When the Phillies broke camp in March an NL scout had a grim view of Ryne Sandberg’s team.
“It doesn’t look good,” the scout said. “They can’t hit. They’re old. Chase Utley had his worst spring training ever. Cole Hamels is out for the first month. They might be the worst team in the league. They could be pretty far back in May.”
Well, May has arrived and the Phillies are at .500, just four games behind the division leading Atlanta Braves, who have the second best record in the MLB. Sure, a pessimist can say the Phillies are just a half-game ahead of the last-place Marlins — but there is hope.
Jimmy Rollins was right, as usual, with his proclamations when he uttered ‘who cares’ when asked about poor spring training numbers. Chase Utley looked like he was on the decline since he couldn’t drive the ball or do much anything else with the bat during spring training.
However, when the season started he flipped a switch and put up player of the month worthy numbers. Not only is Utley hitting .355 with a .978 OPS, nearly half of his 33 hits are for extra bases. Utley already has 11 doubles. Only six players in the game have a higher WAR than Utley’s 1.4.
“You don’t have to worry about Chase,” Jimmy Rollins said. “Anybody that thought what they saw in spring training was going to spill over to the regular season doesn’t know baseball. I’m not surprised at all about Chase.”
Some may be surprised one month into the season that the Phillies core four, Utley, Rollins, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz, aren’t just healthy but they’re also productive.
With the return of Hamels, the rotation is a strength. If Hamels, Lee and Burnett can go deep in games, that can only help a beleagured bullpen.
The bullpen isn’t the only issue. The Phillies have received scant contributions from its third baseman. The .160 average and .478 OPS from the hot corner is beyond anemic. Cody Asche has pressed and struggled. Freddy Galvis is simply overmatched at the plate (an unfathomable .033 average and a .124 OPS) and Jayson Nix is a virtual non-entity.
The Phillies hope to get increased production from third and from Domonic Brown. The enigmatic leftfielder has middling numbers (.253 average, .630 OPS) and his absence of power hasn’t helped the team.
“I’m going to do my best to pick it up,” Brown said. “It’s a long season.”
However, it looked like it could have been much worse a month ago as the Phillies flew to Texas to start the season.
“Don’t underestimate the Phillies,” Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez said. “If their guys stay healthy this season, they’re going to be right in it. It would be foolish to take them lightly.”
Thanks to the rain, the Phillies’ big three, Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett and Cole Hamels, will pitch against the Washington Nationals. Lee will face Stephen Strasburg Friday night. The weather also gives the Phillies much maligned bullpen some rest.
Is Reading reliever Kenny Giles inching his way toward the majors?
In 12 innings, the 23-year old righthander with the 100 mph fastball, has allowed only seven hits and one earned run. He has struck out 24 but has only walked three.
The Phillies bullpen, which possesses a league worst 4.84 ERA could use help, but expect the Phillies to test Giles in AAA before there’s a big league promotion.