Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Consistently Inconsistent

The "I probably shouldn't have swung at that" Face

What can you say about this baseball team? I haven’t posted in almost two weeks and I’ve just been searching for an angle that doesn’t make me want to shoot myself in the face.

Cliff Lee has landed on the DL with elbow issues.

Dom Brown may have had his talent removed just like Charles Barkley in Space Jam.

Cole Hamels can’t get a win when he leaves with a three run lead. And he has a 4.50 ERA.

Kyle Kendrick went 16 starts dating back to last season until he finally got a win yesterday.

Ryan Howard went 79 whopping plate appearances without a home run before he connected on Memorial Day. My god, that’s shameful.*

Josh ____ing Beckett threw a goddamn no-hitter against the Phillies on Sunday. Couldn’t have happened to a better guy – cue Rodney Dangerfield eye roll. I think it’s more impressive that the Phillies hadn’t been no-hit since 1978 when compared to Beckett actually throwing the no-hitter. No-hitters are impressive but they happen on average 3 times a year.

The Phillies followed that up with a 9-0 shellacking of the best hitting team in baseball, the Colorado Rockies. Go figure, huh?

When it comes right down to it there’s not much you can say about this team except that they are inconsistent. The starting pitching is serviceable, maybe not without Lee, but with Lee it’s above average. The bullpen is atrocious, but that’s a given.

It’s the hitting. Something’s gotta be done about the hitting. I say this exactly how Doc Brown would say it to Marty McFly, “Your parents! Something’s gotta be done about your parents!” Our summer being more enjoyable and Marty’s life depend on it.

The Phillies have just been stuck in 2nd gear since The Big Piece tore his Achillies. I looked it up; the Phillies haven’t won more than 5 games in a row in since September 2012. They went all of 2013 without winning more than 5 games in a row. Do you know what their longest winning streak is this season? 


Three wins in a row is what this collection of ballplayers seem to be capable of and that will keep you below .500 with little doubt. You have to reel off 7 in a row once a month, or 9 out of 10. Just get hot, an extended period of good play for Chrissake! It has been elusive for this ballclub and who knows if they are even capable of it at this point?

Through 48 games the Phillies are averaging exactly 4 runs per game. The Rockies lead the NL at 5.04 per game and the Padres are woefully last at 3.17. The perplexing thing is that the Phillies are currently averaging 3.38 runs per game following a win. Their winning does not beget winning. If you’re averaging 3.38 runs per game following a win, it’s not surprising you can’t win more than 3 in a row. Makes me sick that I looked that up and my suspicions were correct.

The era of sabermetrics is fully upon us as evidenced by shifting, situational relievers, the value of on base percentage and things like BABIP and UZR, if you know those last two more power to you. These things are all well and good and can provide an advantage to ballclubs because they are more prepared and ready for all situations. But what it doesn’t account for is karma, or the intangibles that good teams have and thrive off of in order to be great.

I liken this to how the Phillies made their initial run to the playoffs in 2007.  Let’s be honest, that team had bonafide superstars in their prime mashing the ball, but they also had a makeshift-crap pitching staff.  That staff had a 4.73 ERA (The current staff has a 4.07) and featured the likes of Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, JD Durbin, and Jon Lieber as starters with Bret Myers, Geoff Geary, and Antonio Alfonseca getting the bulk of the work in the bullpen (Brings back memories doesn’t it?).

That team had “it” though. They were 7.5 games back with 17 to play and the sense of urgency was there. When one guy made a play, it felt like it bolstered the confidence of everyone else on the team to make the next play. When Jayson Werth stole 2nd, stole 3rd, and scored a huge run to beat the Mets one fall afternoon you could feel the energy radiating through the television.

This team doesn’t have that. They play like individuals collecting 6 figure checks every other Friday. It’s like they’re punching a clock. Utley plays hard and Rollins plays well, but how vocal are those guys? Do they tell Dom Brown to quit dicking around that they’re trying to win a division here? Does Chase to go Ryan, “Hey, maybe you should watch the film of the Rockies relievers with me? We’re playing them this week.” Does Sandberg get angry when they get no-hit or does he heap praise on Josh Beckett? Ummm..

