This is not raising the red flag, just merely raising awareness.
It’s almost one fourth of the way into the 2011 Major League Baseball season and all seems well atop the National League East standings.
The Phillies are in first place. They are leading the division by two games over the Florida Marlins. And even after dropping two of three in Atlanta, they still hold a 3.5 game lead over the Braves. The Phillies were the first team to 25 wins, and have the second best winning percentage (.641) in the majors.
So again I ask, all is well in Philadelphia right?
There is a dark cloud looming over the horizon for Phillies fans. It is the unavoidable notion that our pitching staff, alone, will not take us to the promise land. The greatest pitching staff ever? Maybe. A historic season from one rotation? Possibly. But you ask any of the four aces and none of the numbers mean anything unless they are wearing jewelry come November.
The Phillies are winning, yes, but it hasn’t been pretty thus far into the season. Despite having the highest batting average in the National League East at .256, they are only managing to score 4.2 runs a game. The pitching staff has really offset these numbers with a 3.12 ERA; good for second best in the National League behind Atlanta (3.01).
Coming out the gate, the Phillies were impressive in April. Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard both broke team records for offensive numbers in the month. Polanco collected 41 hits and Howard racked up 27 RBI. The month of April was a good but not very challenging schedule for the Phils. They opened against Houston, took two out of three from the Mets, swept the Padres and played very well against Atlanta and Washington.
Many insiders were saying May would be a true test of what this Phillies team is made of. So far, the team is barely playing .500 ball at 7-6 for the month.
The starting rotation, aside from Joe Blanton, has been pulling their weight. Cliff Lee has the highest ERA amongst their starting pitchers, minus Blanton add-in Vance Worley, at 3.78. By no means is this all Joe Blanton’s fault. Or Kyle Kendrick for that matter.
Fans are so quick to throw these guys under the bus when the Phillies lose due to late inning runs. Kendrick took the shaft when the Phils lost in 14 innings to the Mets. If you look at the game much closer than just the box score you will see the Phillies had bases loaded in the sixth and eighth innings. Also, Jimmy Rollins and Ben Francisco were caught stealing for the final outs of the first and tenth innings, respectively. Rollins was caught napping and put in a pickle while Benny Fresh should not have been running in the first place.
There is a lot of things going on with this team and it all stems from the hitting. Milt Thompson was fired last season in July after the Phillies failed to score five runs or more in 47 of their first 95 games. In 23 of those games they scored one run or less.
Like I said, it is still early in the season but the numbers are talking. Out of 39 games, the Phillies have only managed four runs or less in 25 of them. They already have half a dozen games where they scored one run or been shut out. This team can not solely depend on its pitching.
So what gives?
Is it too early to call for hitting coach Greg Gross’ locker items? Is it time to question Charlie Manuel’s game inside the game coaching?
Yes, it is still probably too early for these questions. But when does Ruben Amaro Jr., and the fans, start wanting answers? Can the Phillies sit back and wait for Chase Utley to come back thinking he is the missing link? Here’s a secret for you; he isn’t. This goes way past Utley and Domonic Brown‘s injury.
Utley will undoubtedly help this lineup. As will the 100% healthy versions of Roy Oswalt, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz. The sad, daunting truth about this game is that it’s a long and hard season. Guys like Halladay, Lee and Hamels will get tired. It will be hard to win a Championship when Roy Halladay is on the losing end of a 2-1 ball game.
A couple weeks ago, ahem ahem, I called the Rollins-Victorino swap at the top of the line up. It’s a move that has been more positive than negative. It allows Jimmy to see more pitches (20 BB) and gives Victorino more RBI opportunities (19). Obviously Manuel doesn’t care about Victorino’s personal stats but when Rollins only had two RBI through the first 20 games it was definitely time for a change.
The only problem now is what other changes need to be made? You can’t have Utley in there, that’s a given until he is back healthy. Raul Ibanez is a dying dog after Howard. Somehow Howard has put up great power numbers (9 HR 35 RBI) even with the usual easy out Ibanez behind him. Ibanez saw a lot of time below the .200 mark earlier this season and if not for a hitting party against the Washington Nationals he may have lost his job. He has topped out at .237 for the time being.
Could inserting John Mayberry Jr. into the left field spark the team? Maybe. If so, Charlie has to stay with it. It is not helping anyone, especially Mayberry, to get spot starts and not a good feel for the game. These are Major League baseball players, I know, but they still need consistent looks at the plate.
Now here is the good news. The Phillies are still in first place at 25-14. Whew.
There is no return date set for Utely, but the end of the month is still a good optimistic guess. Oswalt looks on track for his Tuesday start while Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge are taking baby steps back to recovery.
The Phillies will do a quick two game series in St Louis before hosting the Rockies for a quick two in Philly. The Rangers will be in town after that to kick off interleague play before a four game set with the Reds. It’s not getting any easier. I am sure our boys are up for the task.