So after four games in this young Phillies’ season, we have some interesting things to talk about. It is early, though, and while I’d love to throw in a Yogi Berra “It gets late early” quote, I don’t really see how it applies. That being said, scoring 32 runs through four games gives us plenty to get excited about. Here are some observations on the eight regulars and some of the pitching staff:
Jimmy Rollins: Has this guy ever looked this good? Seriously? I’m including his ’07 MVP year here. How can you tell that J-Roll is seeing the ball well? The extra base hits are a pretty good indication. So is the fact that he has yet to pop out to the infield. Possibly most telling is the number of walks he’s taking. Jimmy has three multiwalk games through four total this year. He didn’t walk twice in a game last year until May, and didn’t do it very much overall. Now, has Rollins suddenly learned to become a true leadoff hitter? It’s unlikely. In fact, if this carries even through the end of April, it would be a feat. The prospect of Jimmy putting together a high OBP in this offense is as tasty as Butterscotch Krimpets, which are so good that they’re illegal (okay, not illegal, but they’re not sold) in 47 states.
Placido Polanco: I’m going to throw out a couple numbers for you: 11; 19; 8. Those are hits, at-bats, and RBI, respectively. That’s pretty damn good for your two-hole hitter. Now, we should probably temper this enthusiasm a little–Polanco was hitting well above .300 when he was selected to the All-Star team last year and ended 2009 hitting .285. Still, this is a dream start for the Phillies’ one significant offseason position player acquisition. Together, Rollins and Polanco’s early success has proved just how deadly the heart of the Phillies’ order can be.
As for the glove and all those “but he’s not as good as Pedro Feliz” crybabies–he’s pretty good. Yes he made an error last night–against Feliz of all people–but he followed it up by starting a nice double play and showing off his “weak” arm by making a sprawling grab of a bouncer down the line and rifling it to first to get the out by a step and a half. So yes he made an error on a ball he should have had, but he accounted for all three outs in that same inning.
Chase Utley: Hitting .438, 1 HR, 4 RBI through four games. ‘Nuff said.
Ryan Howard: Maybe I’m spoiled, but I was disappointed to see no home runs from Howard the past two nights. Actually, I’m definitely spoiled, because Howard typically starts out slow, hitting only four home runs in April last year. He has two so far, along with a .400 average and seven RBI. What have I loved seeing about Howard, though? He’s going the opposite way, beating the shift with two hits already this year, including a double last night. Charlie will tell you that he doesn’t mind Howard not grounding one down the third base line for an easy single every now and then because Ryan gets paid to hit homers and knock in runs. If Howard continues to take advantage of that ridiculous overshift, though, hitting RBI doubles on ground balls and line drives to the left side, don’t be surprised to see that shift relax a little. And if that happens, Howard could well hit over .300 and drive in 155+ runs. The strikeouts will still be there, but putting up numbers akin to his 2006 MVP year would be mind-boggling. We all know that Howard is near unstoppable when he’s hot, and pretty clueless when he’s cold, but he’s never been this hot to start a season.
Jayson Werth: Werth is hitting .333 with a .400 OBP to start the year, and he’s been one of the “dull spots” in this lineup. That should tell you something.
Raul Ibanez: I was really worried about Ibanez before last night. Now, I’d say I’m “cautious.” Ibanez’s 1 for 11 start looked a lot like how he finished the 2009 season. That could either mean that he was just in a cold streak, or that his struggles last year were due to more than streakiness and the hernia he had repaired in the offseason. Friday night offered some relief–Raul hit two doubles and a single in four at-bats, including some 2 out RBI’s. Hopefully, the spark that we saw last night continues over the next few games.
Shane Victorino: Bad start. Maybe it’s from being moved to the seventh hole (although that seems a little counterintuitive). Maybe it will just take him a while to get going. We’ll worry about it later if need be.
Carlos Ruiz: Chooch is hitting .364 with a .533 OBP. If he shows that he can sustain the offensive level he displayed in the past two postseasons, he could take his place among the top catchers in the NL. The one downside is that Carlos hasn’t looked so hot with runners on base, but then again, he’s your 8-hole hitter.
Roy Halladay: If Cliff Lee=Schwarzenegger in Terminator, Doc= that new and improved terminator in the third movie, except not as hot and he doesn’t die in the end. I was going for a stronger, faster, more awesome kind of comparison.
Cole Hamels: He had trouble locating the fastball, and the curveball was flat. Nothing new from 2009 there. Plenty of hitters were fooled by the cutter, though, making bad contact and grounding out or popping up softly. Cole was also smiling in the dugout once he was removed after his five inning, three run (two earned) performance. That attitude alone is nice to see, and if spring training was any performance, the curveball will look a lot better throughout the year. Frankly, Hamels will be as good as his fastball command, which is something we’ll have to look for all season.
Kyle Kendrick: He was a bit of an enigma in his start. There were innings where his stuff was moving like crazy and staying low in the zone, and then there were times like the first inning where he couldn’t keep the sinker down and he got hit around. A lot. Kendrick’s success for however long he remains in the rotation will depend on whether or not he can have more good innings than bad. Sounds pretty basic, but there was such a sharp contrast between his effective innings and his downright awful ones that it needs to be said.
J.A. Happ: He looked pretty good but threw a lot of pitches for five plus innings. He’ll have to have a conversation with Doc about efficient innings.
Jamie Moyer: It’s four games into the season. He hasn’t pitched yet, but he’s still able to walk and breathe without the assistance of an oxygen tank. So that’s a good sign.
I’m only going to talk about the relievers who have been noteworthy so far–one solid performance apiece for Madson and Durbin isn’t worth analyzing.
David Herndon: He’s gotten himself into some trouble, allowing five hits in 3.1 innings. He’s also gotten himself out of that trouble, not allowing a run yet this year, and pitching as deep as the seventh inning. With that nasty sinker that reaches 95 mph, the Phillies will have a hard time offering him back to the Angels once Lidge and Romero get back from the DL.
Antonio Bastardo: He had a rough, albeit scoreless outing in the opener. Since then, he’s been light’s out. Bastardo’s success this year depends on whether or not his slider can be an effective second pitch.
Danys Baez: Maybe I’m bitter about the contract. Maybe I get nauseous watching his delivery, but I’m not sold on him yet at all. He sure made the eight inning last night look easy, though. Let’s see him do it in a one run game now.
Jose Contreras: For a guy who struggled so much in spring training, he sure powered through the ninth in his first appearance of the year last night.
So can we expect to continue this torrid pace all year? Probably not. After all, we have only played the Nationals and a team built by Ed Wade. The pitching staff after Doc is still full of question marks, but if the offense can continue to score eight runs a game, it won’t make much difference. We’ll see what happens against the Johan Santanas and Jair Jurjiens of the NL.