Here is the column I wrote for Friday’s paper:
Contrary to what has been said the Phillies’ season is not over.
Sure, Cole Hamels has been shelled, Roy Halladay is a shell of his former self, the team blew two four-run leads at home, the bullpen allowed 12 of their first 13 inherited runners to score and Ryan Howard is hitting a paltry .200 with 12 strikeouts in 35 at-bats.
Still, Cliff Lee has been fantastic, Chase Utley is off to a great start, the Phillies managed a ninth-inning rally againstKansas Citywhen all looked lost, they just won two of three against the Mets and they head toMiamifor a three-game series against the hapless Marlins with a chance to get over .500.
A lot will have to go right for the Phillies to return to the postseason, but with two wild cards there’s plenty of reason to believe they can do it.
Lee has been the ace of the staff through his first two starts following a year in which he won just six games despite having an ERA of 3.16 and a WHIP of 1.11. In 16 2-3 innings this year, Lee has allowed just three runs (two earned), has struck out 14 batters and walked nobody. Lee, who didn’t win his first game until July 4 last season, even threw in an RBI single in Tuesday’s 8-3 victory over the Mets.
Utley, in the final year of a seven-year $85 million contract, has 11 hits in his first 33 at-bats, but the best news is that he’s driving the ball like he used to. Both of his home runs went to center field and a .636 slugging percentage shows that his balky knees, which limited him to just 186 games over the past two seasons, are finally well enough for him to perform at a high level.
Another good sign is that Michael Young, who was acquired in the offseason fromTexas, is 12-for-32 to go with five walks for an on-base percentage of .459. While his defense has been far from spectacular, Young hasn’t been the butcher at third base many claimed he was while with the Rangers.
There are still plenty of concerns that make some believe this could be a long season in southPhiladelphiawith the biggest issue being Halladay, the two-time Cy Young winner who has been beaten to a pulp in his first two starts.
Even with the drop in velocity (down to 89-91 mph from the 93-95 he was at when he first came to the Phillies in 2010), Halladay has enough stuff to still be a top-of-the-rotation starter. The problem he’s had early in the season has been the command of his pitches, especially his curveball. Take Monday for instance: with two runners on base (one whom he hit with a 1-2 sinker) he opened with two curveballs to Mets catcher John Buck and neither was even close to being a strike. Halladay had no choice but to throw a fastball and he paid dearly when Buck smoked an 89 mph meatball into the right-field seats. Halladay, who has allowed 12 earned runs in 7 1-3 innings, is being hit at a .353 clip and has walked six, which is unheard of for guy who walked a combined 65 hitters in 484 1-3 innings in 2010-11.
There is reason to be hopeful about Halladay, who just two years ago was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. While the fastball isn’t what it used to be, at times it still shows the downward sink Halladay needs it to have to be successful. On competitive spirit and guile alone, Halladay should still be one of the top-10 pitchers in the National League and you’d like to think he’ll figure it out sooner than later.
The biggest worry at the plate is Howard, who continues to show zero discipline. I have no idea why an opposing pitcher would even throw him a strike because Howard doesn’t seem to mind swinging at balls. While his home run Tuesday and two-hit game Wednesday are reasons for optimism, the fact that 12 of Howard’s 28 outs have been made without putting the ball in play is worrisome. I’d be fine with that number if he was also drawing walks, but Howard has just two walks, so he clearly isn’t seeing the ball well or he’s putting too much pressure on himself to hit.
The season is just nine games old and while the Phillies should be 6-3, they very well could be 1-8 if not for Lee and Kevin Frandsen’s two-out, three-run double that beat the Royals on Saturday. While there are legitimate concerns, there are also reasons for hope and optimism. I do know from firsthand knowledge, though, that those are tough words for Philly sports fans to believe in.