It’s the beginning of June and the Phillies are 27-30 after salvaging the final of a three-game set at home with the bad Brewers, who currently have a record better only than the Marlins in the NL. They tried really hard to blow yesterday’s game, by the way, and almost did. The team shows no consistency and sits third place in its division, 7.5 games behind the Braves, and 8 games back in the Wild Card. In the midst of disappointment and fading hopes of enjoying playoff baseball (despite it only being two months into the season), fans embrace whatever game-to-game happy moments they can.
For the whole season, those happy moments have been Cliff Lee‘s starts. He’s his old surgical and masterful self, switching places with Cole Hamels from last season as far as being the hard luck starter goes. For Lee, it’s been season-long brilliance, emerging from the rubble of Roy Halladay‘s metaphorical death and Hamels starting the first year of his $144M contract by going 1-9, the most losses through May by a Phillies’ starting pitcher in 122 seasons. Hamels has been struck by a combination of no run support and pockets of bad pitching. Lee, it turns out, is still awesome, and I like believing that karma from last season is playing a part. His strikeouts (K/9) are down (excluding yesterday’s win over the Brewers), but the pinpoint command remains. His WHIP (.967) is under 1.00, and his ERA (2.34) hovers at its 2010 and 2011 number. My most baseball-obsessed friend is a Red Sox fan, and he said that Lee’s 95-pitch, 8-inning, 4-hit, 1-run, 8-strikeout, 0-walk outing in Boston (a 3-1 win for the Phillies) was the best pitching performance he’d seen against his team all season. Cliff Lee is the staff ace at 6-2 and, if the Phillies are floundering at the trade deadline, will be a desirable trade chip who could perhaps fetch the franchise a few sorely needed high-end prospects.
In the past month, however, and the last 10 days in particular, those happy moments have been dominated (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!?!) by Domonic Brown. My last article was published exactly 10 days ago, the first day of the series against the Nationals in DC. Since the beginning of that series on May 24, spanning 10 games, dude’s been simply the embodiment of en fuego, hitting .432 (16/37; average up from .248 to .282) with 8 HR (doubling his season total to 16) and 16 RBI (only 8 less than he had up to that point). Dom’s SLG has gone up a juicy 132 points (from .442 to .574), while the OBP has incrementally increased by 31 points (.290 to .321). He’s now leading the NL in HR and has raised his OPS a staggering 163 points in the process (from .732 to .895), with his OPS+ going from 96 to 127. Note: Dom Brown’s OPS has jumped 200 points since it was .695 on May 1. His wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) now sits at a sterling 142 (42% above league average), with 120 being the benchmark for “excellent.” Dom’s ISO (Isolated Power), which is a measure of a hitter’s raw power and identifies how good he is at hitting for extra bases (by subtracting AVG from SLG), is at .292. For context, Miguel Cabrera’s ISO is .301. The power surge has been prodigious, and the signs, they are quite encouraging.
Even my notoriously hard-to-impress Red Sox fans friends were marveling during the home-and-home, when Dom hit 4 HR. Remarkably, this has all occurred without him walking once in May, becoming the first player in MLB history to hit at least 8 HR in a month without drawing a single walk. Hey, it’s a record! If Brown has to sacrifice walks in order to identify pitches earlier in at bats and turn on them (which he’s done), that’s wonderful by me. But it is necessary for that patience and willingness to get on base by virtue of walking, a trait Brown showed in 2011 (11.9% BB rate) and 2012 (9.9% BB rate), to balance its way back into his arsenal, as he’s only at a 5.1% BB rate for 2013. So far, so good in June, as he’s got a walk in each of the last two games against the Brewers. Even the moonshot of a three-run bomb (a non-solo HR, guys were on base!) he hit yesterday came on a 3-1 count. Dom missed the cycle by a double, but we’ll go ahead and consider getting that walk the final piece anyway.
Brown’s on a tear like nothing we’ve seen before, harkening back to the days of when then-super-awesome Ryan Howard won the MVP in 2006 by regularly pulverizing baseballs as the game’s most lethal power hitter. Twitter has melted into a frenzied pool of Dom Brown love mania, with so many haters willing to eat crow after doubting him for so long. Funny how that works. Doubt him for the better part of 24 months, then emphatically jump on the bandwagon after a good month and impossibly, stupidly hot 10-day/game streak. Do I feel some sort of vindication for sticking with Brown, believing in his talent and maintaining confidence he’d fulfill his potential? Yeah, sure. But come on, he’s not going to keep up this pace, it’s just a euphoric glimpse of when he catches fire. Let’s see what happens when Dom cools down, and where he settles as an offensive player. Even with his torrid streak, the Phillies went 4-6 and the offense remains putrid, fifth-worst in MLB. Before I forget, the front office has primarily itself to blame for Dom’s delayed arrival, jerking him around the last two years and not showing confidence in his ability to figure things out at the MLB level. Because that’s how you handle the best position-player prospect in baseball. Player development malpractice, I tell ya, a Phillies’ specialty. If it turns out Brown proves this season he can be a centerpiece going forward, I’ll consider that a fairly significant victory.
Up next: 10 straight games against sub-.500 teams, beginning with last-place Miami — who are coming off a sweep of the Mets — at home for three games, and then seven games on the road against Milwaukee (again) and Minnesota.Tags: Cliff Lee, Domonic Brown, MLB, Philadelphia Phillies