Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Kids are Alright

Games 50 through 59 - Phillies

Astros 4, Phils 3
Astros 4, Phils 3
Phils 15, Astros 6
Phils 20, Rocks 5
Phils 7, Rocks 4
Phils 6, Rocks 1
Phils 12, Fish 3
Fish 7, Phils 3
Phils 7, Fish 5
Phils 5, Redlegs 4

Record: 34 wins, 25 losses

There certainly is something to be said for 10 game hiatuses (hiatii?) The win/loss margin was fixed at a largely expected and rather ho hum +5 the last time I posted. Since then, the lads in red pinstripes have posted 7 wins against 3 losses to move into first place 9 games above .500. Granted, 3 wins have come against the lowly Rockies (schandenfreude anybody?) However, the Phils held their own against the Astros drubbing them in the series finale 15 to 6. They also drew first blood against a team they could not have anticipated dueling with first place on the line just after Memorial day, the surprise Miami Marlins. To be where they are at this juncture is comforting considering the following:
  • Cole Hamels' (5-4) last two efforts on the hill have jettisoned his ERA from a nifty 2.61 to a merely mortal 3.73. More alarming is the fact that he surrendered 13 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings failing to get past the 5th in either of his last two starts. With the way the team has been scorching the ball lately, you'd think he'd be more comfortable out there. What really makes the whole situation perplexing is that the two previous outings he had before the implosion were spectacular - 16 IP, 8 H, 4 BB, 17 K, 0 ER.
  • Bret Myers is 3 and 6 with a 5.52 ERA. Of his 12 starts, he has managed only 5 quality starts.

  • Jamie Moyer (6-3, 4.65) has been the default staff ace simply because he pitches well enough to win and avoids the Hiroshima outings.

  • Kyle Kendrick has been what we expected (5-2, 5.00)

  • Adam Eaton finally got a win after 11 starts.

That type of starting pitching, even if you were to adjust it for offensive inflation, rarely belongs to a team in first place one week after Memorial Day. The composite record of the starters is 20-18 with an ERA of 4.75.

There exists a hidden stat here of course, which is probably the main reason the Phils have managed to find themselves in first place this late into the season. The statistic is that to date, each starter has taken the ball when his turn in the rotation came. Not one missed start. Not one! Trust me, for this franchise, this qualifies as a phenomenon. When they take the ball, the starter usually go 6 innings. Again, nothing short of a miracle for this club. The result of this steady if unspectacular pitching is that it has transformed the bullpen into one of the best in the majors.

The great pen work has been mirrored by a very effective bench both in terms of great pinch hitting (Dobbs and Jenkins) and good defense (Taguchi and Bohn.) No manager in baseball has a personality which stands in such dramatic contrast to his home town's personality as Charlie Manuel's. He's parodied as a bumpkin and his every move since he got into town is mocked as being typical of the rube he is. This year however, the bench and bullpen are making Charlie a genius and buoying the city's hope. Let's not kid ourselves however. The lineup is a potent mix of brutal sluggers and fleet footed baserunners. Both in their approach to hitting and baserunning, this team keeps the pedal to the metal. Scoring 320 runs in 59 games will make even Willie Randolph look like a genius. Who can measure the psychological bonus effect this gives the whole team? It seems to provide Old Man Moyer and The Kid Kendrick some comfort. Is any deficit insurmountable? Evidently not. Is great starting pitching necessarily the key to prosperity? I still think so but it sure would be fun to be wrong on that count.

So here we are on June 3rd and a little over 1/3 of the season is done. There has been turmoil in Flushing, surprises in Hollywood, F-L-A and much of what we expected in Hotlanta and DC. The Phils are in the catbird's seat. Heady times, these.

Misery? Mediocrity? What do I know?

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