This team just doesn’t feel like it has what it takes to build momentum because they’re busy stopping it dead in its tracks every time it starts. I know in my heart (not my head) that there is one way this team can build momentum. One man that they could rally around and feed off his energy and once powerful bat. That man is Ryan Howard. He hasn’t gone on an old-fashioned Ryan Howard tear in longer than any of us care to remember. But if he can start sending moon shots out of the ballpark on a more consistent basis we’re going to see more wins and more life out of this team. Here’s to hoping.

NL East standings after 8 weeks:

Atlanta Braves....................  28-22  -
Miami Marlins.....................  27-25  2 GB
Washington Nationals...........   25-26  3.5 GB
Philadelphia Phillies............   22-26  5 GB
New York Mets...................  22-28  6 GB

Werth the Watch:

Jayson Werth

Avg: 276 OB: 365 Slg: 396 HR: 5 RBI: 20 R: 29

Shane Victorino - Back on the DL

Avg: 242 OB: 276 Slg: 352 HR: 1 RBI: 10 R: 10

Hunter Pence

Avg: 289 OB: 363 Slg: 463 HR: 6 RBI: 18 R: 38

Raul Ibanez - no longer playing every day

Avg: 156 OB: 278 Slg: 279 HR: 3 RBI: 20 R: 13

* Ryan Howard is currently 1 home run and 1 RBI from being in the top 10 in the NL in both those categories.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Light a Match - Blow the Joint

Light a match. Blow the joint.

You know the scene in Goodfellas. The mob had taken over a restaurant and milked it for all it was worth before setting it on fire to collect the insurance. That's where we're at with this Phillies team, it has been milked for all it's worth with the collection of aging superstars that are still capable of production but not actually winning anything significant.

I've basically lived and breathed Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for 10 years now so this is not an easy thing to come to grips with, but this article from CrashburnAlley.com really set me off. The article tells us that the Phillies aging players (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, and Marlon Byrd), all 34 or older, are playing anywhere from average to well above average offensive baseball.  Where's the hope for the future if the Phillies can't win when the old guys we count on the most are actually coming through? Despite Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins being off to near career type years, the Phillies are still four games under .500 and in last place in the NL East.

Their record is a bit deceiving though considering their run differential. They have been outscored by 34 runs on the season which is bad enough for 3rd worst in the MLB. This basically means they have a good record in 1 run ball games but get blown out quite a bit.

The supporting cast of younger guys are just not what they need to be. Dom Brown has been laughable, Larry Andersen insists Brown's bat is made of balsa wood this year. Cody Asche has shown some ability but he made three errors in an 8 batter stretch on Tuesday night. The bench, admittedly still without Darin Ruf, is woeful. Of the non-every day players not named Wil Nieves, Tony Gwynn leads the bunch with a .185 batting average.*

To take a page from Rick Pitino: Jayson Werth is not walking through that door. Shane Victorino is not walking through that door. Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and pre-steroid bust Antonio Bastardo are not going to walk through that door. For years Utley, Howard, and Rollins were the faces and the carriers of this franchise, but they always had a ton of help that can't be overlooked.

Guys like Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez had 30 homer seasons and helped the Phillies make the playoffs during their sustained success. Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino not only hit with power and consistency but they both played All-Star caliber defense with rockets for arms. You don't make the playoffs with your left fielder and center fielder combining for one home run and five doubles through 40 games. You don't make the playoffs when your in-his-physical-prime-left-fielder gets referred to as being on crutches by Keith Hernandez while attempting to field a ball in the corner. You don't make the playoffs when every player in the league can take an extra base on your center fielder's arm.

We don't even need to go over the bullpen.

So the Phillies are clinging to hope with a team that does not provide a ton of it to be honest. There's plenty of blame to go around but the fact that the Phillies haven't brought up one productive major league player** through their farm system in 5 plus years, save a two week stretch from Dom Brown, is a glaring factor. The Phillies currently have three players in the MLB.com list of 100 top prospects. Most of you have heard of number 23 on that list, Maikel Franco, as well as Jesse Biddle and there's hope that those two can contribute to the Phillies in the coming years. But why hasn't any other talent emerged? Unless you're the Yankees, most teams have to build teams from the ground up and that's what the Phillies need to do, again.

