Entering this season, there were high hopes for this Phillies team. There was also a healthy dose of skepticism as to whether or not making the playoffs was a realistic goal because every team in the National division improved far more than they did in the off season. With eight wins and nine losses to date and some vital question marks emerging as to the make up of this team, making the playoffs is going to be a season long battle that will most likely depend on how well the Phils do against their division rivals and whether or not they can stay healthy or pick up a player or two at the trade deadline.
Looking at their lineup from top to bottom, we all knew the Phillies would hit the ball and put up plenty of runs, provided they could reverse the trend of leaving too many runners on base as they did for much of last season. With the exceptions of Jim Thome, who is off to an even slower start than usual, and David Bell, who has been hitting better of late, the top of the Philliesʼ lineup is hitting quite well. Jimmy Rollins has a decent on base percentage and doesnʼt seem to be swinging for the fences as he has been criticized for in the past. He has struck out swinging at some bad pitches, but also had some very good at bats in which he fouled off a bunch of pitches and walked or got a hit. Bobby Abreu is hitting well, as Philly fans have been accustomed to for years. Pat Burrell has cooled off a bit lately but is hitting phenomenally well with five home runs and is among the league leaders in RBI with 20. The platoon of Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels in center field has worked out well with both players hitting well and fielding solidly, with the exception of a few early season miscues from Lofton, who is still getting used to his new surroundings. Catcher Mike Lieberthalʼs struggles at the plate seem to have carried over from last season, as hehitting only.229 thus far.
The only other question mark offensively for the Phillies seems to be more of a question of manager Charlie Manuelʼs decision to not start Chase Utley every day at second base as he alluded to in the preseason. Placido Polanco is a very capable player and does play well when called upon at second base, but Utley is clearly the future of this team, not Polanco, so one wonders why Manuel is basically platooning these two thus far. Manuelʼs clear philosophy of keeping veteran players happy could cause some problems in the clubhouse later in the season and if Polancoʼs production drops off, pressure from the fans and from talk radio to play Utley every day could change his mind. A better solution to this problem would be to platoon Polanco at third with Bell, who is not hitting particularly well and has been injury-prone in recent years.
Starting pitching seemed to be the huge question mark for the Phillies heading into this season, but it has performed far better than most expected. Jon Lieber has emerged as the clear staff ace with four wins and no losses to start the season and a 2.73 earned run average. Brett Myers has looked more focused posting a 1-1 record with a 1.71 ERA and 27 strike outs in his four starts. Randy Wolf is 1-1 with an ERA near 5.00 but has looked solid at times. Cory Lidle has pitched very well but had no run support and is 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in his three starts. The fifth spot in the rotation has been troublesome for the Phils so far with second year player Gavin Floyd struggling after winning his first start and Vincente Padilla getting absolutely shelled in his first start back from elbow tendonitis, giving up six home runs and eight runs in three innings last week against the Mets. But overall, the Phillies starters are clearly not the problem. The bullpen has been awful with Tim Worrell, Ryan Madson, Terry Adams, and Rheal Cormier, all with ERAʼs of 6.75 or more. Aaron Fultz has been solid and pitched well lately, and Billy Wagner has been his usual reliable self so far.
The bullpen needs to turn things around in a hurry or the front office is going to have to think about acquiring some help. With GM Ed Wade already on the hot seat, it will be interesting to see how long the Phillies can hover around the .500 mark before the fans and talk radio personalities start calling for his head.
All in all, itʼs been a solid season so far with the team hitting well and the starting pitching surprising a lot of people in the area and around the league. But for the Phillies to make it to the post season in such a tough division, they are going to need to keep hitting and pitching well, and for the bullpen to turn it around in a hurry, otherwise, finishing any higher than third in the NL East could be a long shot.