Philadelphia Philies: A Third of the Way Home

1 Jun

The Phillies have now played 55 games (they’re playing number 56 as I write) which means they have just passed the 1/3 mark of the season.  They sit in first place in the East with the most wins and the best record in baseball.  This will not be surprising to many based on the lofty expectations surrounding this team.  But there have been some surprises worth noting as we head for the half-way mark:

Yes, as noted above the Phillies do have the best record in baseball but did you know that they’ve accomplished this despite the fact that they haven’t played a single game with their pre-season starting line-up in tact?

Although Cliff Lee was the talk of the off-season, his sub-par 4-5 record and 3.94 ERA aren’t much to talk about.  Instead it has been hometown boy Cole Hamels with his 7-2 start who joins the always reliable Roy Halladay  (7-3) with the most wins on the team.  In fact, you could make a case that Hamels, the least hyped member of the big 4, is the team’s best pitcher so far.

After an horrific April in which he batted .161 including 26 strikeouts, no one could have predicted that by the end of May, Raul Ibanez would be the Phillies hottest hitter.  But he is–batting .317 for the month with a .594 slugging percentage (compared to .218 in April.)  He had 6 home runs in the month and 17 RBI.  For a team that was having trouble scoring runs Rauuuuul‘s offensive resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time.

Another pleasant offensive surprise of late is Dominic Brown.  He is batting .333 since his return to the team and is riding a  six-game hitting streak.  After a dismal Spring Training mercifully cut short by his broken hand, it’s terrific to see Brown finding his stroke and adding some needed youth to this largely veteran Phillies line-up.

Having Chase Utley back in the line-up so soon was surprising to me.  And it is no coincidence that the Phils, who were struggling to score even two rooms a game, are averaging six runs a game since Utley‘s return.  I still hold my breath, though, every time he slides into second or pivots to make the throw on a double-play ball.

But perhaps the most important surprise of the season so far has been the Phillies bullpen. They got lost in all the pre-season hype over the starters but it’s the pen that has turned out to be a key strength for this team starting with Ryan Madson.  The closer-by-default has become the closer-extraordinaire with his 12-12 in save opportunities and 1.88 ERA.  Jose Contreras has yet to give up a run in his admittedly injury-shortened season and he’s 5-5 in save opportunities.  And perhaps the biggest surprise has been Antonio Bastardo who is 3-0 coming out of the bullpen with a 1.40 ERA to go along with his 26 strikeouts in 19.1 innings.

As I write this post the Phillies are down 2-1 to the Nationals.  Will they find some late inning magic to pull this one out?  By the time you read this we’ll all have the answer to that question but there are several others that are sure to keep us guessing:

Will Raul continue his hot streak at the plate?

Will Cliff Lee find his groove and some more wins in the months ahead?

 Will Ruben Amaro Jr. make a deal for a bat at the trade deadline?

And what will my next post be about?

Although we may have to wait for those answers, there’s one thing we know for sure.  As long as utility infielders can have their hats sent to the Hall of Fame, in this game anything can happen!

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