The Phillies have to start right now and they should not stop until every trade option has been analyzed and made for the benefit of the ball club going past this year. Here's Chase Utley's current stats and NL rank:

Avg: 343 - 2nd
2B: 17 - 1st
3B: 3 - 2nd
OB: 401 - 8th
Slg: 571 - 5th
WAR: 1.9 - 7th

It's nice to see Chase Utley back to being the best second baseman on the planet. Last year Rube signed him to a two year $28 million extension and that kind of production has to be attractive to any team looking to make a push. As it stands, Utley is by far the Phillies' most attractive position player and he should be able to garner a few prospects in return for his services. You could sell high right now.

Let's see.. who else might be of use to major league ball clubs and could net the Phillies some much needed talented youth? You guessed it - Cliff Lee. Clifton Phifer is in the 4th year of a 5 year deal and will make $25 million next year with a little more than half that remaining this year. That price tag probably limits the Phillies to teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Tigers, and Rangers. Anaheim has some money too. All of those teams, and any team really, could use the services of Lee and you'd have to believe even Ruben Amaro could squeeze out a few meaningful prospects for a top 5 left hander in the game.

Cole Hamels may be the most difficult to part with because he is the only Phillie that is truly still in the prime of his career. He's still owed yacht-ful of money, $90 million over the next 4 years, but once again his value should be able to bring back the Phillies several top prospects for any organization willing to pay the king's ransom that is Hamels' salary.

Jimmy Rollins has been playing his best baseball in years but Jimmy has a full no trade clause and isn't going to go anywhere until he breaks Mike Schmidt's franchise hits record. He should be able to do that by the All-Star break if he doesn't go into any kind of slump. Rollins could provide a team with gold glove defense, big game experience, and some pop at the shortstop position. Rollins may not warrant a ton on the open market given his age, but if someone's buying the Phillies should be selling.

With the contracts where they stand, and even with Jonathan Papelbon being nearly the best closer in the game through 1/4 of the season, he and Ryan Howard are virtually untradeable. It's sad, but the Ryan Howard contract has been an albatross since before it began. He's on track to have his best year since it was signed but all of his peak years are far behind him. Papelbon was a glaring question mark coming into the season and while he's done some to quell that internally, he'll have to produce at this level up until the trade deadline to be able to get traded. Of course, if Ruben Amaro didn't make him the highest paid reliever in history he might have a bit more value, but that's not the case.

Even if the current management does have the stones to pull off a trade of any of the marquee names it will be imperative that they don't whiff on the prospects they receive. For instance, Amaro can't get back the poo poo platter that was Phillipe Aumonte, Tyson Gilles, and JC Ramirez which the Phillies received when they sent Cliff Lee packing the day they signed Roy Halladay. God look at those names. Cliff was an absolute beast coming off the 08 and 09 seasons and the Phils literally got no major league talent in return. That can't happen again.

Picking talent in baseball is a fickle matter. Clearly, the people in the organization who have been making these judgement calls of late are not getting the job done to any one's satisfaction. The blame for the Phillies rapid demise has to be organization wide. Otherwise, it would not have been so rapid. The farm system has just not produced any player that could move the needle after churning out the once and current stars of this roster. Is that because the Phils were picking at the end of rounds in the draft for quite a few seasons? Or because they just aren't picking the right people at the end of those rounds? It's time for the scouting department to shape up or ship out as well. Where's Pat Gillick and Mike Arbuckle when you need them?

Of course, it is only May and the Phillies have at least another month to show us they may be able to win more ball games than they lose.  I just wouldn't bet on it and I'd rather the Phillies be relevant in 3-5 years than irrelevant for 10 because they hung on to a golden era too long. See Philadelphia Phillies - 1984.

One dog goes one way and the other dog goes the other way.

