By Andrew Porter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – That’s it. I’ve had enough. The pessimism surrounding the Phillies has gone too far.
I’ve heard it all.
“Chase Utley is too old. Ryan Howard is too old. Jimmy Rollins is too old. The bullpen stinks. Ben Revere has no arm. Marlon Byrd is too old. Carlos Ruiz is too old. Domonic Brown isn’t what we hoped he would be. Freddy Galvis can’t hit. Kyle Kendrick is inconsistent. A.J. Burnett is inconsistent. Ryne Sandberg is over-managing.”
And the loudest one of all, “Ruben Amaro Jr. should be fired. He ran this team into the ground with his array of bad contracts and trades.”
While some of that may be true, we have ingrained many of these things into our head so that we expect them to come true, even if they aren’t. Some are hoping for the demise of the Phillies, if nothing else to say “I told you so” or “In your face” to Amaro Jr.
The Phillies average attendance is 29,076 so far, significantly less than the 37,190 they averaged in 2013.
On Wednesday, when Cole Hamels takes the mound in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, the Phillies will essentially be fully healthy for the first time in approximately two years. Why not get excited about this team? They’re not as bad as you think.
Through 19 games the Phils are 9-10. I know, 9-10 is 9-10, there is no way to sugar coat it, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Three of the Phillies losses came against the 15-5 Brewers, who look to be a very good team. They also have three one run losses — two walk-off losses against Texas and a 1-0 loss against the Braves.
Oh, and just for fun, the Phillies started the season 9-10 in 2008.
The Phils recently lost two out of three in Colorado against the best hitting team in baseball (.299 BA), while they had the back end of their rotation going with Jonathan Pettibone, Kyle Kendrick, and Roberto Hernandez. Pettibone was optioned to Triple-A after his start against the Rockies.
The Phillies are hitting .257 as a team, good for 10th best in MLB. Individually, the Phillies big three veteran core players of Chase Utley (.391/.434/.652), Jimmy Rollins (.286/.359/.471), and Ryan Howard (.271/.363/.543) are all off to excellent starts.
Utley’s .391 average is second best in baseball and he is top-five in MLB in all hitting categories. He looks healthy and he is making Chase Utley type plays on a daily basis again, whether it be working a count and hitting a key sacrifice fly against the Rockies or throwing out Yaisel Puig with two outs at home against the Dodgers. He’s taking extra bases and making that flip play he loves to make, when he shovels the ball to first without ever using his right-hand.
Rollins, to go along with his .286 batting average and .359 on-base percentage, has three homers and 13 RBI’s to boot. In comparison, Rollins did not hit his second home run of last season until May 10th, game 37 of the season.
Howard not only is having better at-bats and working counts as evident in his 10 walks, but he already has five home runs and 12 RBI’s, while two of those home runs have come against left-handed pitchers. For those counting at home, that’s a 42.6 HR and 102.3 RBI pace, which we all would be more than happy with. Furthermore, in 2006 when Howard hit 58 homers and 149 RBI’s, he had five homers and 12 RBI’s in 85 April at-bats. Currently, Howard has those same exact power numbers, 5 HR’s and 12 RBI’s, in 15 less at-bats.
And that’s just those three. Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, Marlon Byrd, and Carlos Ruiz, while inconsistent, have all shown positive signs at the dish early in the season.
Defensively, the Phillies committed 13 errors in their first 13 games, most in the majors. However, in their last six games they have not committed any errors and are up to middle of the pack in errors committed.
The starting pitching, which has also seen its ups and downs, will get its ace Cole Hamels back in the rotation on Wednesday night against the Dodgers. In his two starts this week, Cliff Lee pitched 17 out of a possible 18 innings, allowing only one earned run and one walk, while striking out 23 batters, including a stretch where he retired 20 straight hitters.
Lee is 3-2 with 35 innings pitched, 12 earned runs, 2 walks, and 38 strikeouts on the young season. However, if you take away his first start of the season on Opening Day in Texas (5 IP, 8 ER), Lee has a 1.2 ERA in 30 innings pitched with 37 strikeouts and one walk. Absolutely astonishing numbers.
Kyle Kendrick has gone no less than five innings in all four of his starts, including two outings where he went seven innings. Kendrick has a solid 3.60 ERA in four starts this season with 17 strikeouts and six walks.
A.J. Burnett, in his first season with the Phillies, is 0-1 with a 2.74 ERA in four starts early on. Burnett is coming off his best start as a Phillie, a seven inning, three hit outing in a 1-0 win over the Braves last Thursday.
The bullpen? Well, they can’t be good at everything! The Phillies bullpen ERA is 5.69, second worst in baseball. The bullpen has been bad to say the least, but positively, Jonathan Papelbon has settled down and saved his last five opportunities after blowing his first save opportunity on opening weekend. Also, Mike Adams made his first appearance back from injury on Friday against the Rockies, pitching a 1-2-3 scoreless inning in relief. With Hamels back in the rotation, Lee dominating, Burnett and Kendrick pitching confidently, you hope the starters can go deeper into games and take some of the pressure off of the bullpen going forward.
Are the Phillies the best team in the National League? No. Are they the same World Series contending team they had in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011? No. Do they have glaring weaknesses? Sure.
Ryne Sandberg is pushing all the right buttons — whether it be batting Howard fifth, Ruiz fourth, or making a late game defensive substitution. Cliff Lee has been virtually un-hittable in April, Cole Hamels returns on Wednesday, Jonathan Papelbon and his “velo” have saved five straight, Ryan Howard’s power pace is equivalent to 2006, Chase Utley looks like Chase Utley and is batting close to .400, and Jimmy Rollins is getting clutch hits and making clutch plays again.
Hang around, hang around, hang around, and who knows? Maybe we’re looking at a playoff baseball team. Or maybe I’m just going to be a victim of hope once again, because hope is a dangerous thing.
Andrew Porter is the Audio Roadshow Coordinator for SportsRadio WIP, editor and writer for The School Philly, and a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly. You can follow him on Twitter@And_Porter.