Reigning National League MVP Jimmy Rollins has missed most of the season so far. 2006 National League MVP Ryan Howard is invoking images of Rob Deer, whose final season strikeout total and batting average were nearly identical. So how in the name of Steve Jeltz are these Philadelphia Phillies in first?
Utley’s MVP Chase: Last year’s MVP run was derailed when he was hit by pitch. It doesn’t look like anything can stop Chase Utley this season. The stat line is staggering: .369 BA, 13 HR, 26 RBI. I’ve never seen a batter hit the ball so hard with such a short swing.
Cole Play: Cole Hamels has been brilliant, maybe even more so than expected. Phils fans should be doing cartwheels knowing that they have a bonafide ace at the top of the rotation who’s only 24. Hamels has shown maturity by not trying to strikeout every batter, and right now, I’d say he’s outperforming a certain mega-millionaire named Johan Santana.
Jayson’s Werth: When Rollins and Shane Victorino went down, Jayson Werth filled two critical holes in centerfield and the top of the lineup. He hasn’t torn the cover off the ball, but the offense has been more than steady, while some argue his defense has been better than Victorino’s.
Pat’s Bat: Hey Manuel, stop yanking Pat Burrell for defense at the end of every close game. You just might need him to win a game for you like he did Friday night. Burrell is in the final year of his contract and he’s playing his way into big bucks (.320, 9 HR, 28 RBI). By the way Charlie, it’s time to flip-flop Burrell and Howard, who’s 0-for-9 with six strikeouts in his last two games, bringing his season total to a mind-blowing 45.
Gillick’s Gamble: Pat took a chance when he traded for Brad Lidge, but he looks to be holding all aces right now. Lidge is 7-for-7 in save opportunities, has yet to allow an earned run, and his velocity is back. The “other guy” in that trade, Eric Bruntlett, preserved at least one win with his defense and has been a capable replacement while Rollins heals.
Bullish Pen: Aside from Lidge, Charlie Manuel has plenty of reliable options. Tom Gordon has been lights out since his Opening Day disaster. J.C. Romero picked up where he left off last year and just gave up his first run a few days ago. Chad Durbin and Rudy Seanez both have sub-2.00 ERA’s, and more help could be on the way. Lefty prospects Josh Outman and Fabio Castro have been removed from the Double A rotation and one could be joining the Phillies at some point to provide another lefty option. Even lefty Steve Kline, picked up after he was released by the San Francisco Giants, has a 3.00 ERA at Triple A.
Without John Smoltz and Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves are toast. The New York Mets have always been overrated and fans are already calling for Willie Randolph's head. The Florida Marlins are coming back to earth. How can you not like the Phillies’ chances of staying atop the NL East? Jimmy Rollins should return this week. Brett Myers has rediscovered the zip on his fastball. Kyle Kendrick has cut down on the free passes. Howard can’t stink like this much longer. Even Adam Eaton is giving the Phillies quality outings. It may go down to the wire, but the Phillies sure as heck won’t be seven games out with 17 to play.