Like we did last year, every week or two throughout the season we’ll check in on the Phils’ recent performance and give them a grade in three categories: Position Players, Starting Pitchers, and Bullpen. The grades will be based on how they’ve performed since the previous Report Card.
It’s definitely been a successful start to the season, as the Phils have won seven of their first ten games. It’s been somewhat surprising that the offense has been as much responsible for the wins as the pitching. On to the grades:
The dirty little secret of this Phillies team right now is that, at least until Chase Utley returns (which hopefully happens at some point this season), this line-up is just not all that good. With Jayson Werth and Utley gone, it’s suddenly a free-swinging group that won’t take many pitches. Ryan Howard is the only power hitter, and he doesn’t have much protection. Basically, if Jimmy Rollins is your 3-hitter, you can expect to have some trouble putting runs on the board.
But if that’s the case, somebody forgot to tell the Phillie hitters at the start of the season. Through 10 games, they’ve scored 63 runs, which ranks them second in baseball in runs per game. Seven of their eight starters are hitting over .300 (only Ibanez isn’t). Shane Victorino is hitting a cool .366, largely thanks to a 9-13 tear in the big Atlanta series. Ryan Howard has 3 HR and 12 RBI, and looks ready to return to his normal 40+ HR season after last year’s dip. Ben Francisco’s numbers are good, but could be even better because he’s had a lot of hard-hit balls find opponent’s gloves. It looks like he’s already claimed the 5-spot in the line-up behind Howard, bumping Ibanez back to 6.
They’ve also had success in the field, with four errors so far tying them for the fewest in baseball. Francisco has looked a little uncomfortable in right field (dropped a ball on Opening Day and made another error), but he has the skill to be good out there.
Finally, even though the line-up may not look that great on paper, there are a bunch of guys in there that are just winners, as they’ve proven over the last four years. The best example was Polanco scoring from second on a ball that didn’t leave the infield against the Mets last Wednesday. The Mets had made a big comeback the previous inning to tie the game at 7, and the Phils responded with two runs in the bottom half. Plays like that by Polanco don’t show up in the statistics, but they’re absolutely the kind of plays that win baseball games, and the Phils have a lot of guys that make those plays on a regular basis.
Though not spectacular, the starters were better than their stats indicate. Mainly a bad start each from Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have them with pretty ugly ERA’s at the moment, but both pitchers generally look good and there’s no reason to worry about those poor outings. Lee was roughed up by Atlanta and also gave up 3 runs to Houston, but he looked pretty dominant for most of that Houston start, finishing with 11 K’s. Hamels was bad against the Mets, but he was great against Atlanta, and his fastball has been hitting 95, which is always something to watch with him.
Doc Halladay was Doc Halladay, giving up one run in his 13 innings of work so far. And the somewhat forgotten man in my mind, Roy Oswalt, kicked off his season with two solid outings and two wins.
All that can be said about Joe Blanton’s two starts is that I’m sure they left Ruben Amaro wishing he had found a taker for his $9 million contract this year. Joe has looked really hittable in giving up 12 runs in 10.1 innings. He’ll get a lot of time to get things straightened out, but it’s worth noting that Kyle Kendrick has pitched well in three appearances out of the bullpen.
Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson have shut the door effortlessly so far, making the news of Brad Lidge missing three months easier to take, for now. In even better news, Danys Baez has pitched well in his six outings, which is something that absolutely could not be said about any six consecutive outings that he had in 2010. Also, Antonio Bastardo looks like he may have made a leap, with 9 K’s and just 2 hits allowed in 5 innings so far. J.C. Romero has also been solid. Good news all around here for the always slightly scary Phillie pen.