* Caesar Hernandez is hitting .214 but he just got called back and has only appeared in 7 games. Wil Nieves is the backup catcher for those of you who don't know. He does not stand to get many starts but the Phillies are 5-2 when he does, and he started Sunday in the PapelGate Game.

** Antonio Bastardo is home grown talent. Take that for what it's worth.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

At It Again - The Bullpen Collapses

Whether the Phillies are a bad team masquerading as a decent team or a decent team masquerading as a bad team remains to be seen. I doubt we'll find out any time soon, at least for the latter. Nobody saw this weekend coming after the beat down the Phils received from the Toronto Blue Jays, but for the second time this season ----

I began writing this piece in the 8th inning of today's latest punch to the gut. That sentence was going to read - but for the second time this season the Phillies followed getting swept with a sweep of their own. But that was not to be on (what once was) this beautiful Mother's Day Sunday afternoon. I shut my laptop and didn't finish that sentence for fear of jinxing the win. So much for that thanks to Antonio Bastardo.

Cole Hamels fought tooth and nail through a career high 133 pitches in seven stressful innings. He left after striking out 10 with a 3-1 lead in line for his first win of the season and 100th of his career. Mario Hollands got through the 8th and Chase Utley pulverized a triple to right center scoring Jimmy Rollins to get the Phils a nice insurance run in the 9th.

Some how. Some way. Jonathan Papelbon was not available to pitch the 9th inning to attempt to nail down his 12th consecutive save. It would have been Papelbon's third appearance in as many days, but he'd thrown a mere 21 pitches split between 7 Friday night and 14 Saturday night. Ryne Sandberg will have to answer as to why Papelbon was unavailable to pitch. Papelbon has been borderline lights out for over a month and was sorely needed in today's ball game. To make it even more of a head-scratcher, the Phillies have tomorrow off and 3 of the next 8 days. Somethin's missin' alright.

So Sandy called on the lefty, the vile thing, Antonio Bastardo to get 3 outs before he gave up 3 runs in the 9th inning. It has been mentioned prior that Bastardo has an issue with allowing the leadoff man get on, especially via the free pass. When he went 0-2 on Eric Young Jr to start the inning it was a welcome sight, but then he made a mistake that Phillies pitchers have done more than fathomably possible. He threw a pitch in the strike zone on that 0-2 count and Young slammed it down the line for a double (David Wright had two hits Saturday night on 0-2 pitches including a two run home run in the first inning). Does Bastardo not understand situational baseball? Does he lack control that bad? Is it just nerves pitching in the 9th inn- scratch that he'd do the same thing in the 8th. Whatever it is, it doesn't stop and Antonio Bastardo is killing the Phillies right now. You absolutely and unequivocally cannot throw a pitch in the strike zone with an 0-2 count in that situation, but Bastardo did.

The rest is history.

He fell behind lefty Daniel Murphy and grooved a 3-1 fastball right down the middle. Murphy paused and stared holding the follow through of his home run swing like he was Tiger Woods sticking a nine iron with the tournament on the line. I can't even bring myself to give you the rest of the details as the Phils still clung to a 4-3 lead with nobody on and 1 out in the 9th. Bastardo just wasn't any good and neither was Roberto Hernandez who Sandberg called upon to relieve Bastardo. Hernadez threw 99 pitches Friday night and was available to officially get the blown save today. Does it make sense that he could pitch when Papelbon couldn't? The answer to that question is no.

Cut to Cole Hamels losing it somewhere in Queens. 

The fact that the Phillies won the series by taking 2 of 3 from the punchless Mets is for naught with what has to stand as the worst loss of the season.  The three game set was basically two bad to mediocre ball clubs looking completely inept whenever there was an opportunity to get a big hit.* The Phillies went 8-31 with runners in scoring position in the series and left 36 men on base over the course of three games. The Mets left 37 on base and were 7-37 which included several late in the ball game today.

If this series was a boxing match, it would have been the ugliest boxing match you've ever seen. It would have been a couple of flyweights leaving themselves wide open to haymakers because they just swung and missed so bad on the previous haymaker. And that cycle repeated itself for three days.

This one hurts more than most hurt. The Phils will take on Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and the Anaheim Angels at home starting Tuesday.

