Sunday, April 11, 2010

Five out of six tomato cans kicked

The Phillies have started the year with wins in five of their first six games after today's Roy Halladay gem in Houston, and the question is whether they really are as good as they've looked, or if they have just taken advantage of the schedule, which gave them the Nationals and Astros to start (and continues the largesse with the Nats at home in the next series).

First things first: Halladay is as good as advertised. In today's getaway win in Houston, he shook off late pressure to finish what he started for career win 150, and even more impressively in this day and age, his 50th complete game. Halladay's throws high heat with low effort like a scout's dream, changes speeds and levels, fields his position well, has even been feisty with the bat, and limits damage in trouble innings. There's nothing that he hasn't done well in his first two starts, especially when it comes to recovering after defensive lapses, and there's a calmness in the team behind him that's just palpable.

The rest of the rotation, of course, isn't to his level, but that's just the nature of the beast. Cole Hamels didn't quite look like his 2008 self in his first turn in DC, and Kyle Kendrick has the team's only loss. J.A. Happ, on the other hand, picked up where he left off, and Jamie Moyer's turn produced a superficially weak start, in that his one bad inning sullied the stats, but he still wound up with win #259 (by the way, his next makes him tied for 40th all-time, and if he gets to double figures this year, he'll crack the top 33). But the 2 through 5 rotation isn't what makes this team special right now.

Rather, it's the offense, which finally missed double digit hits today as Roy Oswalt kept them down, and put up 43 runs in their first 6 games. Jimmy Rollins is hitting .391, Placido Polanco .481, Chase Utley .348, Ryan Howard .357, and Jayson Werth .360. Only Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino have "struggled", with the RF hitting .250 and the CF at .185, but both have had their moments, and when the top six guys are just mashing the cover off the ball, that's how 5-1 road trips are made.

Are there problems? Of course. Brad Lidge is getting pounded in the minors, and while the bullpen has looked good -- especially Rule 5 guy David Herndon -- they could struggle later. But even if they do, the offense will give them chances, and the defense is (with the exception of Ibanez, who doesn't really have to be that great in LF) exemplary. The rest of the division has looked meh, with the Mets actally losing their series at home to Washington despite the return of Jose Reyes, the Marlins looking shaky in the pen, and Atlanta looking far too dependent on ancient Billy Wagner.

Of all of the first week division leaders (Toronto, Detroit, Oakland, St. Louis and San Francisco), they look the most legitimate to me, and they should get better when underrated #3 starter Joe Blanton gets off the shelf. And if you want to disparage them for pounding on patsies -- the Nats and Stros look like 200 combined losses to me -- great baseball teams pound the stuffing out of bad teams. The next week has the Nats and Fish at home, which means a very real chance of something like a 10-2 mark after the first two weeks... and a season with 1,000 runs scored and 100 wins.

1 comment:

Steven Gomez said...

I'm willing to argue the answer is both: They're beaten down two weak opponents, and they're as good as they look. The Phils have owned the NL East for the last two seasons and they're still easily the best, deepest team in that division. They've got a legitimately useful bench, they've got options for the back of the rotation, they've got a solid bullpen, and even their lesser lineup regulars (Ibanez, Polanco, Werth) have serious value in some way (Raul with his bat and the other two with their defense).

Of course, old age is creeping up and this won't last forever, but as of right now this is the real deal.

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