Regardless of a team’s talent level, winning 21 of their first 30 games to start the season is an impressive feat. All the more impressive is the manner in which the Philadelphia Phillies have done it.
All-star second baseman Chase Utley – on the DL with right knee tendinitis – has yet to play a game this season. Closer Brad Lidge – on the DL with a partially torn right rotator cuff – has yet to throw a pitch this season.
Temporary closer Jose Contreras is currently on the DL with a pronator strain in his right elbow.
Starting pitcher Joe Blanton is also on the DL with a right elbow impingement. To add yet another injury to this list of injuries, catcher Carlos Ruiz has been battling back pain. Ruiz could soon be headed to the DL!
Pitcher Roy Oswalt also missed a start as he left the team temporarily. Oswalt was attending to his family after his hometown had been struck by a tornado. Oswalt is back and currently scheduled to pitch on Saturday; however, he will be evaluated by the team physician as he continues to experience back pain.
In addition to all of these injuries, the Phillies have seen several bats enter a slump. Outfielder Ben Francisco has cooled off after a hot start to the season. I personally believe Francisco should be benched and John Mayberry should be starting.
Despite an 0-for-35 slump by outfielder Raul Ibanez, the Phillies won six of their last seven games and are tied with the Cleveland Indians for the best record in baseball (21-9). Ibanez is currently in the zone, as he finished the sweep of the Washington Nationals hitting 8-for-11 (.727 AVG) with two home runs and five RBIs. The superb series by Ibanez raised his AVG from .152 to .214 on the season.
First baseman Ryan Howard (.276 AVG, 6 HR, 29 RBI) is also in the midst of a slump. Since hitting two home runs against the New York Mets on April 29, Howard is 3-for-20 (.150 AVG) with zero home runs, two RBIs and six strikeouts.
Manager Charlie Manuel recently made some minor changes to the lineup. For the past three games, shortstop Jimmy Rollins was the leadoff hitter while outfielder Shane Victorino hit second and third baseman Placido Polanco hit third. Before the change, Victorino was the leadoff hitter while Polanco hit second and Rollins hit third.
Polanco (.375 AVG) continues to hit well. Rollins – who hit .271 while batting third in 27 games – currently has a three-game multi-hit streak since being moved to leadoff. Rollins is 6-for-13 (.462 AVG) in the leadoff spot. Victorino (.292 AVG) is currently 11-for-33 (.333 AVG) on an eight-game hitting streak. Since being moved to the second slot, Victorino is hitting 6-for-12 (.500 AVG).
During the absence of Oswalt and the injury to Blanton, Vance Worley pitched like an ace. In two starts, Worley went 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 12 strikeouts and four walks in 12 innings. The bullpen was also very effective. Relief pitcher Antonio Bastardo currently has 19 strikeouts in 12 innings pitched (14.25 strikeouts per nine innings). Bastardo, Ryan Madson, Danys Baez, Kyle Kendrick, J.C. Romero and Michael Stutes have a collective 1.82 ERA and 7.13 strikeouts per nine innings.
Despite the injuries and the slumps, the Phillies continue to win games. They won in offensive blowouts and won in pitching duels. They won games with the long ball and they won games with clutch small-ball hitting. When/if this team fully recovers from its injuries, fans have every reason to be excited about the potential for another World Series title.
- Closer Jose Contreras threw from 60 feet recently and could return in two weeks
- Second baseman Chase Utley will play in an extended spring training game on Saturday
- Relief pitcher Antonio Bastardo leads the MLB in percentage of strikes swung-and-missed at