Monday, April 12, 2010

What Have We Learned About the Philadelphia Phillies After One Week?

Philadelphia Phillies Jimmy Rollins in Washington

With one week of the regular season behind us, what have we learned about the 2010 edition of the Philadelphia Phillies so far? A week is a just a week, but how a team plays and what story lines unfold once the big curtain goes up on the games that count often foreshadow the season.

First off, Phillies fans and players received ample reinforcement of what Toronto already knew— Roy Halladay is the real deal. He is a true stud at the front end of the rotation who appears on his way to a tremendous season. The way he expeditiously attacks hitters with dominant stuff, it evokes some serious "Lefty" deja vu for Philies fans.

Based on the early returns, the prospects appear high that in a career filled with success— this should be his best season yet. When Halladay makes the walk to the mound, he is comforted to be backed by arguably the best offense and defense in baseball.

Some other early impressions are that with the addition of Placido Polanco and the maturation of Carlos Ruiz, an already scary 2009 lineup looks even more frightening.

And, a potentially huge factor that might have starting pitchers imagining various ailments when Philadelphia pops up on the schedule is the resurgence of Jimmy Rollins at the plate. After winning the NL MVP Award in 2007 with a phenomenal season, J Roll turned in a pair of substandard offensive performances, but has come out of the blocks looking like the 2007 vintage smacking liners around the yard.

With J Roll and Polanco wearing out pitchers at the top of the lineup, the Phillies have been doing striking impersonations of the "Lumber Company" and "Big Red Machine." Put Halladay on the mound with that lineup and there is no tougher opponent anywhere in baseball.

Did I mention Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth? The three already have pitchers reaching for the Maalox when the heart of the order is due up.

Overall, the Phil's 5-1 start is reason enough for optimism by itself as the team has made slow starts a habit. Cynics might point to their soft schedule, but they have yet to have any home cooking and opponent's pedigrees never seemed to make a difference at the season's outset in year's past.

Amongst the optimism, though, are some remaining concerns that have the potential of at least raining on the parade. A couple were left behind in Florida in the form of Brad Lidge and JC Romero—two thirds of the back-end of the bullpen.

The reports continue to be favorable regarding their progress, but until they return to action and bring their good stuff, Charlie Manuel and company won't rest easy. Perhaps of more concern right now are the performances of three of its starting pitchers.

Most everyone would agree that Cole Hamels is a critical component to success in 2010. After three rough outings to finish spring training, Hamels looked a lot like the embattled hurler from last season as he struggled with his composure and command in his initial performance.

Its just one start, but displaying the same demons that haunted him a year ago did little to evoke confidence that he is not headed for a "Groundhog's Day" performance.

Fellow starters Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer looked primed to start the season strong after impressive spring performances. Unfortunately, both followed the Chan Ho Park script from a year ago and got banged around when the games counted.

Since inning eater Joe Blanton is parked on the DL with the type of injury that can deceivingly linger, the Phillies cannot afford to outhit opponents or tax their bullpen when these two take the mound.

On the positive side of the ledger, sophomore J.A. Happ's solid opening performance had to be pleasing to Manuel. After ending a brilliant rookie campaign with an injury and muddled role throughout the postseason, Happ started strong in making a case that he is not a "one hit wonder."

Although he kept his Mendoza-like Grapefruit League trend line intact to begin the regular season, Raul Ibanez has shown some signs of life over the past two games. Shane Victorino is the only other regular who hasn't sprinted out of the gate, but the Flyin' Hawaiian is about as steady as they come.

Perhaps the area of biggest concern heading into the season is the bullpen. Of course, the puzzle will not be complete until the pair of missing pieces return, but the rest seems to be coming together nicely.

The best Phillies start since 1993 and more than seven runs per game from the offense has a way of making even confirmed pessimists feel bullish. A week's a week—but so far the team is looking the part of the consensus National League favorite.

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