Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The mark of a good baseball team is that key offensive contributions can come from different players every night. The Phillies have been in that mode for quite some time now. On Sunday, Ryan Howard almost single-handedly carried the team to victory with a pair of homers, driving in all 4 Phillies runs. Last night, it was Carlos Ruiz and Jayson Werth picking up Howard (who struck out twice with the bases loaded) and the team, combining for 5 hits, 4 RBI and a couple home runs. Last Friday night's victory was led by Chase Utley, who banged a two-run homer.
It has persisted this way for over a month. The depth of talent in the Phillies line-up is allowing them to plate enough runs to increase their winning margin to a season high 18 games over .500. Overall, though, you get the feeling that the offense is not hitting on all cylinders. Stranding runners in scoring position has been a frequent theme. In their last loss on Saturday, they were a collective 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position, and last evening they stranded 11 runners.
This leads me to the "half full" assessment that the potential for the team is tremendous. It is only a matter of time (and the pennant run adrenaline rush) that Phillies hitters start to catch fire together.
Howard is starting to show signs of replicating his historical end-of-season pyrotechnics display, which is capable of repeatedly lighting up the scoreboard. Raul Ibanez and Utley have been treading water trying to find their first half strokes, but they are too good not to expect that it will soon happen. Werth is streaky and it would seem that more of the line drives and long fly balls he has been hitting will drop in or over the fence. Jimmy Rollins has hit a little lull after a big surge, but looks like he has things figured out. It is a good bet that Shane Victorino and Pedro Feliz will continue their season long consistency. A continuation of Ruiz's recent offensive output would be a huge bonus.
It looks from here that the league's top offensive team is poised for a surge at just the right time. This, combined with the continuing strong contributions from the starting staff and the league's best defense, creates the potential for the team's best stretch of baseball. Now, if we could just get the bullpen back to 2008 form....