Four Aces Cruising

Bastardo (13.50 K/9 rate) has yet to allow an earned run this season

After 21 games in the 2011 season, the Philadelphia Phillies (15-6) have the best record in baseball.

The Phillies had a red-hot start to the season with their offense; however, they have failed to score more than four runs in a game for the past 13 games.  The last time they scored more than four runs was in a 10-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on April 9.

Despite the recent offensive struggles, the pitching rotation has led the Phillies to victory in seven of their past 10 games.  The rotation is a collective 10-4 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

The “four aces” (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels) are living up to their billing.  The foursome are 10-3 with a 2.75 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.13 K/9 rate, two complete games and one shutout.

The foursome’s numbers are likely to improve as Cliff Lee (2-1, 3.91 ERA) is expected to lower his ERA.  Although the Phillies’ foursome gets all of the publicity, fans should not overlook the contributions of Joe Blanton (0-1, 5.92 ERA).  Blanton’s 5.92 ERA is the byproduct of struggles in his first two starts.  In his past two starts, Blanton is 0-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.

Although not as talented as his other fellow pitchers, Blanton is capable of pitching very well in stretches.  Blanton is usually hot or cold and he improves as the season progresses.  In 108 career starts before the All-Star break, Blanton is 35-42 with a 4.68 ERA.  In 87 career starts after the All-Star break, Blanton is 37-19 with a 3.91 ERA.

The bullpen is currently depleted with injuries as Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero and Jose Contreras are all on the DL.  With Contreras on the DL, Ryan Madson becomes the closer.  Perhaps the most effective reliever for the Phillies this season has been Antonio Bastardo.  Bastardo is currently 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, a win, a hold and a save.  In 9 1/3 innings of work, Bastardo has struck out 14 (a 13.50 K/9 rate) and walked four while allowing only three hits.

The Phillies begin a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight.  After playing the Diamondbacks, the Phillies have a great opportunity to pull away from the rest of the NL East as they play 15 consecutive games against division rivals.

Ben Francisco and Jimmy Rollins have cooled off lately.  Raul Ibanez is only hitting .187 thus far.  Domonic Brown is on the DL, but could return soon.  Do not be surprised to see Brown take the starting job away from Ben Francisco.  If Ruben Amaro opts to keep Brown in the minors for now, it would not be a surprise to see Ross Gload and/or John Mayberry receive more playing time as Ibanez and/or Francisco struggle.

The Phillies’ dominant pitching will keep them in most games; when their streaky offense gets hot again, they will look virtually unbeatable.  Until then, their opponents are forced to match the Phillies pitch-for-pitch.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

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