There are few things better for a Phillies fan than watching a weekend sweep of the New York Mets. After beating the Mets into insignificance, the Phils embarked on the final week of baseball before the Mid-Summer Classic. After a winning election campaign from Shane Victorino and a last minute knighting of Jayson Werth, the Phillies will be sending five players to the All-Star Game. Destined to prove they belong, both Werth and Victorino were the centerpieces for what was an outstanding week in Phillies baseball.
On Monday, air raid sirens were heard throughout Philadelphia as the Phillies dropped a 22-run bomb on the Cincinatti Reds. In a game that saw every batter in the starting nine get a hit, the historic night featured home runs from Victorino, Werth, Chase Utley and Greg Dobbs. After dropping Tuesday night’s game in the ninth, Victorino returned the favor to the Reds on Wednesday by hitting a walk-off single. The Phils pounded the Reds pitching again on Thursday to win the four game series and build on their division lead over the Florida Marlins.
The Pittsburgh Pirates entered town on Friday for the final weekend before the All-Star break. Friday night featured a pitchers duel between Pirates lefty Zach Dukes and the Phillies Joe Blanton. Again, both Victorino and Werth played the starring role, going a combined four for seven with two doubles, two r.b.i.s and one run scored. On Saturday, Ryan Howard showed why Charlie Manuel picked him to also represent the Phillies in the All-Star game. With the Phillies down 7-4 in the bottom of ninth, Howard stepped to the plate as the tying run. Howard who had already gone two for two, took a low and inside fastball to the deepest part of the ballpark for a three run game-tying home run. That would set the stage for Paul Bako’s walk off single, and the Phillies had won their fourth game in a row and their third straight series. Sunday, the Phillies completed the sweep of the Buc’s courtesy of a first inning Pedro Feliz grand slam. The sweep made the Phillies the hottest team in baseball heading into the break. The nine and one homestand didn’t hurt either.
At the plate the Phillies were unstoppable. Jimmy Rollins has continued to improve his batting average by batting .407 with a .529 OBP this past week. Chase Utley was just as hot batting .423 and belting three bombs in the last seven days. Werth, Victorino, and Howard all put up solid numbers batting well over .300 for the week belting a combined seven homers and driving in 24 runs.
Joe Blanton was stellar this week winning both games started and allowing only one run in 14.2 innings pitched. Not only did Blanton keep runs off the board, he also struck out 11 while posting a 0.82 WHIP. It seems as if Blanton has again become the innings eater Pat Gillick promised when bringing him over from Oakland last season. More than that, Blanton has been absolutely filthy in his last few starts and may no longer be a concern. Pitcher J.A. Happ also continues to be a bright spot in the Phillies rotation improving his record to 6-0 winning the first half finale. Allow me to stick my neck out a bit, but if Happ continues on this role in the second half, he should garner serious consideration for Rookie of the Year honors. Couple his record with his 2.90 E.R.A., there are few rookies that are having the year Happ is.
Winning can be a deodorant for those things that stink, and lost in the stellar home stand is Cole Hamel’s continued struggles. Although Hamels pitched a great game Monday, he did so with a ten run lead after one inning. Saturday’s start against the Pirates was more indicative of his recent slump. Giving up five runs in the first two innings, Hamels never looked comfortable. Perhaps the time off will do Hamels good, but a couple more starts like this to start the second half could be the sign of a disturbing trend. Add to that Jaime Moyer’s shaky outing and Rodrigo Lopez’s shoulder injury heading into the break, the Phillies pitching problems are far from solved.
Overall the Phillies head into the second half ten games above .500 holding a 4.5 game lead over the second place Fish. They carry a five-game winning streak into the week and will take that south to Florida to face the Marlins next weekend. By this time next week, the Phightin’s may be officially running away with the division. Hittin’ Season has only begun.