The Phillies remain in fourth place, 4.5 games behind Atlanta, but right about where they need to be. They beat up on the highly-regarded Dodgers for three wins, and took two big ones from the Diamondbacks. Now they get to welcome in the hated-Mets for two, followed by the equally loathsome Nationals for the weekend. How they do this week could be very telling for the ball club.
All of this begs the simple question- could the Phillies be better than we all thought? I did predict a winning season (84 wins), and fought with myself on whether or not I should go higher. I chose not to in the end because this was an old team coming off of a couple of bad seasons. Still though, an opening month that has been better than what we all maybe thought does beg the question of "what if?"
For me, I find their good start interesting because of the fact that this team is essentially what I thought. A.J. Burnett has been really good, as has Cliff Lee on the whole. Cole Hamels first start back was very positive, and Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez have rounded out the rotation fine. The rotation is probably the strongest part of this group. The line-up has been pretty decent too though. I can't say anything bad about the "old guys" start- Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Ruiz have all been no worse than decent. Ben Revere may leave something to be desired defensively, have no power, and not yet get on-base at a high enough number, but he's hitting .312 and has nine steals already, meaning if he fixes even one of those flaws he'd be a pretty good player, and Marlon Byrd has come to life lately. Dom Brown hasn't gone on fire yet, and i'm disappointed in everyone at third, but overall the line-up has been a positive.
The thing is, the bullpen and bench have sucked as bad as I thought. On the bullpen side, Papelbon has surprisingly been the most positive thing, though I can't complain too much about Mike Adams, so far. After that, no one has been great, and I'm only really confident in Bastardo at this point. The Phillies should be looking at every free agent available right now in the bullpen. The bench is an even bigger mess. While Nieves and Gwynn have been capable enough, so far, the rest have been close to useless. Freddy Galvis looks overmatched, Jayson Nix has no real use, and John Mayberry Jr. has only further proven that his only use is pinch-hitting against mediocre lefties. I said in Spring Training, and I'll say now, that the Phillies picked their bench wrong- you pick bench players for their bats, overall, and not the positions they back up at.
The good news is this- both of those areas should actually get better. You can improve a bench at any time on the trade and waiver market, and it's not that expensive. We also can expect Darin Ruf to be back in a few weeks, and to be a huge step up. On the bullpen front, two names on the DL stand out right now. One, Ethan Martin is starting to throw, and to me, has late inning reliever all over him. Two, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, known to us as MAG, is throwing again, and it might surprise you- he was hitting 94 mph on Sunday and apparently throwing well. You start to look at this and say- what if? If these guys step in and help the bullpen, could this team be very good? Could Ruf be everything they need on the bench? The answer might be yes.
Let's not get carried away though, 13-12 is just that. If they have a good week against two teams they're looking up at in the standings, perhaps we'll be talking different in a week, but for now, let's remind ourselves that the Braves pitchers have given up two runs or less 22 times already this season. If the Phillies want to compete, they will have to be better than they've been over the first 25 games, but they're basically on pace to get my 84 win prediction, so far.