*Marlon Byrd and Ryan Howard both got late game-winning hits Friday and Saturday night or we're still talking about how wretched the Phillies are.

NL East standings after 6 weeks:

Atlanta Braves....................  21-15  -
Miami Marlins.....................  20-17  1.5 GB
Washington Nationals...........  19-17   2 GB
New York Mets...................   17-19  4 GB
Philadelphia Phillies............   17-19  4 GB

Werth the Watch:

Jayson Werth

Avg: 307 OB: 395 Slg: 445 HR: 4 RBI: 17 R: 19

Shane Victorino 

Avg: 273 OB: 323 Slg: 364 HR: 0 RBI: 8 R: 5

Hunter Pence

Avg: 253 OB: 337 Slg: 377 HR: 2 RBI: 10 R: 26

Raul Ibanez - no longer playing every day

Avg: 140 OB: 250 Slg: 270 HR: 3 RBI: 18 R: 9

Friday, May 9, 2014

Bad Baseball

This sums it up for the Phillies and Freddie Galvis this week.

Last Sunday I wrote an optimistic post about these Phillies after they took two of three from the Nationals and stood at 15-14 on the season. I even sent an email to a few of my friends sharing my disgust with the Phillies ranking from Grantland baseball writer Jonah Keri. He had them 26th out of 30 MLB teams and I was appalled, at the time.

That's not great, Bob.

After watching the absolutely putrid baseball the Phils have played over the past 4 nights, Keri might be right on point with his ranking. Historically, the Phillies have been a bad inter-league play team, they are 51-67 dating back to 2007 (the Phils made the playoffs in 5 of those 8 years). However, that does not excuse them from playing historically bad baseball in a split home and home four game series with the free swinging Toronto Blue Jays. Wow, just wow, were they bad the past few days. This Toronto team didn't exactly come in touting anything particularly good as you can see from their place in the same rankings, but the Phillies sure made them look like world beaters.

The Phillies allowed the Blue Jays to bust out their brooms for a clean four game sweep because of a complete and utter lack of ability from their hitters and their pitchers. This wasn't a "we almost had em a few times sweep" this was a "how are the Phillies capable of being that bad sweep?" There were small to large tidbits that can't really be explained as to how the Phils managed to fall flat on their faces for four days straight, but we'll note them at least.

Let's start with the large. The offense has been pathetic, basically since Saturday. When Chase Utley singled home the only run in Sunday's 1-0 victory in the first inning the Phils neglected to score for 23 straight innings. Games are only 9 innings long last I checked.. so, do the math on that. 

On Monday night the Phils were shutout by JA Happ. JA ___ing Happ shut the Phillies out Monday night, just to reiterate. In that game the Phillies had 7 hits and 5 walks but none of them meant anything. They went 0-6 with runners in scoring position and Ryne Sandberg batted Freddie Galvis 2nd with Jimmy Rollins unavailable due to a groin pull. Freddie Galvis went 1-5 in the game and raised his average to .056 on the season, same as his slugging percentage. What is Sandy trying to prove there?

The next night got worse for Freddie. Watch these two videos and ask yourself if you believe Freddie Galvis belongs in the Major Leagues considering his batting average.

That's your play Freddie.

Watching Freddie Galvis play baseball lately has been like watching a slow-moving car wreck. He’s swung and missed at more balls in the dirt than a blind golfer. I like Freddie just as much as the next guy and he can certainly pick it from any infield position, but his head and his swing are not where they need to be right now. The Phils sent him to the minors after Thursday night’s game. Where's Darin Ruf when you need him?

So the Phils had to score Tuesday night right? Well, they were down 5-0 before they knew what hit them after Cole Hamels came out and performed like lukewarm garbage for his second consecutive start. That's alright Cole, the ballclub is only paying you $22.5 million this year, not a lot riding on you.

The Phils did manage to breakthrough with a 5 run 6th inning highlighted by Cody (Sm)Asche’s two out grand slam to tie the game at 5. That was a short lived positive feeling as the Phillies were now going to have to go out and win a game while relying on their bullpen.

