Ok, I’ve been hard on the Phillies so far this season, a nay-saying turd in the proverbial punch bowl. I was so consumed by acceptance of the end of this golden era and the resultantly bitter despair, that I was having trouble simply watching the games and enjoying the team for what it was. Do I think the 2013 Phillies are a real World Series contender? No. I’m still very far from convinced that a record over .500 will be attained. I am, however, impressed by the way the team is scrapping, clawing and fighting to keep itself afloat.
The dramatic, walk-off win against flamethrower Aroldis Chapman and the Cincinnati Reds, thanks to back-to-back home runs from Erik Kratz and Freddy Galvis, whipped fans into a momentary frenzy. Of course, the optimism proved ephemeral and crash landed the next day in a 5-1 debacle of a loss to the Marlins. Staying consistent with the roller coaster theme, the Phillies took the next two in South Florida, including a masterful complete game, three-hit shutout from Cliff Lee. Yes, the Phillies have fattened up with 16 games and an 11-5 record against the Mets and Marlins, but the schedule will even itself out and we’ll bear witness to the team’s true colors. It begins tonight with the first of a three-game set against the struggling Nationals, who somehow have one of the worst offenses in baseball (worse than the Phillies!), and then with home-and-home two-game sets against the Red Sox. The offense remains anemic and has scored two runs or less in 18 of its 47 games, and now its only regular with an OPS over .800, Chase Utley, is hitting the 15-day DL with a “very mild” oblique strain (oblique strains are always tricky and have kept guys out for months). Michael Young and his million GIDP is the only remaining regular with a positive OPS+ (107) now that Utley (119) out. Domonic Brown leads the team in HR (8) and trails Utley and Howard in RBI by just one (24), yet still finds himself just under the league average baseline of 100 at 96. Delmon Young (102) is just above average for the moment, but you expect he’ll be plummeting under soon because he’s bad at baseball. Galvis and Kevin Frandsen, who will both see increased playing time with Utley out, boast 111 and 122 OPS+ but in just 75 and 35 plate appearances, respectively. Here’s the part where I mention that the Phillies have called up none other than Michael Martinez — an older, crappier version of Freddy Galvis — to take Utley’s spot on the roster. And you thought you were free of Mini Mart forever. No way, never.
Even so, the Phillies sit at 23-24, despite an unsightly 1-9 record in games started by Cole Hamels, who has a 3.12 ERA in his last 8 starts but is this season’s victim of Cliff Lee-like run support. A -31 run differential has their Pythagorean W-L at 20-27. You figure (hope) the run-scoring luck will change for Hamels, and the team will begin winning his starts. The starting pitching, with Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick both throwing exceptionally well and Jonathan Pettibone holding it down, has kept the team afloat with a bullpen that’s been shaky outside of Jonathan Papelbon and Antonio Bastardo. My question is, will the offense ever really come around? What’s the evidence that it will? Jimmy Rollins is worse than he has been for the last five seasons, Ryan Howard is an aging slugger whose breakdown continues. I fear a pillaging of the farm system at the deadline in myopic quick-fix moves that’ll further retard the future, since the front office refuses to understand or admit that the golden era is over.