, they are not at the top in those categories. Give it time, though, because if they get a healthy Chase Utley back, things may imrove for this offense.
The season is just beginning, and the Phillies are off to a great start. I, for one, have no complaints. As long as the team keeps winning that’s all that matters to me and to the Phillies.
KNOCKING OUT STARTERS: For the second straight weekend, a Braves starting pitcher was injured while facing the Phillies. Last week Derek Lowe, who had a no-hitter through six innings, had to leave the game due to a blister on his foot. On Friday, rookie Brandon Beachey had to leave the game after three innings due to an oblique injury. Howard had already tagged Beachey for a three-run homer, but the Phillies actually lost the lead before rallying late for a 5-4 victory.
UTLEY ON THE MEND: Chase Utley continues his rehab with the Clearwater Threshers (the Phils’ single-A Florida State League affiliate) after his time in extended spring training in Florida. Utley went 1-for-2 with a walk, two runs scored, and a home run Thursday night for the Threshers. He also played second base in the field, which is a good sign, because he was the DH in the game before that. Because his rehab assignment began Thursday – and can last no more than 20 days – if all goes well in Florida, then next question will be whether Utley should head north for some at bats in Reading (AA) and/or Lehigh Valley (AAA) before he is activate by the Phillies.
A quick peek ahead reveals that Reading is home from May 20-26 and the Iron Pigs return to the Lehigh Valley May 21-29. Which could mean that Utley would return the Phillies’ lineup on Memorial Day, for a May 30th day game in Washington. Stay tuned…and remember that if it works out that way, you heard it here first!
ROLLINS REDEEMS HIMSELF: During Wednesday’s game against the Phillies in the 8th inning, with the score tied at one apiece and Roy Halladay on the mound, Jimmy Rollins made a costly error that ended up giving Halladay the loss in a 2-1 defeat.
On Thursday, though, Rollins redeemed himself by hitting a two run single in the ninth inning to give the Phils a 5-3 victory. The Phillies were down 3-0 in that game and came roaring back with five runs from the seventh inning on. By winning on Thursday, the Phillies avoided losing back-to-back series, which would have been the first time that’s happened all season long.
THE “TERRIBLE 20:” The Phillies are in the midst of what some people are calling the “Terrible 20.” This stretch of games started with the Atlanta Braves on May 6. This stretch of games is being referred to as the “Terrible 20” for two reasons: first, the Phillies play 20 games in 21 days, but reason No. 2 is even worse than that: every opponent during this stretch of games has a record above .500.
During this stretch, the Phillies play the Braves twice, the Marlins, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Colorado Rockies, the Texas Rangers, and the Cincinnati Reds. It is a brutal stretch of games, and the Phils don’t get any relief until they play the Mets and Nationals at the end of May. For all the naysayers out there, we will see if they still have a candle to hold at the end of this stretch.
If the Phils are still in first place and have the best record in baseball when this stretch is over, then that will tell us a lot about this Phillies team. The Phillies are currently 3-3 during this stretch of games with 14 more to go. I will keep you posted in next week’s notebook on how they are doing.
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