Guess what happened in the 10th inning (The bullpen, including Jonathan Papelbon was solid from 7-9)? Antonio Bastardo allowed the leadoff man to get on with a single. This was Bastardo’s 15th apearance of the season; he’s allowed the leadoff man to reach in 9 of those appearances. 9 times. So when Bastardo induced a shallow fly to center that Ben Revere needed to throw home and nail the runner in order to preserve the tie, the ball game was essentially over. Marlon Byrd would have had a better chance to throw out that game winning run had he caught the ball just right of center while running Revere over on a dead sprint. Alas, the Phils dropped that one 6-5 and headed to Toronto.

Wednesday night’s matchup was scheduled to be a pitcher’s duel between Jays’ lefty Mark Buehrle and the Phillies’ ace Cliff Lee. Well it was, until it wasn’t. Trailing 1-0 in the 7th, the wheels came off for Cliff and the Phillies. In the 7th inning alone, the Jays sent 12 men to the plate, recorded 8 hits, 3 of which were home runs, and they needed to ground into a double play just to end the inning. Former Phils catcher, Erik Kratz, went 2-2 in the inning including a massive two run home run off Lee. Once again, the Phils could not get one hit with runners in scoring position finishing the game Oh fer five with three total hits and two walks. Blue Jays win 10-0. Thud.

If you're keeping score the Phillies had scored in two of their previous 41 innings enterting Thursday night's game. Maybe it's best we don't keep score if that's the kind of stuff that gets reported.

AJ Burnett took the mound for the Phillies Thursday night and he came in perhaps the hottest pitcher in baseball having allowed three earned runs in his prior four starts. Well, he gave up three in the second inning and ended his night with the following line: 6 IP 9 H 7 R 6 ER 2 BB 4 K 3 HR. For good measure, brand new callup Luis Garcia entered the game in the 7th and promptly gave up back-to-back home runs to Edwin Encarnacion and Juan Francisco. This pushed the Jays lead to 10-3 but that wasn’t enough as Garcia allowed another two in the 8th. Ryan Howard managed to hit a two-run home run that only felt good for his statiscits in the top of the 9th. The Phils lose 12-6.

Wow. The Jays just swung heavy lumber all series long and made the Phillies pitching staff look completely overamatched, and the Phillies’ offense woefully feeble in comparison. This, my friends, is what we refer to as a shellacking. The Blue Jays took the Phillies to the woodshed and it wasn't pretty. The four game skid places the Phillies in the cellar of the NL East.
Here are the totals for the series:

Blue Jays        Totals             Phillies
     31                Runs                11
     43                 Hits                30

     11             Home Runs*         2 

    3.09              ERA                 9.97

    .216              BAA**              .309

* Edwin Encarnacion had 4 himself. Swingin at the knees.
** Batting Average Allowed


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bullpen Blues

This is the look Avery Riley makes when Sandy calls on the bullpen

The first month of the season is in the books and the Phillies have won more games than they have lost. They stand at 15-14 and are just one and a half games back of the suddenly struggling Atlanta Braves. They are far from silencing their critics, but the starting pitching and the offense have been consistent enough to still respect this ball club.

But then there's the bullpen.

A bullpen that was exposed again Friday night when Mike Adams couldn't get an out in the 8th inning when leading 3-2 in a game handed over by Cliff Lee. A bullpen that has been by far the bigger contributor to the league worst 5.08 ERA the Phillies pitching staff has endured in the 7th inning or later through 29 games. Is that bad? A bullpen that is allowing the opposition to slug a league best .450 when the NL average is .361. Is that bad? A bullpen that is in the bottom 3rd of the league in walks given up and strikeouts. It's not good.

This bullpen is tied for the most home runs given up with the Mets and the Rockies, but the Mets bullpen has pitched 13 more innings than the Phils' and the Rockies' 'pen has logged 24 more. If the Phillies' bullpen doesn't give up another home run in 24 innings they'll be in first place. Don't bet on it.

