After a frustrating Friday night loss that we'll get to, the Phillies were down 5-0 in the 6th inning of Saturday night's ball game with Cliff ____ing Lee on the mound. The Diamondbacks had improved their home record to 2-10 the night before and sent the Phillies to the mat early on. The Phigtins fought off that standing eight count and capitalized on some DBack mistakes to climb back and win the game 6-5. That's what we call - big time.
Ryne Sandberg's club sits at 13-12 on the season after a 2-0 shut out win to cap a 6-4 road trip today. They are playing good enough baseball to make you believe they can be competitive for the duration of 2014. Don't get me wrong, I'm not sitting here saying they will win 95 games and run away from the Braves along with the rest of the NL East. But through four weeks this team has shown the resiliency you like to see from a winning ball club.
When Saturday night's game ended I had the radio broadcast on and Larry Andersen was poignant, as usual. "What this team is doin' is drivin' ya nuts but they're keepin ya excited." Well said Larry.
I'm stealing this idea from Grantland.com's basketball writer, Zach Lowe, but here are five things I like and five things I don't like right now about this team.
1. Carlos Ruiz has his dosage calibrated right on that adderall prescription these days. He should be a shoe-in for NL player of the week. Chooch did not play in the slugfest series finale in Colorado last Sunday and entering Monday night's Dodgers game he had the following stats:
Avg: 245 OB: 365 SLG: 415 R: 10 RBI: 0 2B: 4 HR: 0
And a week later..
Avg: 296 OB: 412 SLG: 479 R: 18 RBI: 7 2B: 8 HR: 1 (He also had a triple)
Yowsers, Chooch is red hot and he's doing it from everywhere in the batting order. In the Dodger's series alone he batted 4, 6, 7, and 2. So yeah, CHOOOOOOOCCHHHH has been texted quite a bit this week.
2. I've been saying it for years and John Mayberry Jr continues to cement my thoughts on him which includes but are not limited to his head being stuck up his ass. Friday night Sandy tapped him to pinch run for the Big Piece at 1st base in the 8th inning of a one run game; the idea here being Mayberry could score on a double or go 1st to 3rd much easier than Ryan Howard could. We thought wrong.
Marlon Byrd followed with a line drive down the left field line that Tony Campana, the Diamondback's weak throwing left fielder, was able to cut off right at the warning track. With the play in front of him, and only one out, Mayberry slammed on the brakes about 5 steps past second base. I can't fathom the thought process that's going through his mind not attempting to get to third base in that situation with one out in the inning. It's literally what he entered the game to do but he figured he'd just give the team what Howard would have been capable of giving them on the base paths. I'm borderline surprised Chase Utley didn't call time, walk out of the dugout, and go slap Mayberry in the face for such an incomprehensibly stupid play. Sandberg made it clear after the game that he was disappointed in this play. Needless to say, so was I.
To make matters worse, the Phils once again threatened in the top of the 9th and Mayberry came up in Howard's spot with two outs and the tying run on second base. He worked the count full and then watched a fastball directly down the middle whiz by. Game over. I went to bed Friday night about as upset with a Phillies player as I'm capable of being.
3. The starting pitching has been solid. As I said in my season preview, the starting pitching should be the least of the Phillies worries and lately that has certainly been the case. AJ Burnett in particular has been nearly lights out since he tweaked his groin four starts ago. In his three starts since he's lowered his ERA from 3.94 on the season to 2.15. Including a masterful eight shut out innings today, Burnett's line for the last three starts looks like this: GS: 3 IP: 21.2 ER: 2 K: 18 BB: 3. His 6 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio is a vast improvement over his 5 to 7 ratio over his first three starts.
Kyle Kendrick has yet to record a win this season but he has kept the Phillies in every game he has pitched. Here are his earned run totals for each of his five starts: 1, 4, 2, 3, 2. That's getting it done as the 5th starter. Cole Hamels looked sharp in his season debut loss at the Dodgers. If he pitches as well as he did Wednesday night the top of the rotation featuring him, Lee and Burnett should prove to be formidable. Roberto Hernandez hasn't been awful but he hasn't been that good either.
