In reverse chronological order, the Phillies have lost to the Washington Nationals, taken 2 of 3 from the Atlanta Braves and 2 of 3 to the New York Mets. After sweeping the hapless Houston Astros to open the 2011 season, Cole Hamels (10-3 vs. ATL since 2007; 2-9 vs. NYM) experienced a meltdown against the chaotic New York Mets. They lost the first game (7-1) then dominated the subsequent two games (10-7 and 11-0) to take the series.
Relocate to balmy Atlanta where Cliff Lee tosses glorified batting practice and loses to the Braves 6-3. Saturday Brian Schneider and Carlos Ruiz power the Phils to a 10-2 win. Sunday’s getaway game results in Hamels and the bullpen shutting down the Braves offense 3-0.
Day off Monday allowed the media (hello) to spend an entire 24-hour news cycle speculating about the fabricated Revenge of Jayson Werth. Oddly enough, that Phantom Menace cracked a double and HR to lead the Washington Nationals past Joe “Heavy B” Blanton (5 ER, 7 hits in 6 IP, 10.45 ERA, .378 OBA). Phillies will recover and with Roy Halladay coming back to face Washington no one is worried about the Nationals (least worried of all are the obviously absent fans @ Nationals Park – 13,000 were alleged to be in attendance last night).
See a pattern?
Overall the Phillies are in good shape. Season record of 7-3, taking 2 of 3 from division foes after sweeping their opening series – then handily schooling their primary rival over the season’s first 10 games. The offense has been dominant, combining “smallball” with huge tubthumper shots (Howard, Francisco, Chooch, Victorino) all in deference to fairly excellent pitching. Ask anyone and you’ll get a generally positive perspective and they would be absolutely right to offer one. Seven wins. Three losses.
Then you look at the darker side… those losses have been extremely ugly. Hamels gets bamboozled by the New Yuck Mess in football weather at The Bank. Cliff Lee gets walloped by the solid Atlanta Braves in his second start of the season. Hamels recovers and tosses a gem in his second start but maybe it is finally time to listen to me regarding Joe Blanton? Two starts is not a large enough sample for 2011 but since 2008 (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/blantjo01.shtml), Blanton’s modus operandi has been well-established. When he’s good, you’ll get 6 IP, 5 K, 3 BB, 85-90 pitches and averages 12 wins, 4.35 ERA, 200 IP and 25 gopher balls per season. When he is bad, his velocity and location usually go South right around the second time through the lineup. This guy lost a 7-0 lead to the Mets while opposing hitters are wallopinbg the ball at a .378 clip.
Essentially Blanton offers the literal definition of a Quality Start and is a serviceable starting pitcher. On most teams he could be a #3 starter and on this team, he is the wildcard among Four Aces (or as Ryan Howard has coined the moniker “Nightmare on Broad Street”). Would Blanton be the Jack or the Joker? Thus far in 2011, the “other guy” among the Four Aces has started 2 games, tossed 10.1 IP, surrendered 17 hits, 12 ER, 3BB/10K and sports a whopping 10.45 ERA. Not Armageddon as certainly a number of pitchers have ballooning ERA early in the season but this is not a reliever who pitched 2/3 of an inning and surrendered 6 runs! Likewise, blind statistics don’t tell us everything. Chris Narveson (13 IP, 1.00 WHIP, 0 ERA) and Jamie Garcia (15 IP, 0.73 WHIP, 0.60 ERA) are not the best pitchers in baseball but early in the season their statistics do tell us that they have been successful. Roy Halladay is 2-0 with 13 IP, 13 K, 0.92 WHIP and 0.69 ERA. Among pitchers who qualify (minimum IP), Blanton and his 10.45 ERA (1.94 WHIP) rank second in MLB to Mike Pelfrey (10.80 ERA in 3 starts). Cliff Lee’s shellacking against Atlanta dropped him down to 7.84 but we know he will rebound in the series finale against Washington on Thursday (I’ll eat my hat if I’m wrong on that one).
Roy Oswalt (3.17) and Roy Halladay (3.30) rank second and fourth in active ERA leaders. Cole Hamels has postseason MVP and 61-46 record at age 27. Cliff Lee has a Cy Young Award and has been in the last two World Series. While Blanton was on that 2008 championship team with Cole Hamels, so were Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and 22 other guys (choose from Geoff Jenkins, Chris Coste, So Taguchi and Kyle Kendrick). Talk to me when Blanton turns in the bulldog kind of performance that Hamels did to lead that 2008 team OR when Blanton musters a 10-10 record while averaging 1.5 runs per game in offensive support.
Up and down the lineup, the Phillies are sporting .300 averages, advancing runners and showing aggressive consistency. 27 of 43 leadoff batters have found themselves on base. The bench is leading the majors in production. Even the bullpen has been effective across the board (including David Herndon, Danys Baez and Antonio Bastardo) despite Jose Contreras and Ryan Madsen working without the net of Brad Lidge. This Phillies team is very likely the best collection of players in this entire five-year championship run (which includes 4 NL East titles, 2 NL pennants and World Series appearances with one very large trophy displayed in the CBP trophy case).
Scores of Hall of Famers have earned their place in history without a championship. Many of the greatest teams in history have garnered questions as to their credentials (weak division, got lucky, helped by Steve Bartman or Bill Mazeroski, etc.) but despite all of the factors, the most successful team usually wins the championship. The 2001 Seattle Mariners hold the record with 116 wins and hold a relatively obscure place in baseball history.
This Phillies team has the rest of the 2011 season to show us whether or not they can win 115 games AND a championship. Will there be four 20-game winners? Will we sport 5 or 6 players with 30+ HR and 80+ RBI? While a collective sub-2.00 bullpen ERA, .300 team batting average and the most productive slew of bench players would not get much play on highlight shows, these are the DNA of true championship teams. Winning 2 out of 3 in every series would be approximately 107 wins. Over 162 game season, there will be sweeps, hot streaks and losing snaps so 116 wins is a serious number.
Why the hell not?
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org