These beleaguered relievers have officially blown six saves so far this season and only one of those has been charged to Jonathan Papelbon. Jon, since his first save opportunity of the season, has not given up a run and has been by far the best pitcher in the group (Not exactly talking about the Nasty Boys out there though). If you watch these games it can be infuriating. Not just for blowing games that should be won, but for the way the bullpen can make you feel helpless watching a team that can't afford to lose games they are winning late. They make a habit of walking leadoff men. They have a habit of walking anybody, and with the margin for error being what it is for guys like Jake Diekman and BJ Rosenberg walking anybody feels like the kiss of death.

I can't imagine what happens to Sandberg and Bowa's stomachs when Antonio Bastardo comes in and goes 3-0 to the first batter he sees in a one run ball game like he did this afternoon against the Nationals. Bowa has to keep Tums in his pack pocket with a bottle of Mayloxx in the clubhouse. Tony walked that man but did strike out the next better to preserve the lead.

The real reason the Phillies are above .500 right now is the minor resurgence of a healthy core four of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz.

Let's face it, heading into the season nobody thought Howard would be looking as competent at the plate as he has. He's not without his faults but he's been hitting the ball out of the ballpark with just enough frequency to make you believe. He smoked a 3 run opposite field shot in the first inning on Saturday night. It essentially won the game as AJ Burnett and the Phils cruised to a 7-2 victory.

If there was faith in anyone of the four to have as close to a peak season as possible it was Chase Utley. But for sure nobody thought he'd be hitting .346 after 104 at bats. He had to tail off from that torrid .500 start but he is still getting his hits. He knocked in the only run of the game today in the Phillies 1-0 victory over the Nationals.

Jimmy has seemingly risen to the challenge that is Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa telling him what to do everyday. He's gotten big hits. He has shown some of the pop that was missing last year. He could probably stand to take a few more walks but I must say I have seen a concerted effort to be more selective early in counts through nearly 1/5th of the season. Jimmy has shown some hustle with five steals and two triples while also refraining from dogging it to first all that often. Above all else though he's playing Gold Glove defense at shortstop and he just never seems to miss a makable play.

Chooch was NL Player of the Week for last week, so yeah he's been playing some solid ball. Marlon Byrd has basically replaced Domonic Brown's production last year while Dom has basically replaced John Mayberry's production last year. One home run in his last 214 at bats for Dom, dating back to last season. What happened to the power?

So does this team have a chance despite this poo poo platter bullpen ran back for another go round by GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and his brain trust? With the addition of the second wild card I say why not? Mike Adams should be hard pressed to be as bad as BJ Rosenberg. Maybe Jake Diekman can figure out how to keep the ball down. Maybe Jon Papelbon can continue his All-Star caliber play. Maybe somebody figures out how to step up instead of slip up in the 8th inning. There are plenty of maybes there but if the team continues to get quality starting pitching and timely hitting they will be competitive regardless of a mediocre at best bullpen.

There's an old adage about golf tournaments that applies somewhat to the Phils through this first month. You can't win the tournament on Thursday, but you sure can lose it. In other words, at least the Phils didn't come out with a stinkfest like the one the 11-23 Arizona Diamondbacks have put up. It'd be pretty hard to climb out of a hole like that with zero momentum from this team of old dogs. You have to love being 1.5 games out 30 games in and there's reason to believe the bullpen can't be much worse than it has been.

NL East Standings through 5 weeks:

Atlanta Braves ...............................  17-13 -
Washington Nationals ......................  16-14  1 GB
New York Mets ..............................  15-14  1.5 GB
Philadelphia Phillies .......................  15-14  1.5 GB
Florida Marlins ..............................  16-15  1.5 GB

Werth the Watch:

Jayson Werth

Avg: 293 OB: 383 Slg: 448 HR: 4 RBI: 16 R: 17

Shane Victorino 

Avg: 257 OB: 325 Slg: 400 HR: 0 RBI: 3 R: 3

Hunter Pence

Avg: 258 OB: 336 Slg: 400 HR: 2 RBI: 9 R: 19

Raul Ibanez - no longer playing every day

Avg: 144 OB: 222 Slg: 310 HR: 3 RBI: 17 R: 7