4. Third base is a gaping hole offensively right now. This article from the Phillies official ESPN blog Crashburn Alley shows that the Phillies platoon at 3rd base is performing staggeringly below the league average level. In fact, as good as Chase Utley has been at 2nd base is how bad the combination of Cody Asche, Freddie Galvis, and Jayson Nix have been. Utley has cooled off a bit of late but he was the best baseball player on the planet for a 15 day stretch there so it's pretty clear the Phils are in trouble at 3rd base. For more perspective just know that Freddie Galvis is ONE for THIRTY on the season. You almost have to try to be hitting .033.
5. Here's to me not having the power to jinx these sort of things but Jonathan Papelbon has not allowed a run since his second outing of the season. Everybody was quick to lose their mind about how bad Papelbon was on his way to blowing an early game in Texas but he's been rock solid since that game. He's had 10 one inning appearances and has seven saves, eight strike outs, four walks and a 2.38 ERA to show for it. This is the kind of production that is absolutely necessary from Jonny Paps and it feels good to report this kind of thing.
6. Not to be overlooked by other things I'm not fond of, but the bullpen continues to hover between "I wanna kill Ruben Amaro for not getting us anybody better than this" and "Oh my god! Please hang on, please hang on, please hang on!"
The bullpen is dead last in the NL in ERA at 5.22. I thought for sure they'd be dead last in the Majors but the Tigers' pen has a 5.65 ERA and the White Sox relievers are checking in with a whopping 6.07 ERA. And you thought the Phils were bad, can you imagine almost being a full run worse? Pour one out for White Sox fans this year..
Anyway, Jake Diekman, he of the 98 MPH heater, has been the main culprit of late. Sandy had some mercy and optioned BJ Rosenberg for assignment which left Deikman to be the new guy to give up all the late game home runs. It's a combination of Diekman being terrible and missing his spot and the players he's facing being Major League hitter's and not missing his vomit-inducing hanging sliders. Diekman has allowed 10 runs in 12.1 innings which equates to a 7.30 ERA. That's the opposite of doing your job.
7. Through the first 14 games, the Phillies had 13 errors. Through 25 games, the Phillies have 14 errors. Through the first 14 games, the Phillies had given up 10 unearned runs. Through 25 games, the Phillies have given up 12 unearned runs. Get the picture? The sloppy ball the Phils were playing in the first two weeks of the season has subsided and the team has started to flash some leather.
Two players of note are Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. Jimmy just still flat out gets it done and he's a marvel to watch at short. He's lost a step but it's barely noticeable and he still has that gun attached to his right shoulder that hits Ryan Howard in the stomach every time it's fired. Byrd is just a welcome sight in right after watching Delmon Young flounder about last year. Marlon is a professional outfielder in that he always seems to be on his horse by the time the camera angle changes and follows a ball into the outfield. He's made several diving plays and is a bonafide upgrade defensively over anything the Phils have had since Hunter Pence.
8. It's nit-picking but Marlon Byrd has to cut down on his strikeouts. I'm pleased with the production from Byrd (He leads the Phils with 16 RBI) but we can't have our four and five hitters combining to strikeout 36% of the time, like they currently are. Ryan Howard is who he is and there's no stopping that strike out train, but Byrd has to figure something out to give up the team lead in strikeouts to the rightful owner. Of note, Ryan Howard is 10th in the NL in Ks. I'll take it.
9. Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen
10. Tom McCarthy, Matt Stairs, and Jamie Moyer.
NL East Standings through 4 weeks:
Atlanta Braves ............................ 17-7 (Yikes)
New York Mets ........................... 14-11 - 3.5 GB
Washington Nationals ................... 14-12 - 4 GB
Philadelphia Phillies .................... 13-12 - 4.5 GB
Florida Marlins ............................ 11-14 - 6.5 GB
Werth the Watch:
Avg: 281 OB: 378 Slg: 438 HR: 3 RBI: 14 R: 14
Shane Victorino (He's now played 3 games)
Avg: 133 OB: 188 Slg: 267 HR: 0 RBI: 0 R: 2
Avg: 253 OB: 349 Slg: 400 HR: 2 RBI: 8 R: 15
Avg: 155 OB: 221 Slg: 310 HR: 3 RBI: 15 R: 7